Kenya Rugby Union Chairman Richard Omwela was mad, he was literally shaking with rage after just having told off several Rugby voters who had accosted him in the parking lot of the RFUEA grounds, where the election for his seat had just concluded.
These voters (referred internally as affiliates) under the guise of congratulating him for his victory and 2nd successive term of office, wanted also to extort him off of some more money under the pretext that they had voted him in.
Omwela, now seated and sipping drinks with a colleague from the legal fraternity at the Talisman restaurant in Karen, knew he had just dodged a bullet.
He had beaten his closest challenger Alexander “Sasha” Mutai by a mere 2 votes (25 votes to 23) despite assurances from majority of the affiliates that they would vote for him and their constant demands for “facilitation”.
Inside his shrewd legal mind, the KRU Chairman knew that lady luck had smiled at him once more and that 2 factors had worked in his favour.
First, the voters from the KENYA CUP CAUCUS, a grouping of the 12 clubs that play in the Rugby equivalent of the Premier League, had come through for him to a man.
Second, and most confounding, the 3rd candidate in the race Rajinder “Pape” Sembi had garnered 9 votes thereby splitting the vote basket and allowing him the 2-vote advantage that enabled him to retain his seat.
At their table in the Talisman restaurant, Omwela and his colleague had been joined by an acquaintance, who listened to Omwelas story with a lot of amusement, little did they know that the man had his own extraordinary story to narrate.
Apparently this gentleman was the proprietor of the EXPLORER TAVERN in Kilimani area where on the night before (eve of the KRU election), Rugby voters had gathered for a night of carousel, drinking expensive alcohol and eating meat & Chicken.
He estimated that food alone must have cost upwards Ksh. 150,000/- while liquor cost in excess of Ksh. 350,000/- making a grand total expenditure by a candidate for the Chairmanship of the KRU of Ksh. 500,000/- on a single evening.
These select KRU voters stayed at the restaurant until the wee hours of the morning before they were shuttled to some expensive hotel nearby to spend the night, before reconvening the next day for lunch, drinks and then being shepherded to vote at the elections, like hapless sheep to the slaughter.
In the voting tent, you could easily identify the partakers of this largesse because as they belched gently, they gave off fumes of expensive liquor, most were unaccustomed to and combined, the entire tent reeked…
All along, the owner of Explorer Tavern had assumed that it was Omwela who had spent pornographic amounts of money to woo such a small group of voters.
So he was naturally floored to learn that the said candidate was in fact Alexander “Sasha” Mutai who went on to lose the election
They estimated that Sasha had spent in excess of Ksh. 2 million over the course of campaigns for the seat to garner 23 votes.
This translated to almost Ksh. 100,000/- spent per voter, and to-date Omwela still reels in shock at the amounts spent wondering what the stakes in the game are that would make a candidate spend this amount – what exactly wasn’t he seeing?
Ironically, today in the Championship and Nationwide leagues, Rugby clubs like Kitale and Kisii are unable to meet their travel obligations to participate in some league matches… These clubs spend an inordinate amount of time demanding the current Omela-led executive to bridge the financial shortfall for them through financial grants.
Why wouldn’t Sasha step in to salvage the fortunes of clubs like Kitale RFC where club Chairman Ben Amboko is one of his most vocal and fanatical supporters, yet the club is sometimes unable to participate in the Championship for lack of transport facilitation.
Amboko was spotted at Explorer Tavern, swearing fealty to Sasha, while swallowing copious amounts of fine liqueur and tearing into the soft flesh of roasted broiler chicken. All the while, his poor players struggle for meals and transport as they slave and toil on the field.
Amboko was also flown from Kitale to Nairobi for the elections, just to underscore to him just how critical his vote was to the “cause”, yet his team struggles for bus fare to play locally.
This question still bothers Omwela….!
KENYA CUP CAUCUS – SILLY SCHEMES
Also referred to as the KENYA CUP CARCASS depending on whom you are talking to is loved and hated in equal measure. Loved because they hold the swing vote in the KRU leadership elections and hated because it’s literally impossible to buy their vote.
These are arguably the most conscientious voters in the sport of Rugby, who vote for their interest (which are also the interest of the game) and the reason Rugby has managed to keep its head above the water.
However, a series of unfortunate events almost led to the disintegration of the Caucus and with it, the game of Rugby in Kenya.
