The rise, fall and reincarnation of Nick Mwendwa

The firebrand football administrator announced his return on Friday as president of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF)

In Summary

•In a letter dated Thursday, September 8, Mwendwa informed the president of the world football governing body, Fifa, President Gianni Infantino about his intentions to reclaim the FKF leadership.

•The development comes barely a week after seasoned football administrator Lordvic Aduda predicted Mwendwa's return to football leadership.

Former FKF president Nick Mwendwa and CEO Barry Otieno
Former FKF president Nick Mwendwa and CEO Barry Otieno
Image: FILE

Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Nick Mwendwa has risen from the ashes yet again.

The firebrand football administrator announced his return on Friday as the president of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), months after he was expelled by Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed over graft charges.

In a letter dated Thursday, September 8, Mwendwa wrote to Gianni Infantino — president of the world football governing body, Fifa — informing him about his intentions to reclaim the FKF leadership.

"Reference is made to my letter dated November 29, 2021, about the interim transfer of my powers and responsibilities as FKF President to the FKF Vice President,” the letter read in part.

Mwendwa explained that the Office of the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) had withdrawn charges previously levelled against him.

“In this regard, following the withdrawal of charges by the Directorate of Public Prosecution on July 8, 2022, I hereby wish to inform your good office that I have resumed my duties as the FKF president, with immediate effect, by Article 42 of the FKF constitution (2017).”

The development comes barely days after seasoned football administrator Lordvic Aduda predicted Mwendwa's return to football leadership.

Aduda said Mwendwa could be handed a lifeline as long as he is acquitted and the new government fulfils Fifa's demands.

“Nick Mwendwa did not resign. He just stepped aside to pave way for investigations. Should he be cleared of the charges, he will be fine to go back to the office,’’ said Aduda.

Aduda urged local football stakeholders to work towards unearthing a permanent solution to Kenya’s crisis.

FKF President Nick Mwendwa being escorted to an anti-corruption court on November 5, 2021.
FKF President Nick Mwendwa being escorted to an anti-corruption court on November 5, 2021.

“Despite the fresh air expected to come with the new government, some begging questions need to be addressed. The question of what led the Government to disband the football governing body, FKF. We need to sit down as a Country and ensure we don’t get back to the current stalemate with Fifa."

“The new administration needs to help Kenya back to international recognition. It has been very tough for players, referees and stakeholders. This mess has injured sports in the country.’’

In an exclusive interview early Friday, Nyamira county FKF branch chairman, Luthers Mokua sought to explain the implications of Mwendwa's letter to Fifa.

“It doesn't mean he is already back in the office. The FKF headquarters at Goal Project in Kasarani are still under lock and key until such a time the government will formally recognize his leadership,” Mokua said.

“Mwendwa has only written to Fifa to express his desire to resume his role as president. He can only get back into office if he is formally gazetted or by presidential fiat.”

A 'fiat' is an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.

Mokua supported the return of Mwendwa to the helm of football, saying it augurs well for Kenyan football.

“What's important is for our football to return to normality. We've been out in the cold for a long time and it's high time we found our footing on the international stage again,” Mokua said.

Mwendwa's woes began on October 14 last year when Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed directed the Registrar of Sports to undertake an audit of FKF.

Former Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat (L) is unveiled by FKF president Nick Mwendwa
Former Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat (L) is unveiled by FKF president Nick Mwendwa

Amina appointed a 15-member caretaker committee headed by retired judge Aaron Ringera on November 12 last year and tasked it with running football in the country for six months as the investigations into FKF affairs continued.

Following the decision, Fifa suspended Kenya from participating in regional and international competitions. The football governing body attributed the decision to third-party interference by the government.

Amina pointed out that the transition committee was constituted to clear the mess that befell the country. She added that her decision to disband FKF was pegged on the Laws of Kenya.

"We tried on many occasions to bring the matter which had festered for long to the attention of Fifa with no success as well.

"It seemed to us at times that Fifa and FKF were reading from the same book. Football in Kenya had deteriorated at all levels due to this mismanagement and had led to a public outcry. The government has a responsibility to its citizenry to act in the public interest at all times," she said.

