In whose hands is Kenyan football safe?

Harambee Stars’ Captain Michael Olunga during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers second round at the Nyayo National Stadium on Monday, November 15, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

To this day, Kenya’s football fans of hope were eager, praying for something different. Something better. A good ending. It never happened, sadly.

“As a consequence of having failed to have their suspensions by Fifa set aside, Caf has confirmed that both Kenya and Zimbabwe will not participate in the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023 qualifiers,” Confederation of African Football (Caf) wrote on their website on Monday night.

“Caf had included them in the official draw earlier in April 2022 on the condition that the suspension must be lifted two weeks before their first matchday.”

It didn’t have to come to this, honestly.

To supporters of rival countries, this may be a case of how the mighty have fallen. Indeed, it’s a crashing come-down from days gone by.

For Kenya, a football-loving country with a population of about 53 million people and ranked 102 in the world, this wasn’t what many football fans were wishing for. No. Never. Not at all.

“The current active players will be hugely affected by this. It’s every footballer’s dream to play for the national team at such a high-profile tournament and possibly land some lucrative deals abroad,” said former Harambee Stars player, Allan Wanga.

“The Transitional Committee should involve Fifa and some officials from the previous regime for us to fast-track our return to international fold,” said former Harambee Stars prolific striker, Bonface Ambani.

If only things were done differently and correctly. But then again, football is about pleasure and pain.

When some fans jubilate in the terraces at a goal or triumph, the same is reflected accurately in the aching of others.

This pain is, in truth, at the core of football fans’ kingdom. It’s quite palpable, you can feel it. But with hopelessness, there can be no delight.

In March, the world football governing body Fifa suspended Kenya from international football due to government interference after Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed suspended Football Kenya Federation and installed a Caretaker Committee and Secretariat.

Fifa gave Kenya a condition to be welcomed back to the fold; reinstate Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and disband the Caretaker Committee forthwith. None has come to pass.

“Kenya and Zimbabwe, suspended for political interference, have not met the criteria required by the Fifa Congress as a prerequisite for lifting their suspension. As a result, the two associations will be considered losers and eliminated from the competition,” Caf wrote.

Harambee Stars were drawn in Group C alongside Cameroon, Namibia and Burundi, in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that begin next week.

Kenya were to face hosts Cameroon on June 4. Group C now has Cameroon, Namibia and Burundi, whose top two finishers will play in the Ivory Coast tournament.

And so, Kenya’s fate has been sealed. It’s not Africa Cup of Nations 2023, but Africa Cup of Nations 2025 in Guinea, perhaps. Kenyan football fans are now like lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray.

As it stands, no Kenyan team will play in next year’s CAF Champions League or Confederation Cup and no Kenyan referee will have the pleasure of being appointed to officiate in any international tournament.

It’s that hard-hitting. Even to Gor Mahia captain and Harambee Stars defender Philemon Otieno, this is a form of torture.

"By locking Harambee Stars out of Afcon qualifiers, they have not only killed the dreams of many players, but also wasted our talent. Having played at the 2019 tournament in Egypt, I feel sorry for my fellow players,” said Otieno.

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