2020 in Review: Kenya’s women footballers thrive in year of uncertainty
The year 2020 has been a forgettable year for the sports industry and indeed the world following the COVID-19 pandemic that halted virtually everything.
But the period has had a rare silver lining for women’s football in the country with many local stars finding breakthroughs to play professionally in Europe.
Harambee Starlets and former Thika Queens striker Esse Mbeyu Akida led after she signed two year deal with Turkish side Besiktas on February 18, just under a month before Kenya confirmed its first case of the coronavirus.
Her move followed a successful stint at FC Ramat HaSharon of Israel, a club she has been serving since 2018.
Akida has seen her career grow exponentially since her breakthrough at Spedag FC then Thika Queens where she showed class earning national team call up.
Upon joining the Turkish club, Akida expressed her joy saying it was a nice platform for her to showcase her talents with one of the best women teams.
“I can say this is the dream which has come to pass, and I thank all who have been part of my growth. Besikgtas is one of the big women clubs and I am sure it will give me a good platform to grow,” she said.
Goalkeeper Annedy Kundu and defender Ruth Ingosi also signed three year deals with cub Lakatamia in Cyprus on Jnauary 10, which is based in the capital city, Nicosia.
The duo were part of the Harambee Starlets that clinched the Council of East and Central Africa (Cecafa) Women’s Senior Challenge Cup champions after outclassing two time defending champions Tanzania at the Chamazi Stadium in Dar es Salaam last year.
Since then they have been instrumental in the club, impressing with outstanding displays on the pitch.
Midfield maestro Vivian Corazone Aquino also signed a one-year contract with Portuguese Atletico Ouriense which features in country’s top-flight women’s league.
By joining the club, the 21-year-old who wears jersey number 41 became the second African to join the club this January after Mozambique’s Lucia Leila.
Apart from representing Kenya at the CECAFA finals, Aquino also played for the team at the AWCON finals staged in Cameroon, where Kenya failed to progress beyond the group stage.
“I am really pleased to sign for this great club. I thank God because we have suffered for so long as women footballers in Kenya with little opportunities. I am hoping we can open doors for more players to move out,” Acquino said at the time.
In August 5, Harambee Starlets attacking midfielder Cynthia Shilwatso left the country to seal a three-year contract deal with top tier side Logrono FC.
The ex-Vihiga Queens player started her football career at Ibindo Girls before joining the three-time Women Premier League champions Vihiga Queens before forcing her way into the national side Harambee Starlets.
“I’m a breadwinner and I want to make my mama proud. My family has been through a lot hence the need for me to take care of them,” she told Citizen Digital moments before boarding the plane to the European nation.”
Alex Alumira, the Vihiga Queens coach also attributed Shilwatso’s growth to dedication, adding that success is a collective effort and believes this is just the start of good things for the ace.
The good move from Kenyan women football start didn’t end there because in August 4, attacking midfilder Elizabeth Katungwa joined Dalhem IF in Sweden to feature in the country’s women premier league.
Katungwa, a Harambee Starlets trialist turned out for Kwale Girls during her high school days and was an important cog in the squad, catching the eye of scouts before electing to join local club, Kwale Starlets.
By joining the club, Katungwa joined her counterpart Mary Kinuthia who also plies her trade with the the Stockholm based club since 2017.
Katungwa joined Kwale Girls after starting off her career with St.Johns Kaloleni School where she also shone in the National school Games held in Kisumu, scoring in the final to hand Kaloleni their first national title.
In July 29, striker Lilly Awuor, was another Kenyan international who signed a two-year deal with German Verbandsliga side Borussia Pankow.
A deal has been in the pipeline for the striker who requested that she be left out of Harambee Starlets’ squad for the Turkish women’s cup in order to push through the move.
Awuor rose from Kisumu Youth Olympic and Palos Ladies to Spedag FC in the Kenyan Women Premier League in 2015 before moving to Kigoma Sisterz in Tanzania where she emerged the top scorer in her debut season.
“It is a very big step for her. She is a very good player with a good attitude in terms of individual development and I can compare her to Jentrix Shikangwa; they both maintain low profiles in public but show shine in the field.” Starlets head coach Daid uma then said.
In Auguts 27, Kisumu Starlets striker Brtha Omita penned a deal with Simba SC in Tanzania, which ended in war of words between the two clubs as Simba were reported not to pay even a coin as transfer fee, but later on they were issued by transfer certificate.
Mwanahalima Adam became the latest Kenyan women footballer to seal the deal in Europe after sealing a 6 months loan deal with Maccabi Holon club which takes part in the country’s women premier league on December 4.
Upon arrival in Israel, Dogo was expected to join her new counterparts after undergoing 14 days’ quarantine as measures put in place by the Israeli government to curb the spread of Covid-19.
It is the club which scouted me though my club’s chairman, they asked me to send them my clips and they were very impressed by my style of play and that’s why they asked for my services. They decided to give me a 6-month loan deal because they wanted to see me in action and not in video clip, and after that, according to how I will perform they will determine if they will extend my stay.” Said Dogo before signing the deal.
In February 2020, Mwanahalima landed a lucrative deal with Swedish Djugardens IF club but the deal fell through after she was denied a visa by the Swedish Embassy.
“I really felt bad for not joining Djugardens IF club in Sweden. The deal was very ripe but after visiting Swedish Embassy they denied me a Visa. I was really heart broken when I saw journalists reporting on the matter and I couldn’t hold my feelings.”
Starlets who were preparing to take part in the 2020 Awcon qualifier matches had to drop the plans after the Confederation of African Football (Caf) decided to cancel the tournament which was slated for November in DR Congo and approved the creation of the first ever Africa Women’s Champions League amid the Covid-19 pandemic.