FKF president Nick Mwendwa at Moi Stadium, Kasarani
FKF president Nick Mwendwa at Moi Stadium, Kasarani
Image: FILE

Meanwhile, Mwendwa's woes heightened. He was arrested on November 12 and taken to the DCI Headquarters, where he was questioned on how FKF spent Sh430 million advanced to FKF in 2016 by the Sports, Arts and Social Development for running football activities.

Police nabbed him at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Westlands, Nairobi, where he was meeting Harambee Stars players ahead of the Kenya-Rwanda World Cup qualifier match on Monday, November 15.

Three days later, he was arraigned before Milimani senior principal magistrate Wandia Nyamu. The State asked to detain him for 21 days, pending investigations.

The magistrate deferred her ruling on the bond application for a day before releasing Mwendwa on Sh4 million bail.

She directed the prosecution to prefer charges against Mwendwa in 10 days, failure to which the file would be closed.

After 10 days, Mwendwa earned reprieve momentarily when Nyamu directed the DCI to close the file against him. This followed a failure by detectives to present charges against Mwendwa.

The following day, Mwendwa was re-arrested, spending the weekend in custody before the charge of conspiracy to defraud FKF of Sh38 million was preferred against him.

Harambee Stars players celebrate during a past match
Harambee Stars players celebrate during a past match
Image: FILE

Officials said he was picked up from his Kiambu Roadhouse and taken to DCI headquarters for questioning ahead of a planned arraignment in a Kiambu court.

When dropping the charges against Mwendwa, the prosecution said it was exploring possibilities of levelling different charges against him.

Milimani anti-corruption chief magistrate Eunice Nyuttu set Mwendwa free, citing a lack of sufficient evidence. She declined to adjourn the matter further.

The scenario in the country rubbed Fifa the wrong way and it wasn't long before Kenya was handed an indefinite ban from international competitions.

On May 24, Kenya and Zimbabwe were booted out of qualifiers for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations finals after failing to have their Fifa suspensions set aside by the given deadline.

Mwendwa rose to the national stage on February 10, 2016when dethroned Sam Nyamweya as FKF president after securing an overwhelming majority in the national elections held at Moi Stadium, Kasarani.

Aged only 37 then, the firebrand football administrator won 50 of the 77 votes cast, to edge out his only rival Ambrose Rachier to the top seat.

Before his victory, he had zealously served as chairman of the National Super League side, Kariobangi Sharks who gained promotion to the top tier a year after his election.

Incumbent Sam Nyamweya withdrew from the elections just before voting began.

Mwendwa's first term in office was marred by a set of controversies. It is during his tenure that former Harambee Stars coach Bobby Williamson was dismissed and replaced by Stanley Okumbi in 2016.

The Scot lodged a case against the federation in 2019 for unfair dismissal and was awarded Sh55 million in unpaid salaries and damages.

Williamson coached Harambee Stars between 2014 and 2016. He still lives in Kenya with his family even after going through a cancer treatment that has seen him ailing since 2016.

In March this year, the world football governing body, Fifa, through its disciplinary committee, gave FKF 30 days to pay former head coach Adel Amrouche over Sh109 million ($1.03 million) for wrongful dismissal or face sanctions in failure.

The Disciplinary Committee also fined the FKF $37,500 as costs sustained in connection with the arbitration procedures as well as those of the proceedings.

In December 2020, Mwendwa withstood a raging political storm to sail into the second term in office.

He secured a second term during the elective Special General Meeting held at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi.

Mwendwa garnered 77 votes, beating closest competitor Lordvick Aduda who managed five votes while Herbert Mwachiro only had three.

Boniface Osano and Dan Mule did not get any votes.

The Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT) had nullified two previous disputed elections before finally clearing after Tribunal boss John Ohaga threw out a petition by Nyamweya and seven others.

And immediately after romping into victory, Mwendwa minced no words, saying emphatically he would still contest for two more terms at the expiry of his term in October 2024.

“At least by the laws now, I will still be around in the next elections. So, Kenyans should be prepared to be under my leadership for at least two more terms. Football is a lifetime,” Mwendwa had told the media then.

