In Summary
  • The former Inter Milan and Parma midfield star is seeking to add his name to a short list of people who have played for Harambee Stars and gone on to become members of parliament. By my count, this list features only three people – Charles Mukora, Joab Omino and Chris Obure. I hope the people of Kibra, for their own sake and that of Mariga, don’t make the mistake of adding him to this number

If, after moving heaven and earth, Kenya’s finest eventually establish that McDonald Mariga is indeed younger than his younger brother, it won’t hurt him politically.

In fact, it could boost his stock. This is one enterprise where the more the baggage, the greater the appeal.

But I wouldn’t advise Mariga to count on this in his attempt to win the Kibra parliamentary seat in the November by-election. Although nothing can surprise when it comes to Kenya’s elections, I expect him to muddy the waters but not to win.

McDonald Mariga

McDonald Mariga (right) - Jubilee Party's candidate for the Kibra parliamentary by-election - and Lang'ata MP Nixon Korir appear before the electoral commission over Mariga's registration as a voter, on September 13, 2019 in Nairobi. He was cleared. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

He neither has what it takes to win freely, nor does he deserve to. It is inconceivable that a man who has spent all his post-football career asking the youth to try their luck in betting should inherit the work of one of the ablest and most beloved parliamentarians in Kenya’s history.

Mariga is seeking to add his name to a short list of people who have played for Harambee Stars and gone on to become members of parliament. By my count, this list features only three people – Charles Mukora, Joab Omino and Chris Obure. I hope the people of Kibra, for their own sake and that of Mariga, don’t make the mistake of adding him to this number.

NOBLE ENDEAVOR

If they reject him, they will have saved him, for there will then exist a chance that he will go back to what he knows best: football. Hopefully, he will eschew promoting betting, which has brought only grief to many Kenyan families and immerse himself in a harder but nobler endeavour, like running a youth academy. As for the people of Kibra, the work of Ken Okoth, which speaks for itself, is just too precious to be gambled with. He was one of a kind.

Mariga is a world removed from the three gentlemen who took on the coveted title “Honourable” after taking off the Harambee Stars shirt. Those people got themselves to parliament. In fact, while it is true that many people with dreams – and hallucinations – of leadership greatly exaggerate themselves when they say they are answering the call of the people, sometimes it is actually true.

HUGELY RESPECTED MEN

All three of the men named above had the gravitas to attract such calls. They were not landing as if by parachute in the midst of the people they eventually represented. They emerged from them to become who they were. The last problem you could possibly imagine with them was one relating to an identity card – its date or place of issue. In their case, it was nothing but matters of “development”, as Kenyans like to call them.

Charles Mukora played as centre half for Harambee Stars in the mid-50s. An unusually gifted sportsman, he switched to athletics and did the long jump and decathlon before becoming a coach. JM Kariuki, one of Kenya’s martyred politicians, had praise for Mukora in his book “Mau Mau Detainee” as both a sportsman and a man.

It wouldn’t surprise that Mukora would nurture the careers of some Kenya’s world beating athletes as coach before rising to the helm of the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association – precursor to Athletics Kenya – and membership of the International Olympic Committee.

During his long career, Mukora stayed in touch with his roots. The high altitude athletics training camp that he established was in his home area and his people appreciated that. Once he expressed interest in politics and bearing the banner of the locally correct political party, it was only a matter of course before he became MP for Laikipia East after the 1992 General Election.

His fate following a bribery scandal surrounding the awarding of the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City had the tragic weight of a colossus’ collapse. People make mistakes and these mistakes can wreck a lifetime’s work. It was Mukora’s fate to have his career end the way it did but there was never any doubt that his was a life of service.

Joab Omino was a 1970s Harambee Stars striker who, like all other well-educated players, had a short stint because there was a more sustainable and lucrative career to pursue. He was an ambitious man who seemed unable not to say exactly what was on his mind, whatever the consequences.

In the run-up to the Kenya Football Federation elections of November 1985 when he was battling Clement Gachanja for the top office, Omino became so hard to get for us sports journalists that I became intrigued. Gachanja was all over us with his manifesto but Omino was nowhere; we just heard that he was meeting delegates from Western, delegates from Nairobi, delegates from North Rift, delegates from Coast, delegates from Lower Eastern and more and more delegates from every corner of the country. He met them mostly at night at undisclosed locations.

BLUNT IN HIS APPROACH

I tracked him to a social event. Why was he not talking to us, I wanted to know. He was very nice but his bluntness was vintage Omino. “Journalists have no votes,” he told me. “Delegates do. I have no time to waste with people who have no votes.” I left with a severely wounded ego, seeing as it is that I came from a professional community that believed no public figure could do without the media. He won the election.

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