The last two weeks have been bedecked by political noise – lot’s of it.
Interestingly, the political brouhaha has mainly been directed at the person of MacDonald Mariga and Kibra in general where a fierce political duel is gathering.
At the centre of it is football star, the Muthrwa bred Macdonald Mariga Wanyama, East Africa’s first ever footballer to win the coveted big eared Uefa Champions League title in 2010 under Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan.
Vying on a Jubilee ticket, ‘Big Mac’ as he is fondly known in football confines hopes to beat ODM’s Bernard Otieno Okoth alias Imran, and Eliud Owalo of ANC, in the race to replace Ken Okoth who died in July this year after a protracted battle with cancer.
But there is a problem. His candidature has brought with it its fair share of drama. From being picked as a Jubilee flag bearer to the eventual invalidation of his candidature by the IEBC to his subsequent appeal, it has been calamity after calamity for the media-shy footballer, each twist and turn seemingly unearthing the skeletons in his closet.
At first it was the Jubilee candidates whom he beat to the ticket gnashing their teeth of how unfair the process had been. To them democracy had been sacrificed at the altar of a Mariga candidature.
Secondly, the invalidation of his candidature by IEBC pending the outcome of the appeal he’s lodged has unearthed key things: One of them is that Mariga, despite being a Kenyan, has never cared to vote, not in past elections, not in the plebiscite if his own admission that he registered as voter in Kariokor in August 2019 is anything to go by.
‘Big Mac’ could have been domiciled in Europe for the better part of his professional career. But let’s face it, Mariga, thanks to his football talent, is a man of means and could easily afford a charted plane if he so wished just to come to Kenya to exercise his democratic right to vote.
First, he is an adult.
Secondly, I believe unless proven otherwise, he’s of sound mind and failing to vote in past polls and plebiscites could mean only one thing: there’s a disconnect between him and the country of his birth, the land he professes his undying love for and which he’s represented with distinction while donning the national colours of Harambee Stars.
In fact allow me to digress a little bit. If the clock is rolled back to March 27, 2011 then those who follow football religiously will know what I’m about to share. The venue is the Nyayo National Stadium, the time – 4pm, Kenya’s Harambee Stars are tackling Angola’s Palancas Negras(The Tigers), in an African Cup of Nations qualifier . With four minutes left( including added time), to end of game, Stars are deadlocked 1-1, the home fans are impatient – hopelessness written all over their faces – fearing that their team is about to be held at home, hindering their Afcon progression chances.
Yours truly, at the venue as a beat reporter couldn’t help but figure out his match report intro, but before long, ‘Big Mac’ does the unthinkable. He picks a pass, some 30 yards out and smelling the nick of time, goes for a screamer, a rocket that nearly tears the net apart – Goooooal…! Kenya 2-1 Angola!
At that point Nyayo goes into a delirium, we all celebrate, temporarily forgetting our journalistic duty. That was Big Mac for you at his prime; suave on the pitch and a neat box-to-box midfielder. As a soccer star we all loved him, and his move to Europe, we believed, would open many doors of opportunities for other budding footballers if the writing on his vest which he peeled off in the famous celebration after that winning goal was anything to go by: ‘GOD ABOVE EVERYTHING’, so he made us belief.
Fast forward, Mariga is as good as done with his career, having failed to connect many of our gifted youngsters to Europe, even to Fourth Division clubs in Spain and Italy where he was domiciled.
Thirdly, in thrusting his hat in the political ring, Mariga did say that he’s driven by the desire to give back to the society, to the Kibra people.
is the motivation then it has failed to sell if the reactions of Kenyans on
social media is be used as a case study.
By scaling the football ladder to its top echelons, Mariga has first been a role model to many youths who look up to him.
What he should have done during this period is to start a MacDoanld Mariga Football Foundation, a platform to mould and nurture the next generation of stars, but nada, he cared little to do this.
With his resources, influence and network built in Europe; this foundation could by now be churning out the next Marigas, Olieches, Wanyamas, Drogbas, Origis etcetera.
Again from his experience Mariga is adept to the ills that have perennially dogged Kenyan football moreso the administration goofs. The rot is deep and sinks to the high heavens, and having played the game, he must have felt the weight of it at one time or the other.
Quiet Comfortable Life
He however failed to speak out against these ills, not once! In retrospect, he chose the quiet, comfortable life of Spain and Italy.
Unlike Dennis Oliech or Sameul Eto’o or Didier Drogba who were ever willing to take the bull by the horns, Mariga chose silence, silence when promising talents were mistreated by rogue administrations. Silence when the governments of the day delayed players’ allowances and so forth.
Based on these, Mariga should look no further. This is why Kenyans on social media are not buying into his call of giving back to the society.
As a top footballer in Italy, he earned wages running into millions weekly and one wonders how well he’ll now transform Kibra let alone give back to the community with a gross pay of Sh1 million assuming he surmounts the legal bottle necks and prevails in the election.
But all said and done, like every Kenyan he has the inalienable constitutional right to run for a public office so long as he meets all the provisions of the law.
In the same vein, it is no crime for a footballer or a son of peasant to aim high.
Liberia, for instance, have a former footballer George Weah for a President and it’s up to Mariga to turn the chapter.
It’s never too late but as things stand for now, he’s not only scored an own goal but also soiled the football reputation he worked so hard to build over two decades.
-The author is the RMS Sports Editor for Radio and Digital