“The KPL (Kenyan Premier League) is a great success story and other countries in the region have taken note,” enthused Nicholas Musonye, general secretary of the council of East and Central African Football Associations, in regards to the Kenyan Premier League’s recently renewed and improved multi-million dollar television deal with SuperSport, the leading sports broadcaster on the continent. Although prosperous European leagues flaunt television revenue as validation of their overwhelming popularity, the KPL’s re-negotiated broadcast agreement symbolizes the inspirational progress made by Kenyan football clubs in attempting to remove the destructive influences within the country’s national federation following decades of unremitting corruption at the highest level of the game.
“When you have a company that owns the league and the 16 clubs are equal shareholders and equal decision‑makers, then you automatically have three things,” explains Bob Munro, chairman of Mathare United and a high-ranking KPL official. “Fair play, financial accountability and democratic transparency, that’s all you need to have good football management.” The clubs that assumed control of the country’s first professional football league in 2008 now enjoy the accountability and openness implied by Munro, but it wasn’t always this way, and the remarkable achievement in removing the shackles of intimidation and sabotage by the national federation provides a shining example to the rest of the continent’s continually suffering leagues.
Almost exactly eleven years ago, Maina Kariuki was appointed as the 13th chairman of the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF) following an election campaign promising ‘A New Beginning’ for the country’s footballing development. But at the time, very few could have predicted the direction of this new dawn; a regime which ultimately oversaw the most corrupt period in Kenyan football’s 37-year history. In 2005, a report published by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) revealed the alarming extent to which the KFF had abused their limitless power, in a tale of bribery and theft that was essentially encouraged by FIFA’s illogical statutes pertaining to political interference in football. The Kariuki-led indiscretions include the theft of gate receipts from local and international matches arranged by the KFF, the misuse and embezzlement of over £700,000 of FIFA funds, the failure to pay match officials and the employment of biased, unqualified referees, the recurring reluctance to pay national team coaches, officials and players in addition to the ‘disappearance’ of 30 FIFA-donated computers.
None of the funds stolen during the regime have been recovered even though Kariuki, along with former KFF Secretary General, Hussein Swaleh, and former KFF National Treasurer, Mohammed Hatimy, were jointly charged in July 2004 with the theft of over £700,000 of KFF and FIFA funds. With no sense of honour or shame, both Swaleh and Hatimy even stood again in the KFF elections in December that year. But the biggest challenge faced by the revolutionary movement that eventually forced through the large-scale shift in the organization of Kenyan football, was FIFA’s strictly regulated policy of suspending nations subject to governmental interference. In theory, this principle is rationalized by the rife corruption within political circles, but in practice, this decree prevented the Kenyan government from investigating suspected corruption within football due to the threat of expulsion from international competition. No government wants to be held responsible for the exclusion of a country from world football, and this damaging incentive to maintain silence has only served to feed the corruption not just in Kenya, but in several African footballing associations.
“Nobody dares touch these looters [corrupt football executives] because of the FIFA policy of non-interference,” explains a coach from one of Zimbabwe’s top-division teams. “The football community will never get to the bottom of the rot.” This farcical rot was illustrated in a remarkable case of match-fixing which reached FIFA’s agenda not long after allegations of bribery tarnished the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups last autumn. In 2009, Zimbabwe’s national side embarked on a two-game tour of Asia overshadowed by Malaysian gambling syndicates and misrepresented players. In fact, local club, Monomatapa United, under the auspices of two Zimbabwe Football Association officials, were sent to Malaysia disguised as the national XI, and on arrival, were instructed to lose 1-0 to Thailand in the tour’s opening encounter. According to coach, Joey Antipas, an Asian man named Raja Raj, a Malaysian gambler, not only sat on the bench during the game while conversing with other members of the gambling syndicate, but threatened the team for having “cost him more than $1million” for enduring a 3-0 defeat.
“In order for him to recover his money he [Raj] arranged two games,” claims Antipas. “They were both in Malaysia. The first against a club side, the second against Syria, who are ranked a few places higher than Zimbabwe. The condition was to lose 6-0 to Syria. We disagreed but we were afraid because the guy wanted to recover his money. Jonathan Musavengana was directing operations from the bench while receiving calls from the Asian syndicate. Whenever he received a call, he would stand up from the bench and dish out instructions to concede goals, and that game was duly lost 6-0.” According to the investigation in to the incident, one player requested substitution on moral grounds, others feared for their lives and documented evidence of the trip’s oragnisation and those who sanctioned it have since been lost or destroyed.
The situation was publicly revealed just days following the exposure of two FIFA delegates accused of selling their votes in the World Cup bidding process for 2018 and 2022, a situation which forced FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, to acknowledge “a sad day for football,” adding: “I appeal to all members of the FIFA family to behave in an honest, sincere and respectful manner because football is based on discipline, respect, fair-play and solidarity. I am a little bit surprised that [you] say is FIFA corrupt? FIFA is actually in the world of sport a well-recognised organisation and institution, so let us do our job and clarify the situation and bring back credibility to football. Our society is full of devils and you find these devils in football. We have to fight for fair play. Trust us and you will see confidence will be restored.” But these sentiments wholeheartedly contradict a FIFA-initiated process which does little or nothing to support African governments in the struggle to abolish corruption in sport, and in fact saw the Kenyan national team banned from international football twice between 2004 and 2006.
Ominous practices ignored by international football’s governing body have affected not just Kenya and Zimbabwe but a host of other domestic football associations across Africa. Tales of corruption, infighting, political interference, theft, illegal agents and incompetence characterize the culture highlighted in the FAIR report and have been most recently illustrated in Nigeria, a country threatened by FIFA exclusion not long after their premature elimination from last year’s World Cup. Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, ordered a comprehensive examination of Nigerian football following allegations of deceit and theft, but was threatened by FIFA after the authority accepted advice from Amos Adamu, the man at the heart of the World Cup vote-rigging scandal. Adamu’s instructions led FIFA to pressure Jonathan to back-down, giving the Nigerian government just three days to withdraw their involvement or incur expulsion not just of the senior national side, but also the women’s team, club sides and Nigerian referees and officials, in addition to withholding around £5million owed to the Association as part of Nigeria’s participation in South African last summer. As expected, the politicians retreated.
Kenya have at least provided an encouraging example of what can be achieved through persistence, as on top of the KPL’s flourishing exposure and revenue, a new voting system is to be implemented for electing the head of Football Kenya Limited, recognised by FIFA as the body which runs football in the country. “This [previous] system has been used to elect the wrong leaders, who bribe delegates to vote for them,” Peter Ogonji, the head of Kenya’s Independent Electoral Board (IEB), told the BBC. For the first time, all 3,000 affiliated clubs in the country will have a vote, marking a progressive break from traditional elections epitomized by the decisions of a select few delegates. But the experiences learned from Kenya’s grueling journey underline a broader concern regarding the sport’s governance. Evidence has been published relating to 30 letters containing detailed proof of corruption sent by Kenyan clubs to FIFA between 2002 and 2004 which were promptly ignored. The absence of support led Kenya’s high court to remove unelected officials from the KFF in April of 2004 to which FIFA responded by demanding their reinstatement and the withdrawal of government involvement. “How can FIFA demand that a sovereign government break its own constitution by ignoring a ruling of its highest court or be banned? Would the British or American governments consider that a reasonable demand by FIFA?” Munro asks. But FIFA remain committed to their policy, which when challenged, provoked the most extraordinary turnaround in African domestic football this century, but when adhered to, encourages the intensification of corrupt practices whilst satisfying the greed of a chosen few.