•“We need to make football attractive to stakeholders. People must first love our football then everything else will fall into place,”—Musonye
•In 2002, the regional body had their first breakthrough when Rwanda president Paul Kagame accepted to become the patron of the Cecafa Club Championships.
The biblical verse about a prophet having no honour in his hometown rings true for long serving Confederation od East and Central Africa Football Association Secretary General, Nicholas Musonye.
Despite being held in high esteem across the region for his two decades of service to football, Musonye is barely recognised in the local football scene.
But having stepped down from his role at Cecafa, the experienced administrator is set to test the resolve of Kenyan football stakeholders when he puts his hat in the ring in the FKF presidential polls.
A strong-willed character, who does not suffer fools gladly, the man born and schooled in Kakamega will no doubt offer a formidable challenge to Nick Mwendwa and other contestants in the presidential polls.
“My decision to fight to lead the federation was brought about by the desire to bring some sense of stability and order in the organisation through good governance,” stated Musonye.
“We need to make football attractive to stakeholders. People must first love our football then everything else will fall into place,” he added.
The former Cecafa boss who is credited for turning around the fortunes of the then moribund outfit to make it attractive to a myriad of sponsors and the most vibrant on the continent, said he intends to make Kenyan football commercial, business oriented with developed infrastructures and a source of sustainable employment for the youth of the country.
“We want to make football a big industry in order to support the government’s efforts to create jobs for our youth. For that to happen, we must take football to all corners of the country and build from the grassroots,” remarked Musonye.
Musonye’s penchant for saying it as it as long as he passes his message may ruffle some. Like for example when explaining back in 2013 why he preferred not to host Cecafa events in his homeland of Kenya, he famously quipped that Kenyans unlike their counterparts in the region prefer to watch football in bars and pubs instead of going to stadium.
“It’s unfortunate but true. Kenyans don’t like to go to the stadium. But it’s different in Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and even Sudan where throngs go to the stadium. Match day attendance is a big source of revenue for sports clubs and that is why we should make our football attractive so that fans can prefer to come to the pitch and not go to bars to watch EPL,” asserted the career journalist who spent most of his working life in the newsrooms at Kenya Times, Daily Nation and Standard among others.
Musonye’s headstrong nature has had a positive influence in most of his missions.Take for example his decision to take the 2014 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup to war-ravaged Darfur.
“I faced strong opposition from several federations but in the end I stood my ground and we managed to host a successful tourney.”he recalled.
“I have faced numerous challenges with different federations particularly when it came to them fulfilling their obligations. A country could pledge to host a tourney then renege at the last minute, leaving us hanging in the air,” rued Musonye.
When he was installed to become the Cecafa Secretary General at the 2001 Fifa Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Musonye found a derelict body in dire need of a facelift.
“I had a chance to go to Caf in 1999 when Farah Addo was the vice president. He spotted me and placed me in Cecafa. I found Cecafa in tatters.The secretariat was housed with the then Kenya Football Federation at Nyayo Stadium and we faced a lot of interference,” he remembered.
“We moved out and set up our own fully independent office and delinked it from KFF to assert our independence,” he added.
That move proved to be a masterstroke as Cecafa could finally chart their own destiny without hindrance. Having made contacts with influential football administrators not least Isaa Hayatou, Musonye was ready to lead the regional body into a bright new future.
“Hayatou pledged to offer support for Cecafa to have a fully fledged secretariat with staff, resources and equipment.”
With an operational secretariat, it was time for the Cecafa team to get down to work. In 2002, the regional body had their first breakthrough when Rwanda president Paul Kagame accepted to become the patron of the Cecafa Club Championships.
“We needed the presence of such a respected figure like Kagame to improve the image of the tournament and to make it appealing to sponsors.”
The tournament was renamed the Kagame Club Championship (with US$60,000 as prize money) and as Musonye had predicted, sponsors were soon falling over themselves to be associated with the brand. MTN, RwaBrew and NMB bank all agreed to support Cecafa activities.
Musonye’s clout was improving and he was tapped up to be in the Caf Media Committee and further nominated to the positions of National Association Committee as the General Coordinator as well as Fifa match commissioner and Club Licensing instructor.
This roles enabled him to attend Afcon Championship from 2002 to 2010 as well as the Fifa World Cups between 2006-2014.
This responsibilities saw his network grow and with it, the success of Cecafa.
“We sustained the sponsorships of Cecafa and between 2004-06, we managed to secure US$1,000,000 funding from Sheikh Al Amoudi for the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup and US$400,000 from Vodacom and President Kagame for Club Championship,” he recalled
More sponsors United Against Malaria, East Africa Breweries and Serengeti Beer, Wash United, Superspirts, Azam and UNAids—all partnered with Cecafa as their tournaments became popular across the continent.
But it is the re-introduction of women football to their calendar that Musonye holds high as a symbol of the regional body’s success.
“Lack of funds saw the women’s tournament take an 11-year hiatus up to 2017. There is so much potential among our women footballers and soon they will reach the epic of football—World Cup.”
Having accomplished his mission, Musonye stepped down allowing Auka Gecheo to fill his big shoes. Now, Musonye has turned his eyes on Kenyan football.
“The biggest challenge in Kenyan football is governance. People do not want to do the right thing in the right way. With me in charge, things will be done overboard and with quality assurance,” Musonye promised.
As the federation boss, Musonye reiterated that youth football will be at the core of the games development.
“It will be mandatory for clubs to have their own youth programs subject to approval from the federation. Further we will limit the number of foreign players in our clubs to ensure our national teams have a large reservoir of players to choose from,” said Musonye.
The long-serving administrator said they will need to add quality to their programs to attract sponsors.
Whether he will get the opportunity to contest for the position is still uncertain as the FIG Electoral board concluded their nomination process on Monday. But Musonye and other aspirants remain adamant that they will be part of the process eventually as long as the laws are strictly adhered to.