Corazone Aquino
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Why Kenyan female footballers are trooping to Tanzania

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Kenyan midfielder Corazone Aquino (centre) in action for Simba Queens.

Photo credit: Pool

In football, Kenya lies 107th in Fifa ranking, some 12 places above Tanzania (119th).

However, seven out of 11 first-choice Kenya women’s national football team players have moved to the Tanzanian league.

This is thanks to better pay, good sporting infrastructure, a more professionally run league, and better prospects of furthering their careers.

The Tanzanian Women’s Premier League, known as Serengeti Lite Women’s Premier League for sponsorship reasons, features 12-teams, and has proven a popular destination for top players from the Football Kenya Federation Women Premier League (FKF-WPL).  

There are currently 15 female Kenyan footballers playing in Tanzania; Five at Simba Queens, five at Bunda Queens, three at Yanga FC, and two at Fountain Gates Princess. 

The trend started in 2020, and continued with the resumption of sporting activities after Covid-19 cases subsided globally, and was perhaps fuelled by a nine-month Fifa ban on Kenya from all football activities ‘for government interference’  in 2022.

The ban on Kenya coincided with dwindling fortunes for three-time Kenyan champions Vihiga United which had been supplying the bulk of Harambee Starlets players.  

The club, which had won the 2021 Cecafa Women Club Championship title, did not compete in the 2022 edition of the tournament due to the Fifa ban on Kenya.

Midfielder Corazone Aquino and striker Topister Situma, formerly of  FKF-WPL sides Gaspo Women and Vihiga Queens  respectively, joined four-time Tanzanian league champions Simba Queens.

Corazone Aquino

Simba Queens midfielder Corazone Aquino. 

Photo credit: Pool

Hosts Simba Queens beat She Corporates of Uganda 1-0 in the final of the 2022 Cecafa Women Club Championships, Aquino scoring the winner and emerging the player of the tournament.  

Aquino  and Simba Queens went on to play in the 2022 Caf Women’s Champions League. 

Vihiga Queens played in the Caf Women’s Champions League for the first time in 2021 in Egypt, and it opened doors for five of the club’s players to lucrative contracts abroad.

They were Tereza Engesha who joined Hyundai Steel Red Angels in South Korea, Cynthia Shilwatso (Primera Nacional Club EdF Logroño B in Spain), Lillian Awuor (ASJ Soyaux-Charente in France), Jentrix Shikangwa (Fatih Karagümrük S.K. in Turkey), and Christine Nafula (Kayserspor Kadin Futbol Takimi in Turkey). 

Most of these have since moved to other countries, a good number to Tanzania where they have been joined by other Kenyan players. 

Strikers Shikangwa found her way to Tanzanian club Simba Queens, where she was joined by midfielder Elizabeth Wambui, defenders Esther Amakobe and Ruth Ingotsi.

Striker Shilwatso joined Tanzanian league side Fountain Gates Princess, but later moved to FC Kryvbas Women of Ukraine in 2023.

Late in 2022, Harambee Starlets captain defender Dorcus Shikobe Nixon, who currently plays at Sirines of Grevena of Greece, and midfielder Ivy Faith who is currently at FKF-PL side Kenya Police FC, joined Indian Women Premier League team SETHU FC.

Striker Violet Nanjala joined Municipal de Laayoune Women in Morocco.

Jentrix Shikangwa

Simba Queens striker Jentrix Shikangwa.

Photo credit: Pool

In December 2023, Harambee Starlets midfielder Wambui moved to Simba Queens from FKF-WPL side Gaspo Women.

At the same time, midfielder Janet Moraa Bundi left Vihiga Queens for Yanga Princess of Tanzania. In January 2024, striker Airine Madalina of Bunyore Starlets  joined her at Yanga.

The 21-year-old Madalina had finished as the top scorer in the 2022/23 FKF-WPL season with 18 goals for Bunyore Starlets.

On her debut for Yanga in the Tanzanian league on January 10, 2024,  she scored against Fountain Gate Princess.

Before joining Yanga, Bundi left a lasting impression at Vihiga Queens, finishing the FKF-WPL as the top scorer, having scored four goals in five matches. She has so far scored two goals in four matches for Yanga.

“I am here because of better financial opportunity, and to also get exposure. I quickly noticed that the Tanzania league is known for its physical style of play, which differs from the Kenyan league. This has added an exciting element to my experience here.  I look forward to making history here,” Bundi, who signed a two-year contract at Yanga, said.

