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Cleo Malala Super Cup: Event to rekindle Nabongo-Bukhungu political memories

Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Cleophas Malala at the 2020 Cleo Malala Super Cup finals. [Courtesy]

 

Arsenal Lirhembe is the only team to have won a back-to-back title of the annual off-season Cleo Malala Super Cup.

Lirhembe lifted the inaugural edition in 2018 and retained it in 2019, but their impressive run was halted by Sichirai in 2020.

This year, though, soccer lovers from the larger Kakamega County will be eagerly waiting to welcome the new champions.

Cleo Malala Super Cup, one of the biggest football tournaments in Kenya, is played during long school holidays. The Cup is organised and sponsored by Kakamega Senator, Cleophas Malala.

While the previous editions have served the starving football fans from the larger western region of a delicacy, this year’s edition will be of a different taste. The main goal of the tournament is to nurture talents and unite the people through sports.

But the ever fun-filled event, whose winner takes home a whopping Sh1 million, might be drowned in murky political waters this year.

The 2021 final is slated for December 31 at the Mumias Complex.

Coincidentally, on the same day, a major political rally will be taking place in Kakamega town. The two events are meant to unite the Mulembe nation.

The final matches, pencilled for Mumias Complex, will be attended by Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetangula.

“Uniting the Mulembe people using soccer Mudavadi and Wetangula confirmed guests in the 4th edition of the biggest tournament in East Africa,” Malala tweeted confirming the two leaders were invited to grace the final.

On the same Friday, away in Bukhungu Stadium, approximately 40km from Mumias, politicians loyal to ODM Party leader Raila Odinga will be joined by a Francis Otwoli- Wycliffe Oparanya axis in search of a common goal, the elusive Luhya unity.

The meeting, dubbed Bukhungu 2, being championed by Atwoli is expected to give birth to unite and rally the Luhya community behind Raila’s 2022 presidential bid.

The two events will rekindle memories of January 18, 2020, when Kakamega County was hit by a major political storm after factions allied to Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto organised two parallel rallies in the county.

While Atwoli was leading a team at Bukhungu in what was dubbed as the ‘Grand Kakamega Rally’, away in Mumias, another faction allied to Ruto had planned to stage a gathering at the Nabongo Grounds.

About two years later, the same script is about to play out again, only that this time round, football fans have been roped in.

Just like the Bukhungu One, Mudavadi has alluded that he will not be part of the second one.

The ANC leader had promised to attend the aborted Nabongo meeting but later changed his mind only to make a surprise appearance at Bukhungu Stadium long after Raila had arrived.

This was after police dispersed crowds at the Nabongo meeting.

About 24 months later, organisers of the Bukhungu 2 meeting will be hoping to bring the complex but vote-rich Luhya community to speak in one voice and vouch for a common agenda ahead of the 2022 presidential election.

Away at Mumias Complex, football and politics are expected to share the stage with the hopes that sports will help in forging unity among the 1.9 million residents of Kakamega with different political affiliations.

To organisers of the Cleo Malala Super Cup, they know that a lot is at stake.

Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala mingles with fans at a past football match. [Courtesy]

This time around, Mumias Complex will be the focal point for both political and sports fans from the larger Western region.

Though events in Mumias is seen as a sports function, it will not be devoid of politics.

Politics aside, Cleo Malala Super Cup has played a critical role in unifying the region for the last three years even though this is not the first time politicians will be attending. The 2020 final was graced by Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka.

The tournament has grown in leaps and bounds, attracting close to 6000 players each year and record fan attendance rarely witnessed even in some top Kenyan Premier League matches.

Last year, fans were treated to a rare spectacle when two choppers delivered the glittering trophy at the stadium with another one carrying the Sh1 million prize money as football lovers troop into the Mumias Sports Complex grounds to have a feel of the biggest football tournament in the region.