We have previously highlighted the story of how former KRU Chairman Mwangi Muthee was hounded out of office by the duo of Philip JALANGO and Eddie OMONDI who were his Vice-Chairman and Secretary-General respectively.
To compound the problem, these two gentlemen, at the height of their hubris during the Safari 7s event at Kasarani 2015, went rogue on Zaheeda Suleman (head of events at Safaricom) ignominiously bringing this lady to tears.
An attempt by Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore to mediate with the KRU Board and to resolve the issues, was only attended by 2 of its 10 members with Jalango and Omondi sending dismissive emails.
The Caucus saw with its own eyes and felt for itself the withdrawal of Safaricom, EABL & Bamburi (Lafarge) as main sponsors and a slew of other 2nd level sponsors like UAP & Bollore.
It is a freefall from which the game and its stakeholders have never recovered and is cited ominously by other Sports Federations in Kenya on how NEVER to run their financial and PR affairs.
The caucus therefore developed a plan to salvage what was left of the game by ejecting 5 problematic and implacable KRU Board members and replacing them with mature, sober, composed leaders.
This team that was earmarked to salvage and rescue the game was composed of 3 members from the Caucus and 2 members from the lower Nationwide League. It was the first time in the history of Rugby, since transition from an all-white sport, had the voters come together, united in purpose.
The Caucus would therefore produce Thomas Opiyo for Vice-Chairman (Nondescripts RFC), Oduor Gangla for Secretary General (Impala RFC) and Ali Aljabri for Director (Nakuru RFC).
The Nationwide league fronted Dr. CPA Joshua Aroni for Treasurer (Mombasa RFC) and John Kilonzo for Director (Masaku RFC).
And so, at the 2016 KRU Board elections, 4 of the 5 compromise candidates were voted in overwhelmingly. Only one of the identified problematic board members, Moses Ndale, retained his seat and in a big FUCK YOU to the progressive forces that wanted him out, went ahead to play his part in wrecking what the others were trying to salvage over the next 2 years.
However, It was immediately possible to feel the steadying effects of the new board members, Omwela who previously always appeared harassed, relaxed visibly and even began to spend an inordinate amount of time at his 2nd side-hustle, as Country head of Rotary.
Dr. CPA Joshua Aroni in particular, tightened the financial grip at the KRU that despite its meagre income, the organization today inspires confidence of its bankers, enough to be granted a revolving overdraft!
Sadly, KRU rules explicitly bar anyone from holding club positions on being elected to the Board.
Therefore, Thomas Opiyo and Oduor Gangla left their domicile club Chairmanships (Nondescripts and Impala respectively) to take up new roles on the board. In so doing, they also relinquished their roles in the Kenya Cup Caucus.
The Kenya Cup Caucus was further degraded by a decision by KCB to send their club Chairman on official duty to Juba. The Caucus leadership is determined by the ranking of teams in the competition the previous season.
The core leadership of the Caucus from mid-2016 was thus KCB (Champions), Kabras Sugar RFC (Runner-up) and Kenya Harlequins (1st Runner-up).
With the presumptive Caucus Chairman now in Juba and his Vice-Chairman (Kabras RFC Chairman) based in Kisumu/Kakamega, the leadership of the Caucus (centred in Nairobi) fell to one of the most dubious, diabolical and nefarious characters to ever enter the game of Rugby in Kenya.
Kenya club giants Kenya Harlequins had been going through a rough patch and its “Generals” thought to put in place a stop-gap measure to stem further decline by installing a CARETAKER Chairman who would manage the day-to-day affairs of the club and thereafter lead to normal elections of a new set of office-bearers.
The man chosen for this job was MIKE LUCAS.
A grizzled old man with a natural dour look, as though the World owed him an apology and a permanent scowl that makes him appear to sneer at people. He had a persona as pale and as pasty as his skin and a heart as dark as the night.
After a short while in his caretaker role, Lucas acquired a taste for the lifestyle that accompanies the game and in the deepest recesses of his dark heart, decided he wanted to remain in the position. To do so, he needed the popular mandate of the club membership. The question therefore was, could he garner sufficient numbers of the popular vote within Kenya Harlequins to enable him continue in office as a legitimately elected Chairman?
His advanced years and snooty persona were a complete mismatch and turn-off to a vast majority of the young club members, a fact he was very aware of. There was no way the young’uns were going to elect this spent cartridge!