Shikangwa, who returned to Simba Queens earlier this year after leaving Chinese side Beijing Professional FC upon expiry of her six-month contract, had an opportunity to return to the Kenyan league to play for Kenya Police Bullets FC but turned down the offer and opted to go back to Tanzania instead.

“Simba is now my second home. I was warmly welcomed back to the club. The presence of fellow Kenyans at the club has made life easier for me. The club tabled a good offer, and considering the nature of my profession and the need for financial stability, I accepted the offer,” Shikangwa told Nation Sport in an earlier interview.

Elizabeth Wambui

Simba Queens midfielder Elizabeth Wambui.

Photo credit: Pool

The former Vihiga Queens player who has also played at Turkish club Fatih Karagumruk, made a name for herself in the Tanzanian league last season, scoring 17 goals in 16 matches for Simba to emerge the top scorer. Simba finished second in the league, and she was crowned player of the season.

“We left home to look for greener pastures. Kenyan Football does not pay at all. We are here for one business – to earn our daily bread and to also make a name for ourselves. Here, players are paid bonuses, match allowances and salaries on time,” Wambui says.

In the Kenyan league, players are compensated primarily through match allowances, which can range from as low as Sh500 to Sh2,000 on game days. At some clubs, this is the only form of payment.  

Among Kenyan clubs, Kenya Police Bullets FC is the highest-paying. The team pays salaries directly into players’ accounts.

The players earn a monthly salary of Sh15,000 along with a winning bonus of Sh2,500. No other club in the local league matches this level of compensation.

At Yanga Princess and Simba Queens, players earn a monthly salary of between Sh50,000 and Sh60,000, but players earn more from sign-on fee.

Yanga’s former CEO Simon Patrick who is currently the club’s Director of Legal Affairs, Compliance, and Administration says live broadcast of matches has taken Tanzanian football to the next level. 

 He said: “Sports is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Football business in Tanzania is about the actual business activities such as sponsoring teams, selling TV rights, and marketing the league. This also gives players a platform to sell themselves. Simba and Yanga have made it happen in Tanzania.”

Corazone Aquino

Simba Queens midfielder Corazone Aquino celebrating after scoring a goal against Yanga Princess at the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Dar es Salaam on December 12, 2022.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Are the transfers a reflection of greater recognition of Kenyan football talent?

Former Harambee Starlets captain Doreen Nabwire who became the first Kenyan woman to play professional football in Europe after joining for FC Zwolle in Dutch league Eredivisie Vrouwen from 2010 to 2011 says transfers are a sign of progress for the players.

“This is a postive step as more players move for greener pastures. It shows we are on the right track. Transfers also expose players to new competitions which will  benefit our national teams,” Nabwire, who has been working as the Women’s Football Development Officer and Director at FKF since 2016, said.

“Tanzania league has attracted partners, who have invested heavily in the league in contrast to the struggles faced by local clubs. However, there is optimism that the Kenyan league will attract the necessary support to thrive in the near future,” she added.

“Kenya has proven superior to us since back in the day. Our defeat to Kenya in 2019 Cecafa Women Senior Challenge Cup served as a wake-up call. Since then, our country has invested in football from the grassroots to the national level. We learnt this from Kenya who started women football way back than us,” Tanzania women’s national team coach Bakari Shime says.

Former Starlets coach David Ouma who is currently with Tanzania men’s premier league side Coastal union, played a big role in growing the women’s game in Kenya for seven years.

Ouma joined Coastal Union in November last year,  from FKF-WPL Sofapaka FC. He led Starlets to winning the 2019 Cecafa title and guided the team to Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2016.

Yanga’s former Director of Legal Affairs, Compliance, and Administration says live broadcast of matches has Taken Tanzanian football to the next level. 

“Without live broadcast of matches, sports would struggle to reach and engage with their fans, while broadcasters would lack the compelling content they need to attract viewers. Broadcasting allows fans all over the world to watch their favourite teams regardless of their location. It also provides a platform for sponsors and advertisers to reach a wide audience, making it a key aspect of the sports industry,” said Patrick.

“Sports as a business is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Football business in Tanzania is more about the actual business activities such as sponsoring teams, selling TV rights, and marketing the league to fans. This also gives players a platform to sell themselves for scouting. Simba and Yanga are a football power house in Tanzania, they have made it happen.”

“In Kenya, there is a strong affinity for the English Premier League among football fans, surpassing their interest in their local leagues. This is in contrast to Tanzania, where fans show greater enthusiasm for their domestic league.”

Former Harambee Starlets coach Alex Alumirah who is the Head of Football Development at Tanzania women’s league team Fountain Gates Princess says a club’s presence on social media platforms can lead to increased revenue.