Kenyan football's potential to rival Tanzania: Insights from Mashemeji Derby

FKFPL Kenyan football's potential to rival Tanzania: Insights from Mashemeji Derby

Mark Kinyanjui 07:51 - 17.05.2023

Why the high attendance by fans in the last Mashemeji derby could help Kenyan football rise again.

Mashemeji Derby attendance still shows Kenyan Football has the potential to catch up with Tanzania: It just needs to borrow a leaf from its neighbours.

When Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba was being vetted for the position last October, he vowed to make Kenyan Sports and Arts contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The attendance witnessed at the Mashemeji derby on Sunday between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards showed that Kenyan football alone can help realize Namwamba’s vision, as it was a derby that will live long in the memory for many reasons.

First, it marked the first time AFC Leopards defeated their sworn rivals Gor Mahia in seven years. Second, it witnessed a very high turnout of fans but mostly from K'Ogalo fans.

Although Gor Mahia fans filled two-thirds of the stadium, AFC Leopards fans, who were still protesting owing to their differences with Football Kenya Federation, turned up in sizeable numbers, especially after going 2-1 up just before the break.

The game was also televised live on Tanzanian broadcast media company Azam TV for the first time ever. In case you do not know, Azam is the biggest television network in Tanzania and their investment in their own football has reaped so many rewards, they now have the financial muscle to invest in other countries.

They decided to use the Mashemeji Derby to test the waters, and paid every topflight club Ksh300,000 due to broadcast rights.

Tanzanian football has contributed to helping the economy of its country, this is the background behind it and I believe Kenyan football can also take a step in that direction using their two most popular clubs, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia.

Yanga, who are already league champions this season will be playing Marumo Gallants of South Africa in the second leg of the CAF Confederations Cup holding a 2-0 first-leg advantage.

Yes, you heard that right, Kenya! A Tanzanian Premier League club is just 90 minutes away from making history as the first-ever East African side to reach the final of a continental competition since Kenya Breweries, now Tusker in 1994.

Bitter rivals Simba also made the quarter-finals of Africa’s premier competition, the CAF Champions League this season, where they were eliminated by Wydad Casablanca on penalties.

Both sides’ performances in the continental stage epitomize the strides that Tanzanian football has made in recent years. Kenyan football by contrast has taken significant steps backwards in recent times.

Kenyans have a haughty attitude toward their neighbors. When Harambee Stars played the Taifa Stars in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, they were bullish and confident that Tanzania could not beat them.

Indeed a brace engineered by Michael Olunga inspired the side to a win, justifying the claims of their gloating citizens saying Tanzania was still streets behind Kenya in football.

They were loud and affiliated with a superiority complex. So ingrained did they become affected by it, they are not even aware that the leopards changed their spots a long time ago and it is they that now have to play catch up.

This delusionary state still has them thinking that they can co-host the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations alongside Uganda and Tanzania when they could not even host an African Nations Championship tournament in 2018.

Unlike West African countries like Nigeria, Senegal and Cameroon, East Africa does not have a reputation for producing natural football talents. The only thing then that it can do, is to properly utilize its financial and human resources, something that Tanzania has done very well.

The biggest way both clubs have managed to become financially sustainable is through the Simba and Yanga days that take place annually every year, which are big events that go a long way in enhancing the sustainability of both clubs in the short, medium, and long term.

These celebrations usually generate a lot of revenue for both clubs. Bongo artists such as  Diamond Platnumz , Zuchu, and Harmonize get to perform at such events, which naturally draws the interest of fans (even those who are not football fans) to come to watch them perform.

In the process, they end up becoming fans of the respective clubs and start following them passionately. Both clubs are as a result, able to keep their finances in check as they have a reliable revenue stream. It creates a knock-on effect on other clubs, and it allows the football to keep growing.

This has allowed them to get Azam TV to also broadcast Tanzanian Premier League games for the fans that are not able to attend matches which keeps fans up to date with what is going on in their leagues.

The revenue generated from that is shared amongst all clubs, which guarantees them financial security. As a result, they are able to attract top talents from all over Africa. Even our own players seek greener pastures there because of this, including Joash Onyango who plays for Simba, and Kenneth Muguna of Azam.

Back to Kenya. The country’s top flight league can follow a similar path. The reality is that we are ‘steps behind’ Tanzania in football terms as Bandari interim coach Twahir Muhidin put it during a question and answer session with the fans on the Bandari Facebook page.

But for football to take strides forward and catch up, the two most popular clubs in the country can replicate the initiatives by Simba and Yanga and maybe, just maybe, it will have a knock-on effect on other clubs and help Namwamba realize his vision.

President William Ruto attended the match and in his sentiments afterwards, stressed the need for the country to realize its vision of co-hosting the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations.

For that to happen, both clubs will be integral if they apply such innovative ideas to help lay sustainable financial foundations that will help them, as well as the league in general become self-sufficient.