Nick Mwendwa: A footballing enigma at crossroads ahead of 2024 elections


FOOTBALL Nick Mwendwa: A footballing enigma at crossroads ahead of 2024 elections

Festus Chuma 09:36 - 25.12.2023

As Nick Mwendwa's second term nears its end, Kenyan football faces uncertainty amid speculation about his third-term candidacy.

 The incumbent president of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Nick Mwendwa finds himself at a pivotal juncture in his tenure.

With his current term nearing its conclusion, speculation is rife about whether he will seek a third term at the helm of the federation.

As per the FKF constitution, Mwendwa remains eligible to vie for a second term, setting the stage for a gripping contest that promises to shape the future of Kenyan football.

Mwendwa, who is currently in his second term as the head of the federation, was re-elected in 2020, emerging victorious after garnering 77 out of 85 votes.

However, the football leader has remained tight-lipped about his intentions, leaving the football community in a state of uncertainty.

As of now, the FKF is grappling with a web of legal intricacies that have cast a shadow of ambiguity over its operations and the scheduling of upcoming elections.

The federation has yet to announce a precise date for these crucial elections, despite calls from stakeholders and the wider football community for clarity.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba, however, declared in September that FKF elections must be held in February 2024, emphasizing that it is non-negotiable.

"Elections of FKF must be held on the due date. That is not negotiable. I have instructed the Registrar of Sports to form a technical committee and start preparing for a free, fair, and verifiable election," he asserted.

Amid this uncertainty, Nick Mwendwa has ambitious goals for Kenyan football.

He aims to see the Harambee Stars football team qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations.

Additionally, Mwendwa is reported to have shown interest in vying for the FIFA Council post representing African Anglophone nations, a seat for which he was a contestant in the last elections held in Morocco.

This lack of clarity surrounding the FKF's future direction has fueled apprehension and conjecture within the football community.

A transparent and timely election process is not only crucial for establishing legitimacy within the FKF leadership but also for restoring confidence and stability among football enthusiasts, players, administrators, and stakeholders.

The Nairobi County Football Association (NCFA), a splinter group within the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) responsible for managing the country's football, has been vocal in calling for the election date to be announced, as FKF elections are meant to be held every four years.

Mwendwa rose to prominence on February 10, 2016, when he defeated Sam Nyamweya to become FKF president, securing an overwhelming majority in the national elections held at Kasarani Stadium.

At the age of only 37, he won 50 of the 77 votes cast, edging out his only rival, Ambrose Rachier, to claim the top seat.

Before his victory, Mwendwa had served as the chairman of the National Super League side, Kariobangi Sharks, who gained promotion to the top tier a year after his election. Incumbent Sam Nyamweya withdrew from the elections just before voting began.

However, Mwendwa's first term in office was marred by a series of controversies. During that period, former Harambee Stars coach Bobby Williamson was dismissed and replaced by Stanley Okumbi in 2016.

Williamson filed a case against the federation in 2019 for unfair dismissal and was awarded Ksh55 million in unpaid salaries and damages.

In March a year later, FIFA's disciplinary committee gave FKF 30 days to pay former head coach Adel Amrouche over Ksh109 million ($1.03 million) for wrongful dismissal or face sanctions.

The disciplinary committee also fined the FKF $37,500 for the costs sustained in connection with arbitration procedures and proceedings.

In December 2020, Mwendwa faced a political storm but eventually secured a second term in office during the elective Special General Meeting held at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi.

He garnered 77 votes, defeating his closest competitor, Lordvick Aduda, who managed five votes, while Herbert Mwachiro had only three. Boniface Osano and Dan Mule did not receive any votes.

Prior to this victory, the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT) had nullified two previous disputed elections before finally clearing the way for Mwendwa's second term.

Immediately after his re-election, Mwendwa confidently declared his intention to contest for two more terms at the expiry of his current term in October 2024.

"At least by the laws now, I will still be around in the next elections. So, Kenyans should be prepared to be under my leadership for at least two more terms. Football is a lifetime. 

"When you choose it, you die with it: I will forever die with it. Of course, people will say I'm overstaying in office, but just like any other person, you can't think clearly in your first term," he stated as per Standard Sports.

Sources also indicated that Mwendwa had his sights set on the FIFA Council post for the African Anglophone nations in the next election in 2025, after he withdrew from the race during the last elections held in Morocco, allowing Nigeria Football Federation president Amaju Melvin Pinnick to clinch the post.

However, signs of Mwendwa's declining influence began to surface in mid-2021.

In July of that year, FKF terminated its partnership with the online betting firm, Odibets, citing a breach of contract. This decision followed another shocking move in June that canceled a Ksh1.2 billion sponsorship deal with BetKing under unclear circumstances.

In May 2021, Mwendwa was summoned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) over funds meant for the national team's participation in the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

This led to him being kicked out of office by the then Sports CS Amina Mohamed a move that proved costly as Kenya was suspended by FIFA for almost a year with the ban lifted in November 2022. 

In the same year, traditional top-flight giants AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia found themselves in hot water after failing to honor their Mashemeji derby fixture due to a dispute over delayed FKF Cup prize money.

Despite these challenges, Mwendwa oversaw some notable achievements, including the national women's football team, Harambee Starlets, dethroning hosts Tanzania to clinch the 2019 CECAFA Senior Women's Championship and Harambee Stars' qualification for the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

However, the shine of these accomplishments faded as the DCI launched investigations into how Ksh294 million set aside by the government was spent throughout the AFCON tourney. Nevertheless, Mwendwa resurfaced in August 2022 to congratulate William Ruto on winning the presidency.

Fast forward to 2023, Mwendwa expressed gratitude for the government's increased support for the Federation's needs, particularly in terms of national team preparations.

He noted that the government had provided substantial resources and had become more actively involved in football affairs.

"Since I was here, we were never supported. And support is not just money. When did you last see me on the pitch, with a Minister, watching training? We are not yet there completely but we are on our way. The spirit from the Government and the Ministry has been so strong, and I can't thank them enough because I have seen what I didn't see in six years," he stated as per Capital Sports.

In the same year, national teams experienced a busy schedule, with the Under-20 women's team participating in the World Cup qualifiers, the senior team competing in the Women's AFCON qualifiers, and Harambee Stars engaging in various friendly matches and World Cup qualifiers. Kenya also hosted the CECAFA Under-18 boys' championships in Kisumu and Kakamega.

The Ministry added financial incentives for teams, promising Harambee Stars Ksh2.5 million for every win in their World Cup qualification journey.

Despite these recent developments, Mwendwa's journey has not been without hurdles.

Court cases have loomed large, with several thrown out earlier in 2023. Originally charged in Nairobi's anti-corruption court, the case was dismissed.

However, the Director of Public Prosecutions sought to file fresh charges in Kiambu, but Mwendwa's legal team objected.

In a recent ruling, Kiambu Magistrate Wilson Rading set aside the charges, deeming them defective, unlawful, unconstitutional, and an abuse of the court process and the criminal justice system.

However, Nick Mwendwa's career at the helm of the Football Kenya Federation remains in the balance.

The upcoming elections will determine not only his future but also the direction of Kenyan football.

As the football community awaits clarity on the election date, the fate of the federation hangs in the balance, with stakeholders and enthusiasts hoping for a transparent and timely process that will restore confidence and stability to the sport they love. 

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