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Nick Mwendwa: The good, bad and ugly sides of embattled FKF boss

By Killiad Sinide | November 12th 2021

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa addressed the media at Lamada Hotel. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

I have only met Nick Mwendwa once. It was a chilly Friday morning in July when I visited one of his offices in Hurlingham, Nairobi. “It’s his first interview in over eight months,” a scribe had told me as we prepared for the interview.

It was a conflation of eagerness and excitement; on one hand we couldn’t wait to probe him on, among other issues, FKF’s decision to give Tusker FC the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League spot.

It was a scoop because Mwendwa had earned a reputation among scribes; he is a man of many words, but for months he had been giving the media a blackout.

“He doesn’t like accountability; journalists who ask tough questions become his enemies,” a sports scribe, who did not want to be named, had told me. 

When we met him in July, the 2020/21 Kenyan Premier League was almost concluding. The government’s suspension of sporting activities earlier in March meant the league would spill beyond the June 30 scheduled deadline when the KPL resumed. Kenya was at the same time required by CAF to produce a team for the Champions League or be disqualified from the competition.

The FKF boss, however, came under fire from other KPL clubs for giving Tusker FC the Champions League ticket before the season’s end. “We urged CAF, via an official letter, to give Kenya one more month for matches to play out, but the African football body declined our request,” Mwendwa said in his defence.

Traditionally, the FKFPL winner gets an automatic ticket to represent the country in the continent, but “it is disappointing to play knowing that even if you win the league by the end of August, you are not guaranteed continental football,” said then Gor Mahia FC coach Sammy Omollo.

His tenure at the helm of the federation, despite promising to take Harambee Stars to the World Cup in Qatar, has not been short of controversy. The national team’s performances have been disappointing. Kenya’s humiliating 5-0 loss to Mali was almost certainly the final nail in the coffin of his 2022 World Cup promise.

But it came as no surprise to some football fans and pundits, who say the loss was a culmination of institutional failure and poor decisions by the federation.

“Disappointing results. Mali 5-0 Kenya.” Retired Harambee Stars forward Bonface Ambani posted on his Facebook page. “Consequences of hiring and firing at will. The worst results posted by stars in recent years.”

The Mali thrashing came barely a month after Mwendwa appointed Engin Firat as the new Harambee Stars head coach following the exit of Jacob Mulee and his technical team. The move elicited a lot of criticism from Kenyans. The Turk is the seventh tactician he has hired since he took the reins at Kandanda House, but the problem is not with the managers, according to the FKF boss.

“Even if you bring Mourinho or Arteta, the work that needs to be done is to bring the talent to the table,” Mwendwa said during an interview on NTV. “For you to win you need quality players.”

But Ambani, one of the former players who responded to this comment, blamed poor results on Mwendwa. “He should shift blame from the players and take responsibility. You can’t dream of qualifying for major events when you keep on firing and hiring coaches,” the ex-footballer told The Standard.

The role of the FKF is to promote, regulate and develop the game of football locally. Since Mwendwa took over FKF in 2016, Harambee Stars won the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in 2017 and qualified for the AFCON barely two years later after a 15-years hiatus. The national football team also climbed up 17 spots in 2016 and 12 spots in 2017 in Fifa rankings.

Meanwhile, women’s football has also been on the rise during Nick’s tenure. Harambee Starlets qualified for their first AFCON tournament in 2016 and won the Cecafa Women Championship in Tanzania.

“We have also seen a lot of coaches and referees being trained during his tenure,” says Stephen Mukangai, a football commentator and sports reporter. “He obviously has his weaknesses... but I can say he has done more harm than good,” Mukangai says.

These achievements were not short of blemish. While players flew with pride to Egypt to represent their countries in the 2019 AFCON, some went back wounded. That was the story of Gor Mahia defender Philemon Otieno, who got a knee injury while playing for the Stars.

The FKF did not fund his treatment despite promising to pay for his surgery. “We don’t have money to help Philemon to undergo a knee operation,” the federation’s acting CEO Barry Otieno said. “You know very well Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) just reopened our bank accounts the other day, and it is now (that) we want to make the accounts fully operational and get our activities going.”

Later, Mwendwa was quoted as saying the player arrived at the national team camp injured. “We treated Philemon when he reported to camp because he came with the injury,” he said. “As a federation, we are not running away from responsibilities, but we are putting things the way they are supposed to be.”

Barely a year after the tournament, Mwendwa was grilled by officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation over misuse of funds. He was put to task over alleged misappropriation of Sh244 million the government had given towards Harambee Stars AFCON preparations.

He was also questioned over the misappropriation of Sh125 million that was paid to WTS Media Group Ltd for the purchase of an Outside Broadcasting van. 

In October 2020, Mwendwa sought to gag the DCI and the Director of Public Prosecutions from investigating him over the transfer of funds from the federation to his personal accounts. A journalist had also separately filed the complaint with the Investigatory Chamber and Ethics Committee - Fifa.

In October this year, the High Court cleared the DCI and DPP to investigate Mwendwa over a suspected misappropriation of funds. Fifa also sent three officials after Sports CSAmina Mohamed ordered an audit of FKF accounts.

This month, Mwendwa and Otieno, the FKF CEO, appeared before a Senate Committee over financial accountability. And now Sports CS Amina Mohamed has suspended Mwendwa and all FKF officials to allow for the investigations at Kandanda House.

This could be the beginning of the end for a man who was once seen as the answer to all the ills in Kenyan football. In a sentence, it has been a rough ride for Mwendwa as the FKF boss.

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