- They will bury him in Nyakach next Saturday where people of his generation will doubtless reflect on the great distance travelled downhill from the noonday of his life when East Africa was practically a country.
- After that dream perished, the countries solidified into three fiercely nationalistic entities.
- Now the most potent discussion is whether Kenya shouldn’t break up into two republics. They will wonder where this will all end.
- But all that is now behind “Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimm……!” He has taken leave of his earthly labours and his free kicks are now thrilling the inhabitants of heaven. In gratitude, that is all we can pray for.
In the noonday of Timothy Ayieko’s life, training session conversations were about living life at the summit of African football.
At the Uganda Cranes where he reigned long as the defensive midfielder of choice, they just fell short of winning the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations after falling 2-1 to Ghana in the final match.
Next door in Kenya, Gor Mahia players drawn predominantly from his ancestral homeland in Nyanza also valiantly reached the final of the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1979 and again fell short, losing to Cameroon’s Cannon Yaoundé 8-0 on aggregate.
They would win that cup in 1987 at the expense of Tunisia’s fabled Esperance.
Ayieko returned to the land of his birth after the 1978 near miss, played for Gor Mahia for several seasons in the early 1980s and then went back to his adopted country to live out the rest of his life.
Now they have returned his body to Kenya for burial and closed the circle on a life that tells much of a beautiful country that almost existed. It was called East Africa.
The players he first idolised and then succeeded at the Uganda Cranes, such as the legendary goalkeeper, Joseph Masajjage, played for it. When English FA Cup champions West Bromwich Albion came to Kenya in 1968, they played two games against East Africa.
And other sports, too. Writing on the retirement of one of Kenya’s greatest cricketers in 1980, Jawahir Shah, correspondent Zoeb Tayebjee retraced the steps of “the run machine” in his career for Kathiawar, Nairobi Gymkhana, Kenya and East Africa.
Ayieko’s generation were the last citizens of East Africa. They are the people who used the services of the East African Railways and Harbours, the East African Posts and Telecommunications and the East African Airways.
One of the biggest events in the world sports calendar at that time was the East African Safari Rally. And the regional football tournament with the highest billing in the African continent was the East African Challenge Cup between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zanzibar. Ayieko’s was one of the names that gave it lustre.
East Africa’s servings also included two eagerly-awaited boxing contests that had the fans’ cups overflowing: the annual Brunner-Urafiki tournament between Kenya and Uganda and the Inter-Cities Cup between Nairobi and Kampala.
In those days, Nairobi was called “The Green City in the Sun” and Kampala, “The City on Seven Hills.” To use such terms today against a backdrop of the violence, the disorder, the filth and the sheer uncertainty of what the future portends in these two cities would be to laugh at their inhabitants.
Timothy Ayieko belonged to the most pampered generation of Ugandan sportsmen. When the Cranes won the 1976 Cecafa East and Central African Challenge Cup in Zanzibar, the sports-loving Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin Dada, asked them where they wanted to go for shopping as their reward.
Traditionally, the Challenge Cup takes place in the months of November and December when it is winter in Europe.
His team mate, Abbey Nasur, recalled that episode for me in 2012: “I remember it was David Otti who spoke up first. He was our coach. Otti told the President that the players wanted to do some shopping but they couldn’t do that in Zanzibar because ‘there was nothing there.’
At that point Amin asked us where in the world we wanted to go shopping. He said he was going to facilitate that at once.
“A brief exchange took place. Somebody said we go to Europe but another, I think it was Otti still, pointed out that Europe was too cold then. It was November and it was winter.
It was then that somebody made the inspired suggestion of Libya. Amin became very excited and told us that Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, was his bosom friend. There and then it was agreed that Libya was the place to go.
Amin announced that he would call his friend Gaddafi at once to host us.”
(Amin was telling the truth when he said that Gaddafi was his great friend. Libya is where he first sought refuge when he was ousted from power three years later before spending the rest of his life in exile in Saudi Arabia).
There were no direct flights between Uganda and Libya but that was no problem. There was a weekly cargo flight that freighted cotton to Europe. It was operated by a Boeing 747. Amin decided that a portion of that plane would be configured into passenger roll to accommodate the Cranes.
The plane would then make a stop-over in Tripoli on its way to Europe and drop off its VIP passengers. It would do the same a week later to collect them with their shopping. And that is what happened.