The hijacking of football for political gain in Kenya

Football in the villages has been a great platform for talent acquisition and growth for most youth. Recently, however, many politicians have hacked the opportunity, using it for personal political gains. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Football in the villages has been a great platform for talent acquisition and growth for most youth. Recently, however, many politicians have hacked the opportunity, using it for personal political gains. PHOTO/Courtesy.
  • This is not an isolated phenomenon but a widespread strategy, reflecting the poverty of aspirations in the country’s political approach to sports and youth engagement.
  • The FKF, which should be at the forefront of advocating for and implementing robust sports development programs, finds itself marginalized.
  • The hijacking of football and sports by politicians in Kenya is a microcosm of larger issues of short-termism and opportunism that plague various sectors of the country.

Every weekend, and during holidays past, we have seen in many villages across Kenya that the landscape of football and sports has undergone a transformation, not through the natural evolution of talent and infrastructure but through a calculated maneuver by politicians.

This shift has not been about fostering genuine athletic prowess or nurturing youth potential; instead, it has become a strategic tool for political branding and maneuvering, often at the expense of genuine sports development.

As a result, the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) finds itself sidelined, its authority and potential to genuinely uplift the sports domain diminished and disregarded.

How it happens

The scenario is stark: politicians, armed with resources and a keen eye for opportunities, have hijacked sports tournaments (through sponsorship and branding), particularly football, turning them into spectacles of political showmanship.

These events, masquerading as initiatives for youth development and peace through sports, are increasingly rampant, revealing not a commitment to the game but a subtle play for political dominance and community influence.

This is not an isolated phenomenon but a widespread strategy, reflecting the poverty of aspirations in the country’s political approach to sports and youth engagement.

Many of these political figures have established shadowy foundations bearing their names, purporting to champion youth development and peace through sports.

These political tournaments are often well-funded and high-profile, drawing crowds and attention with both fans and players fully kitted by the politician or politician wannabe.

However, beneath the surface, they contribute little to the long-term development of sports or the athletes involved.

Instead of investing in sustainable structures like football academies or sports centers of excellence that could provide lasting benefits, resources are funneled into fleeting tournaments with more immediate political returns.

This short-termism reflects a broader issue: the perpetual election fever-pitch that grips Kenya, with politicians perpetually jostling for the hearts and souls of the youth, who are seen not as individuals with potential but as pawns in a larger political game.

Consequential

The tragedy of this situation is manifold.

First, it undermines the genuine passion and talent for sports that exists across the country. Many young athletes see their aspirations and potential capped not by a lack of talent but by a system that prioritizes political gain over genuine sports development.

Second, it distracts from the pressing need for substantial investment in sports infrastructure and programs that could provide viable career paths, health benefits, and community cohesion.

Third, it perpetuates a cycle of dependency and disillusionment among the youth, who are courted for their votes but given little else in terms of long-term support or opportunities.

The FKF, which should be at the forefront of advocating for and implementing robust sports development programs, finds itself marginalized.

Its voice and potential impact are diluted in a sea of politically driven tournaments that serve individual politicians’ interests rather than the national good.

The result is a fragmented sports landscape where temporary, flashy tournaments overshadow and undercut the need for sustained investment and strategic planning.

Ingenuine

The consequences of this political hijacking of sports are profound.

It reflects and reinforces a broader narrative of short-termism, opportunism, and a lack of genuine commitment to the public good.

For a country with such rich potential in terms of athletic talent and enthusiasm for sports, this represents a significant and tragic underutilization of resources and potential.

Some of the big actors propagating this problem are actually policymakers and legislators who should be making and enabling legislation to support sports development in Kenya.

To solve it

To address this issue, a multi-faceted approach is necessary.

There should be a clear policy framework to regulate these politically driven tournaments, ensuring that any initiative labeled as ‘sports development’ has a genuine, verifiable impact on the athletic and personal development of participants.

Resources should be redirected towards long-term projects like football academies and sports centers of excellence, with a clear focus on sustainability and genuine talent nurturing.

Moreover, there needs to be a cultural shift, where sports are valued not as a tool for political maneuvering but as a vital component of national development, youth engagement, and social cohesion.

This requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the government, sports organizations, communities, and the athletes themselves, to advocate for and implement changes that prioritize the long-term health and success of the sports sector.

Sports officials and administrators should also refrain from officiating these tournaments which I know is hard to resist due to the perks that come with playing a role in the ‘Mheshimiwa’ sporting events which are mostly financed by the foundation bearing the politician’s name.

The hijacking of football and sports by politicians in Kenya is a microcosm of larger issues of short-termism and opportunism that plague various sectors of the country.

It’s a tragic affair that reflects the poverty of aspirations and a clear depiction of the misplaced priorities in the country’s approach to youth and sports development.

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For a nation perpetually in the throes of election fever, the time has come to reassess and realign these priorities, focusing on sustainable development, genuine talent nurturing, and the long-term benefits that a robust sports sector can bring to the nation.

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Mr. Okore is a Communications and Public Policy Consultant based in Nairobi. His contact: okoredennis@gmail.com

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