By Roy Gachuhi
I spent the 1976 Christmas season working at the ground level of my future career as a sports journalist. I went to the Nairobi City Stadium to watch the unbeaten Kenya football league champions Gor Mahia play a thrilling quarter-final match of the Nairobi Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund tournament against Black Mamba.
Got that? The Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund.
Every Christmas dating before Independence up to the early 80s, the mayors of the country’s major towns organised activities to raise money for charity.
The money raised supported causes for the disadvantaged and the vulnerable, such as children’s homes and special schools for children with disabilities.
They did this with the lighting of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree at a function at City Hall (or Municipal Hall) followed by a string sports, cultural and entertainment activities.
Before I return to the Gor Mahia versus Black Mamba match and how it all ended, I can’t resist the urge to recollect those activities. KBC – old Voice of Kenya – had a radio programme that raised money through requests for the hottest singles of the day. It was called Ring Us Up.
KBC RAISED MONEY
Off the top of my head, I remember Slim Ali’s You Can Do It, Karl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting, Black Blood’s A.I.E Amwana and my favourite, Black Star music group’s taarab hit, Chozi Lanitoka, which to my chagrin very few people seemed to request and yet I didn’t have the money to ask for it. (I still have the originals, but thanks to YouTube, I don’t have to fetch a vintage three-in-one system- turn-table, cassette player and radio to play them).
My classmate, future national lightweight boxing champion and Hit Squad member, Saulo Odhiambo, had an earworm with A.I.E. Amwana. Whether in class (when the teacher was not in), in the school courtyard or in the urinals, he was always belting out: “A. I. E Amwanaaaaaaaaaa…….!” He didn’t continue; apparently those were the only words of that song that he got stuck with.
Over the years, these and other songs raised thousands of shillings, which all went to the less fortunate. For some of us, ability to sing them underlined our status as city sophisticates who, when we returned to the countryside for the mandatory Christmas visit to our rural folks, could take in with controlled horror such questions as: “Last month, my uncle visited Nairobi. Did you see him?”
This holiday season, I hope I can read an expert’s in-depth story about this phenomenon in the weekend pages of Saturday Nation by Dr Joyce Nyairo, the regular cultural analyst.
The Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund between Gor Mahia and Black Mamba gave me the first glimpse of two players I would cover in succeeding years with awe and admiration – Bobby Ogolla and Dan Odhiambo. Bobby was a new signing from Kisumu Hot Stars and Dan had crossed over from Luo Union. Like Simon Nyatome from Limuru’s Bata Bullets, they were being tried out for the coming season.
Because the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund tournament was a season- ender, clubs used it to showcase their new signings. It was a highly competitive and beautiful tournament and it could be won by anybody. In 1976, despite finishing somewhere in the midsection of the league table, Black Mamba saw off Gor Mahia, who had won the league unbeaten.
In the final, Mamba lost to Abaluhya – the future AFC Leopards – who had finished fifth in the league. Aggrey Lukoye scored twice and Mamba’s schoolboy striker, Geoffrey Kobilo replied for a 2-1 victory that wrested the Cup from Gor Mahia, the 1975 winners.
I was then free to go to the countryside and join folk for Christmas where, among other things, I helped primary school children to cover their exercise books with the wrappings of the Elliot’s bread which had been consumed in the festivities.
They had no access to Green Tree, the annual magazine of all the Nairobi City Council primary schools, I observed with pity. So they couldn’t horn their writing skills as the city kids did. (By the way, anybody out there with a copy of that magazine, please get in touch with me at once. I’ll appreciate).
On Wednesday this week, I was at the Joseph Kang’ethe Community Centre in Woodley grounds shooting a football documentary. The hard and bare playing surface didn’t have a single millimetre of grass. Among the questions that assailed my mind were: how does the coach impart sliding tackle skills for defenders and diving skills for goalkeepers? This clearly being a factory for injuries, how do they deal with them even when doctors are not on strike?
Anyway, let’s be positive, I remembered, at least the grounds haven’t been grabbed. (Apologies, Larry Madowo!)
Remembering Green Tree magazine, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund tournament and visiting the dilapidated grounds of Joseph Kang’ethe Community Centre reminded me of how utterly hostile the City of Nairobi has become to its residents.
It may call itself by whatever name it fancies: Nairobi City Council, Nairobi City Commission, Nairobi City County but the difference is the same. It is a vicious kanjoo, a predatory monster preying on its own citizens and whose idea of why it exists is to exist. This, of course, is done by extracting whatever can be extracted from its citizens.
If you want a service from its officers at this time of the year, in all likelihood, the first thing they will ask you is: “Na wapi Christmas yangu?” (And where is my Christmas?) To them, frisking your pockets is their idea of service. You need to avoid them like you would a disease that causes death.
As for the kids I saw playing football on that terrible surface at Joseph Kang’the Community Centre, I understand them if the risk of a potentially fatal Mediterranean crossing in a canoe in pursuit of opportunities in the lands of the people we boast of having kicked out of here seems appealing. They just deserve a better life. However, if helplessness has been expressed by the President himself, who will help them?
What a life we have made for ourselves!
I was researching the Kenya sports scene of 40 years ago when I stumbled on something that could help officials charged with stealing from the athletes who represented Kenya in the Rio 2016 Olympics. If I were them, I would simply plead guilty and ask for acquittal on the grounds that it is unfair to charge somebody with something that is mapped in the national DNA.
Here is the word-for-word Daily Nation story of Tuesday, December 21, 1976 regarding the official report of Kenya’s participation in the 1976 Montreal Olympics:
“The long awaited report on the ill-fated Montreal Olympic Games will be tabled this afternoon (5pm) when the Kenya Olympic Association (KOA) meets at the Hotel Boulevard. The report which was circulated nine days ago is likely to spark off several queries from the members as it would appear some vital information is missing. Several officials have expressed concern over some sections of the report.
“There are some accusations and counter accusations among the officials who travelled to Canada. There is no doubt that John Kasyoka, chairman of the KOA who travelled as Chef de Mission will have a pile of questions to answer.”
“Three major items which are not included in the report are: the list of the number of people who travelled and their duties, (the) list of goods or donations received and how they were distributed and a report on accounts to how, how much was collected and how it was spent.”
“While the above are all important, the most delicate is probably the one involving money, since it is understood that the financial report was also missing from the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games report. Furthermore, there are rumours of alleged breach of agreement between the KOA and some prominent donors.”
“There has been talk of poor distribution of the items that were received from donors, while there are allegations in the report that some people who are supposed to have travelled privately were accommodated in the Games Village.”
Is this Montreal 1976 or Rio 2016? Please also note the reference to Christchurch 1974 and what happened then.
If I was charged as a Rio thief, I would submit this Nation report before the trial judge and argue that this is how Kenya works. I would tell the court that as a patriot, I eat Kenya, drink Kenya and sleep Kenya. If somebody cut my hand, it is Kenya and not blood that would gush from my veins.
I would then pray that not only am I acquitted but orders be given that I be an official of Tokyo 2020 so that I can continue to perform my services to the nation as our fathers before us did. And so as to be completely like them, the court should also order that my name be in the Jamhuri Day honours’ list so that I am rewarded with a Moran or Elder of something. Those malicious journalists who keep beating this drum can then continue salivating as I eat meat.