I have made my own share of mistakes in 2015 and that is probably why I am in a hurry, even desperation, to see the back of this year. But every morning, I have thanked goodness that I am a journalist. I wouldn’t want to be anything else, the hardships notwithstanding.
I want to slam the door on this year but before I do, for one last time, let me recap the year. I am going to review it through the lenses of this column and to do so, I am going to quote myself in some instances. I beg your forgiveness for this, because I would have preferred to quote other people. But we are ending the year, and your indulgencies are requested, for only this once.
Some stories in 2015 were inspirational, some plain depressing, some outrageous, others annoying and still others sad. I have selected 10 stories for remembrance. I am sure you can think of others, and those will enrich our conversation if you write to me as you always do and which I always appreciate.
For now, here is my selection:
Most inspirational story of the year: Doubtless, this was Hyvon Ngetich’s epic run in the Austin Marathon in February. She was the lady with a superhuman will. She crawled the last 50 metres of the Austin Marathon after her body gave in and finished third in 3:04.02, just three seconds behind the second place finisher. She had been leading the race before the collapse of her body, leaving the spirit to finish the job. Somebody came to her with a wheelchair but she refused to get on it.
As I said then and still fondly remember, “the narratives of her epic endurance, of steadily gazing at the finish line while scrambling forward on all fours, her broken body wracked with pain and saliva drooling freely, brought tears to many eyes. Every abstract school notice board mission-and-vision statement in Kenya extolling the virtues of hard work and nobility of endeavour found practical expression in that unforgettable Austin Marathon ending. The tribute offered her by race director John Conley – “you ran the bravest race and crawled the bravest crawl I have ever seen in my life” – inspired my memory to two stupendous Olympic efforts to which Hyvon Ngetich’s act of history belongs.”
Hyvon Ngetich’s is my personal story of the year. Its inspirational quality is unmatched. It belongs to the greatest stories of extraordinary human endeavour in history.
Most exciting story of the year: The 9-8 penalty shoot-out win by Ivory Coast over Ghana in the Africa Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea in February had my heart racing to overdrive and, when I was finally able to breathe, I remembered the 1992 encounter between these two teams. They fought out football’s longest contest, which I watched, and which Ivory Coast won 11-10 in the sudden death final shoot-out. To this day, I don’t have a clue who to support in any match between these two countries. I love both equally. Happily, this is exactly what my doctor recommends for my blood pressure readings.
Most outrageous story of the year: Which one else, but Floyd Mayweather’s claim that he is the greatest boxer in history. I am still upset that he attempted to think like this, and worse, utter words to that effect. I remain hopeful that he will offer an apology so as to put me and millions of others across the world at peace. I can’t float like a butterfly and sting like a bee to get him but I will use the only weapons at my disposal: my words. Oh! Muhammad Ali, hero, my hero, leave Floyd Mayweather to me, and am gonna keep on whippin’ his ass until he understands that you are the greatest fighter that ever walked this planet.
Saddest story of the year: The deaths of Charles Kumi Gyamfi of Ghana and Jonah Lomu of New Zealand made me retreat into my shell. In the case of Gyamfi, I thought about everything good that has ever happened to African football. I remembered his sojourn here as coach of AFC Leopards and recalled my conversations with him. What stood out the most was his parental aura; if you held a contrary opinion to his, you thought hard about the words to use when speaking to him about it, exactly the way you respectfully fear your parent even when he or she has no power to control you. As for Lomu, I haven’t yet stopped watching the hakas. He is the gentle giant who brought the sun and caused it shine, if you get me. Gyamfi and Lomu, rest in peace eternally.
Most heart-warming story of the year: Of course, this was the visit by San Lorenzo Football Club’s Fan Number One to Kenya. I am going to cherish this visit for the rest of my life, because of the lift it gave me. Even when I fail, I still aspire to be a good guy, at peace with my neighbour, holding malice towards none, embracing all of humanity as my family and desperate not to do to anybody as I would not have them do to me even – yes, yes, I confess – when I fail. Pope Francis, thank you for visiting Kenya and failed a Catholic as I am, I will always pray for you. Viva Il Papa!
Most historically significant story of the year: I was on the threshold of my career as a sports journalist when Gor Mahia won the 1976 national league unbeaten. I am an old hand at it when the Class of 2015 replicated that feat 39 years later. I congratulate both squads; this is no easy accomplishment. Some small things bring immense fulfilment to one’s work. One such was the parading of the surviving members of ’76 on the occasion of the trophy presentation to the members of 2015. Were it not for content of this column on September 19, it is doubtful this would have happened.
Most depressing story of year: The continuous existence of Football Kenya Federation as constituted and being stuck with Hassan Wario as Cabinet Secretary in charge of sports take the cake. I wish Uhuru Kenyatta just took Wario away and I wish delegates to the FKF elections vote in another administration. I want to say no more about this subject because my typing fingers have started getting limp and I have still got more to write.
Most heart rending story of the year: Among other things I did when not writing this column was producing the documentary film, The Last Fight which examined what happened to Kenya boxing since its epic days in the 1980s. I returned to my boyhood haunts in Muthurwa and Nakuru and the stories the boxers told me had a lump of something in my throat almost every day. There is heroism in honest effort but when this is done against seemingly impossible odds, the attraction to the actor is all the more intense. The young men and women I interacted with helped me understand that what I take for challenges in my own life are nothing compared with what they endure every day. They are forgotten, but they refuse to give up.
Most annoying story of the year: Hooligans. I want to hope that we have now established consensus with Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards that they will isolate their violent hoodlums from 2016 henceforth. There are no benefits to be accrued by hanging on to them. There are only losses. It is time to call time on thugs who would harm innocent people. They scare away peace loving fans and they ensure no sponsors will want to be associated with your club. Come down hard on them and everything else will be added unto you.
Most forward looking story for the year 2016: The Africa Nations Championship in Rwanda. Rwanda’s story is simply that with focused leadership, everything is possible. From the depths of one of history’s most ignoble chapters, the land of a thousand hills will welcome the African continent in a festival of peace, friendship and happiness in vigorous competition. And all this just two decades after that apocalyptic event. People will see shiny stadiums and clean streets and meet welcoming people. You can’t go to Rwanda and fail to marvel at the turnaround. Truly, in a very practical sense, anything is possible in this world.
Thank you for keeping me company in 2015. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you all.