“When you choose it, you die with it: I will forever die with it. Of course, people will say I’m overstaying in office, but just like any other person, you can’t think clearly in your first term.

“From my conversation with the Senegal FA president, for you to build a nation that loves football, the cycle comes in four years.

“On the minimum, you need two and a half cycles to put your federation in order. He told me it took him nine years as president to make the team stable. Now, he is the Caf vice president and you can see why his country is also doing well.”

Sources said Mwendwa was also training his eyes on the Fifa Council post for the African Anglophone nations in the next election in 2025.

The Kenyan president was among the contestants for the same seat during the last elections held in Morocco in March but he withdrew at the last minute allowing Nigeria Football Federation president Amaju Melvin Pinnick to clinch the post.

Signs that Mwendwa was on a downward rollercoaster had begun surfacing mid-this year. In July 2021, FKF terminated its partnership with the online betting firm, Odibets citing a breach of contract.

This came hot on the heels of another shocking decision in June that cancelled an Sh1.2 billion sponsorship deal with BetKing under unclear circumstances.

In the preceding year, FKF was on the spot over a contentious broadcasting deal with StarTimes after four top-flight sides Gor Mahia, Ulinzi Stars, Mathare United and Zoo Kericho declined an invitation to participate in the 2020-21 season, claiming they had been shortchanged.

FKF was also in trouble with Fifa after foreign tacticians Adel Amrouche and Bobby Williamson claimed they were wrongfully dismissed.

In May last year, Mwendwa was summoned by the DCI over funds meant for the national team for the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Besides, Mwendwa and his team have been at pains to explain why they had to fire Harambee Stars coach Jacob "Ghost" Mulee barely 11 months into the job and hire Turkish gaffer Engin Firat on a two-month contract.

In 2021, traditional top-flight giants, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia also found themselves in hot soup after failing to honour their Mashemeji derby fixture at Thika Stadium as both sides protested a delay in settling their FKF Cup prize money after the June 5 final won by Gor.

The teams instead decided to stage a friendly encounter at Camp Toyoyo grounds in Nairobi, the move attracting the full wrath of the defunct office who slapped Leopards and Gor with hefty Sh6m and Sh4m fines respectively.

FKF decided to recover the fines by deducting sponsorship funds set aside for the two sides, which meant they both had to go for months without adequate finances.

The federation went ahead to transfer Sh1,324,500 to Gor's bank account while retaining Sh1,324,500 for the partial settlement of the fine.

Leopards, on the other hand, would receive Sh1,124,500 as Sh1,524,500 was retained for the partial settlement of their fine.

Claims of high-handedness at Kandanda House had burgeoned considerably. The latest group to complain were local journalists, who claimed they were being denied their right to interview national team coaches.

But Mwendwa's prolonged public spat with Sports CS Amina Mohammed would be his eventual waterloo.

Despite the setbacks, Mwendwa is credited with numerous achievements at the helm of the federation.

It was under Mwendwa that the national women's football team, Harambee Starlets, dethroned hosts Tanzania to clinch the 2019 Cecafa Senior Women after a hotly contested final at Chamazi Stadium.

It is also during his tenure that the federation rolled out comprehensive coaching courses targeting tacticians both in the top and lower tiers.

Mwendwa also oversaw Harambee Stars' qualification to the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

This was a pyrrhic victory given the rain started beating him when the DCI launched investigations into how Sh294 million set aside by the government was spent throughout the campaign.

Mwendwa emerged from the shadows on August 15 to congratulate William Ruto for bagging the presidency.

Word has it that Mwendwa was hoping for a Ruto win all along to boost his chances of returning to football.

In one of his tweets, Mwendwa shared a poster congratulating the President-elect.

He also shared a video of him speaking in 2017, where he is heard predicting the outcome of the August 9 presidential polls.

The video captured Mwendwa speaking at Deputy President’s official residence in Karen where Harambee Stars were invited after clinching the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge trophy.

It is in that event that Ruto promised a Sh50million gift to the team in the event they qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), which they did.