The budding dream of Kenya’s soccer star MacDonald Mariga of following into the footsteps of Senator Chris Obure of leaping from the football pitch into the hallowed chambers of Kenyan Parliament came tumbling down with a thud in the wee hours of yesterday when he lost the Kibra Parliamentary race to Imran Okoth of ODM.
seat fell vacant following the death of Ken Okoth – brother to Imran – who
succumbed to colon cancer.
Mariga, popularly known as ‘Big Mac’ ran a well-oiled campaign. From 42 to Laini Saba, to Sarangombe, to Ayany, to Gatwekera, he traversed the length and breadth of the cosmopolitan constituency hoping to pull a first on ODM and Kenya’s body politics.
Be at it may, there is no gainsaying that Mariga is a political green horn who was making baby steps in Kenya’s murky politics aided by his political mentor Deputy President Dr William Ruto.
Compared to the football scene where his prowess speaks for itself being the only Kenyan to have ever won the coveted Uefa Champions League title – a feat he attained in 2010 under revered manager Jose Maourinho, Mariga perhaps performed better, beyond his own expectations polling 11,230 votes against 24,636 of Imran.
In fact Mariga beat a veteran in a polished professional Eliud Owalo who ran on an ANC ticket.
It should not be forgotten that Mariga’s candidature was controversial in nature dividing Kenya’s football world down the middle while also calling for the arbitration of the electoral body IEBC when claims sufficed that he hadn’t registered as a voter. IEBC eventually cleared him to run after VAR review.
Football stakeholders did not out-rightly embrace his candidature for obvious reasons: Mariga, since hitting the football jackpot in Europe when plying his trade for several clubs among them Parma, Real Socieded and InterMilan – is deemed to have forgotten his roots hence the cold reception.
An alumnus of Kamukunji High School, Mariga like many soccer stars who rose from humble beginnings in Africa enroute to conquering Europe played his football bare feet at Landmawe grounds.
In those days Mariga knew not the comfort of life in Europe and neither did he fathom that at one time he would be considered a celebrity let alone come within touching distance of being a Kenyan parliamentarian.
From his humble beginnings in Muthurwa many had hoped that by scaling the ladder of football success, the ripple effect would be felt at the grassroots, but sadly, that was not the case explaining why some of his election pledges were simply frowned upon.
In the same vein, this defeat should be an eye-opener not just to himself but his younger brother Victor Wanyama, plying his trade with FC Tottenham Hotspur in the lucrative English Premier League, active sportsmen and aspiring ones alike.
Obure, the current Kisii senator is among the rare breed of persons who had distinguished careers in football and later politics and for Mariga to emulate him, time on his side, he must go back to drawing board and restrategise on how to make himself appeal to the common mwananchi and most importantly the football world.
He needs to look no further than his former team mate and captain Musa Otieno who is doing a lot through the Musa Otieno Foundation in Jericho estate here in Nairobi giving hope to aspiring footballers that through sheer hard work, determination and dedication, their dreams are attainable.
Otieno, one of the most capped Harambee Stars players rose through the ranks in Ofafa to become one of Kenya’s most successful footballers captaining the team and later coaching the Stars as an assistant coach.
During his prime he played professional football in South Africa with Sanlam Santos.
It is heartwarming that to date he works with talents – their backgrounds notwithstanding as he imparts football skills.
Otieno’s story is remarkable. It gives hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness.
Spare a moment: How would the world be if people in positions of influence used their networks to transform the world?
In West Africa, Liberia to be particular, George Weah, despite having been a former footballer rose to become the country’s President because the masses adored him – they cherish him for his good deeds when he was at the peak of his football.
In Ivory Coast, Didier Droga is a revered Peace Ambassador. He’s worked tirelessly to unite his country torn apart by years of civil war and there is no doubt that should he ever seek a political office only a fool would vote against him.
Mariga thus needs to borrow from such.
It’s never too late. With time on his side and with contacts built in Europe and his deep pockets, he can still turn a page.
He can choose whether to endear himself to the masses by giving the gifted youth a platform to pursue their dreams – through a Mariga Football Foundation or choose to retreat and coil into his own cocoon.
The moral lesson: our athletes should learn a thing or two from former Kenyan long distance runner Lorna Kiplagat who built the Lorna Kiplagat High Altitude Training Centre in Iten to aid our athletes in their training.
By having many Lorna Kiplagats our sports will definitely realize the much needed growth.
-The author is a two-time winner of the MCK Print Sports Journalist of the Year and also the Radio and Digital Sports at RMS