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Mzee Kenyatta’s support for Kenyan sportsmen, women lives on

Agoro Madiere @PeopleSport11

Just after Kenya’s independence in 1963, our sports icons commenced their path to glory.  Mzee Jomo Kenyatta did not hesitate to identify with the new heroes, contributing to our newly-found freedom and national cohesiveness.

The country was in dire need for anything that would help it recover and bond the common man. Although Kenyatta was not a known sports enthusiast, he played his role as Head of State by performing ceremonial duties at most events.

Flagging off the East African Safari Rally was one of his most favourite. Coming just around the Easter holidays, the event became an annual ritual in front of City Hall. The KICC version came up much later in 1972.

Kenyans had their popular drivers competing in the rally. Though of Asian origin, legendary Joginder Singh emerged the crowd’s favourite and the whole country rallied behind their “Simba.”

Born in Kericho, Singh was a household name and Kenyatta led the support for the driver who gave foreign rivals a run for their money. Until he died in 1978, Kenyatta was the official guest in all the Kenyan edition of Safari Rally.

With Africanisation in place, stadiums were aptly named after him. There is a Kenyatta Stadium in Kitale and Machakos. Kisumu named their central sports facility after both Presidents Moi Stadium and Jomo Kenyatta Sports Ground.

Veteran rally driver Joginder Singh during one of the many Safari Rally events that he competed in.Photo/COURTESY

When Kenya’s athletics team went to the 1964 Olympics and came back with one bronze medal—won by Wilson Kiprugut in the 800m—Kenyatta was there to receive the medal, marking the beginning of sportsmen and women paying a courtesy call to State House before and after global events.

By 1968, with Kipchoge Keino in the team, Kenya was a known long distance running threat to many. The most interesting thing about Kenyatta was that he never ever mentioned Kipchoge’s second name. It is said even his speech writers avoided using it on paper for reasons to do with his dialect.

With medals streaming in, Kenyatta was always at hand to host athletics teams that participated in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, 1970 Commonwealth Games, 1972 Munich Olympics and1974 Christchurch New Zealand Commonwealth. Kenya boycotted the 1976 Montreal Canada Olympics. That would have been Kenyatta’s last Olympics because he passed on in 1978.

In 1968, Kenyatta witnessed a resurgence of the Kenyan boxing team. Ironically, his former ADC Major Marsden Madoka later on became an official in the team. The Mexico Olympics introduced Phillip Waruinge to Kenya and the world. He won a bronze medal in the men’s featherweight.

It is in the same games that Daniel Rudisha—father to David Rudisha—gave Kenya a silver in the 4 x400m relay.

Waruinge then became a household name when he won a gold, a silver at the Munich Games in 1972. Many believed he had been “robbed” a gold medal through biased officiating. Kenyatta was at hand in State House to receive the medals that included two golds from Keino.

The Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand ushered in a new entrant Steve Muchoki, a great boxer who went on to paint Kenya’s image on the world stage. Muchoki hammered James Oduori of Uganda in the Light Flyweight category to win a gold.

He repeated the feat at the 1978 Edmonton Games in Canada. Not to be left behind in congratulating the boxer, Kenyatta, now in his sunset years, promised him few head of grade heifers and some monetary gift as a token of appreciation. Items he is yet to receive.

Kenyatta’s love for Kenyan sports heroes was legendary and football was also in the mix. In 1976, he received Luo Union FC after they beat Young Africans 2-1 to win the regional CECAFA trophy. He also invited them to State House in 1977 when they beat Horsed of Somalia to lift the same trophy.

One of the Luo Union, Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars great player was William “Chege” Ouma. A mercurial striker who in 1972 was also in Kenya’s squad that qualified for a first African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

State House drama

There was once a dramatic moment when players lined up to be introduced to Mzee Kenyatta. The delegation’s head introduced William “Chege” Ouma to Mzee who engaged him in vernacular (Kikuyu) telling him to work very hard and ensure they won. Little did he know that “Chege” was just a nickname.  The player just nodded and did not answer verbally.

Since he liked calling colonialists “Kaburu” or “Beberu” it is evident and interesting that Kenyatta never showed any closeness or fondness to “kaburu-leaning games” like rugby, golf, horse racing, squash, shooting, cricket, tennis or even chess.

He was a true African old man who directly supported the sports Africans embraced.

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