In order to continue in office, he devised an alternate plan…
Within the ranks of the Kenya Harlequin membership was a young, monied, ambitious and popular man by the name Ezekiel Owuor. He was being touted as having a keen interest in the club Chairmanship despite currently holding onto a lowly Assistant treasurer position within the club.
Lucas, devilishly devious managed to convince Ezekiel that his latent talents were being under-utilized at the club and that a young man of his potential needed a canvas (or a Sistine chapel, like MichelAngelo) to paint a masterpiece.
That canvas, according to Lucas, was the KRU Executive Board… and that he (Lucas) had the means to propel him to into this position.
Lucas had never really liked Kabras Sugar RFC Chairman Ray Olendo, mainly because this upstart had come into the game and upset the perceived natural order of things in a massive shake-up of the player transfer market.
More personally, if anyone could muster more arrogance than Lucas, surely it was this young man from Kisumu, whose club is funded by an apparently limitless budget.
Obviously the feeling of disdain was mutual between the two and in the process what used to be monthly Caucus meetings virtually stopped taking place.
Ray Olendo was equally as ambitious on the field as he was off it and he realized that real power lay in sitting on the KRU Executive Board. By the time 2017 elections were coming around he had placed his bid for election to it.
The current KRU CEO and then Chairman of Strathmore Leos was already going to be elevated to the Board to take up the Women’s Rugby role, she was no pushover…a fact that annoyed Lucas to no end.
Out of the 12 former Caucus Chairmen in 2015, 6 -7 were either to be upscaled to the Board, left the Caucus on official duty or exited their clubs through natural attrition.
Lucas would loudly tell his close friend and confidante Miki Cardovillis during their alcohol-fuelled brain-storming sessions, that the new caucus members were putty in his hands.
The new Caucus members innocently didn’t have the institutional memory of the deal (Gentleman’s MOU) struck between the caucus and the clubs in the lower tier Championship and Nationwide leagues about a joint approach to sharing Board sits.
When this enquiry was made in a whatsapp group for Rugby teams, Mike Lucas (now the de facto leader of the KC Caucus) thoughtfully proposed that these lower tier clubs were free to find a private place, where they could jerk themselves off for good measure!
That is how the KRU Board started being weighed down once more by two or three below-par leaders.
However, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom at the KRU… Ezekiel Owuor came on board and was immediately handed the portfolio for commercial services.
In an unprecedented move, his committee managed to secure a TV deal which paid money to clubs, especially those in the Kenya Cup whose matches are shown weekend-in, weekend-out.
Currently, discussions are in high gear for the return of SportPesa as sponsors now that their tiff with Government over taxes has been ended successfully and the relevant departments in SportPesa have been re-staffed with highly capable officers.
Time has also healed the wounds and washed away the hurt caused by Jalang’o and Omondi. Safaricom, a listed company and a regional powerhouse cannot continue to hold a “corporate grudge” against an entire sport like Rugby.
Bob Collymore has been indisposed for quite some time and it’s expected that he would now better understand the fickleness of life and the need to build bridges when the opportunity still exists.
Especially when the perpetrators of the malaise that caused the bad blood in the first place were quietly removed from office.
Let not his legacy to Sport in general and Rugby specifically be that he engineered a sponsorship meltdown for the entire game, in the process hurting hundreds of innocent and oblivious young Kenyans because he was mad at the actions of a few misguided morons.
The question holds to the Kenya Cup caucus, will they do the honorable thing and engage their compatriots in the lower leagues in a bid to muster a single, unbeatable and game-changing line-up at the upcoming election? Or will they allow themselves to be divided to allow the game to be captured by the charlatans and ne’er-do-wells who have lined up for it?
A lot lies in the leadership of the Caucus, will Auka Gecheo of Nondescripts stop being shy and take up the de facto leadership of the carcass (sorry, caucus) without hesitation.
Will George “Jijo” Mbaye set aside his fledgling career in comedy to be the serious Chairman of the first black African Rugby club in Kenya, so as to help guide the caucus to making right decisions for the game?
The time of the mini-caucus has come to an end, in no large part due to similar natural attrition within the clubs.nd
Mike Lucas, an aberration to the game, has thankfully since departed his former club Kenya Harlequins, after the young members finally discovered the full measure of his indiscretions and lack of probity.
They bounced him out so fast in 2018 that his head is probably still in a spin.
(Under the banner of the Washington Post inspired slogan – Democracy dies in Darkness) we will continue with a series of illuminating stories of life in the game of Rugby in Kenya and why it has remained below par despite massive potential.)
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