East Africa misses out on World Cup fever

By Peter Musembi
BBC News, Nairobi

Image caption,
East African fans are used to watching from afar

Football fans in East Africa will be watching from the sidelines as World Cup kicks off for the first time on Africa soil.

No country from the east of the continent qualified for South Africa - not that there is anything unusual in that.

West African countries dominate African football, and the last time any country even near the east played at the World Cup was Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1974.

And it is certainly no surprise that Kenya will not to be at the World Cup.

A feud has been raging there for over six years between two bodies claiming to be the legitimate administrators of the game in the country.

As a result, football standards have plummeted, and there has been a growing passion for the English Premier League.


In Kibera slum just outside the capital, Nairobi, people pay 20 Kenya shillings (25 cents) to watch Premiership matches in TV halls.

One hall is called San Siro Stadium, named after the home ground of Italy's Inter Milan, where Kenya's most successful international footballer, McDonald Mariga, plays.

Image caption,
Kenyan teams play to just a handful of spectators

Other halls are called Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Highbury.

Bernard Otieno, an Arsenal supporter outside San Siro hall, says it is a disgrace that Kenya is not in the World Cup.

"We have very good players like McDonald Mariga who can represent us in international matches, but our league is surrounded with a lot of politics that is why we can't prosper," he says.

"We are left with the consolation of watching the English Premier League, since we are not entertained by our own football."

Only a few weeks ago, the Court of Arbitration of Sports ended the feud between the Kenya Football Federation and Football Kenya Limited, ruling in favour of the latter.

The damage has been done, however. Kenya is currently placed at number 113 in the Fifa rankings.

A lack of passion for local football is evident during national league matches, attended by only a handful of supporters.

Poor coaching

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a keen football supporter, attends some of the matches and he believes East African football has suffered from a lack of investment.

"This is a problem of historical neglect not only in Kenya, but in the whole of Eastern Africa region," he says.

"This region has suffered from lack of quality coaching and investment of facilities by previous regimes. That is the difference between East African and West Africa."

It is a situation he is determined to change.

"First we are aiming at the African Cup of Nations finals in two years from now. Thereafter we are going to work towards the 2014 World Cup. I am confident Kenya will be there in 2014," he says.

Some national league players believe a lack of national leadership has cost them opportunities to play professional football abroad.

Mariga could not join English Premiership side Manchester City when they wanted to sign him because Kenya is currently placed at 113 in the Fifa ranking.

Premiership rules stipulate that new players must be from a country ranking among top 70.

'Careers denied'

''When the management here is not good we are seriously affected as players," says George Odhiambo who plays for Gor Mahia football club.

Image caption,
Mariga plays for Inter Milan but was not allowed in the English Premiership

"We had two parallel leagues, we did not know who was running football in Kenya.

"It was not possible to take part in many international matches including friendlies where we would be noticed like Mariga. I would love to play for Arsenal or Real Madrid."

The man now in charge of Kenyan football is Mohamed Hatimy.

He has the uphill task of restoring order in Kenyan football and building a side that could possibly be part of the 2014 World Cup.

He is optimistic.

"I believe it will be possible. Today we have a player playing for Inter Milan," he says.

"If we are serious we will make it. We will have other players like Mariga and we will bring up the standards of our football to be like those of West African countries.''

Peter Musembi's documentary can be heard on the BBC World Service programme World Football on Saturday 28 May at 1132 GMT. It will also be available as a podcast.

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