Jackie Janmohamed, 49, a lawyer, made history when she was elected Cricket Kenya chairperson, becoming the first woman in the world to head a national cricket body. She spoke to Njoki Chege
When she landed the plum job to head cricket in the country, what many Kenyans didn’t know is that Jackie Janmohamed, not only grabbed local headlines, but also featured prominently in International media. In Pakistani, for instance, the media was abuzz with the story.
In part, the headline story went like this “Pakistan has added yet another feather in her cap, as wife of former Pakistani national cricket player (Mudassar Nazar) was today elected the head of cricket in Kenya.”
One would expect Jackie to be a sophisticated city-based lawyer appointed to head a sport that is often misconceived as elitist — but she is your average, Mariakani (South B) born Kenyan, who just happened to love cricket from a tender age.
“When I was three years old, I would accompany my father to cricket matches most Sunday afternoons at Sir Ali Muslim Club in Parklands,” she begins. “Then, no women were playing cricket, but I enjoyed watching the game.”
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Born Zehra Janmohamed to an average Kenyan family of Indian origin, her neighbours christened her ‘Jackie’, after former US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who was popular at the time. Soon, the name stuck and today she is rarely addressed as Zehra.
Jackie nostalgically recalls being neighbours with football legend JoeKadenge, and how the entire neighbourhood would be glued to the radio chanting ‘Kadenge na mpira’ (Kadenge with the ball) over radio-broadcasted football matches on weekends.
After attending Muslim Girls for her primary education, Jackie’s parents pulled a surprise on her by sending her to a Catholic school — Our Lady of Mercy.
“Being a Muslim in a Catholic school was an interesting experience,” she recounts, “I attended mass, confession, studied CRE, observed Ash Wednesday, read the Bible and prayed using a rosary. But I always got into trouble with the nuns for being so loud!” she says.
When was barely 20 years old, her parents shipped her to the UK to study law at the University College, London. This, she recalls, introduced her to the tough world, where she had to learn to survive on the little stipend her parents would send her annually. But even when abroad, she nurtured her interest in cricket.
“I still took a keen interest in local cricket and my parents would send me newspaper cuttings to see how Kenyan cricket was doing,” says Jackie.
After completing her Law degree in 1987 at the University College in London, Jackie was admitted to the English bar, (Lincoln’s Inn).
She returned home in the same year and after a year of pupilage, she was admitted to the Kenyan bar in 1989. Jackie has worked exclusively at Archer and Wilcock Advocates where she has risen through the ranks from pupilage to becoming a senior partner.
As soon as she returned home, she took a keen interest in umpiring cricket, as at that time, women were not allowed to play it.
“Since 1989, I was involved in administration of Kenyan cricket and served at some point as the assistant secretary of the Kenya Cricket Association. I was also part of the organising team when Kenya hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup matches,” she notes.
But Jackie is not new to making history in the world of cricket, as she was the first fully qualified female cricket umpire in Kenya, as well as the first woman life member at Sir Ali Muslim Club (SAMC). She is also the first elected female executive member of SAMC.
Cricket in Kenya is often misconceived as an elitist sport ,most popular among Kenyans of Indian origin.
But Jackie’s top agenda is to popularise the sport, and even make it part of the school curriculum to cultivate interest at a tender age.
“I believe cricket is a lot more widespread than most people believe. The problem is that cricket is not often reported by the media, thus perpetrating certain misconceptions about the game,” she says.
According to Jackie, the only way Kenyans can begin to appreciate the game and change their misconceptions is by looking at the players, rather than the administration.
“When you look at the players — particularly the women’s national team, you will realise it is a fair mix and it represents the true face of Kenya — from Maasai, to Luo and there is absolutely no Indian!” she says.
By making cricket part of the school curriculum, she believes this would debunk the myth that cricket is a reserve of the elite and at the same time generate interest from a young age.
“You will be surprised to know that in Kakamega cricket is picking up and the Government needs to provide facilities to promote the game,” says Jackie.
Also top on her agenda as the ‘Madame president’ of the game will be to recruit, retain and develop local players to retain Kenya’s lost glory, as far as cricket is concerned.
At the moment, Kenya ranks averagely at the associate level of cricket players, but Jackie believes a lot more could be done to take Kenya back to the top, as was in 2003.
“For Kenya to move to the next level, we need help from all quarters. We will soon unveil an ambitious strategic plan and I believe by 2017, Kenya will emerge best in the associate level, and we will be knocking at the doors of the test players such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies,” she says.
Jackie believes that the only way Kenya will top the ranks is if Kenyans would take a little more interest in the sport, as was the case of Bangladesh, whose national team is now a force to reckon with.
Says Jackie: “Kenyans have got to support their own. Let’s not disown our team because they are not performing well at the moment.
This is the only way we can improve our results.”
Besides traversing the counties to garner support for the sport, Jackie intends to use local cricket players to be the goodwill ambassadors of the game and also develop training programmes to support the players.
Being the first woman to ever hold this position, Jackie is eager to prove her capability, but this comes with a price.
“It is a humbling experience. I have a passion for cricket and I intend to give it my best shot. There are a few sexist comments here and there, but I believe that we, as a country need to take this further and make even more history together by supporting our team,” she says.