ICIA: Why CECAFA member states must jealously guard the gains

Jacob Icia in Kampala

The Council of East and Central African Football Associations (CECAFA) competition concluded on Thursday at the KCCA Lugogo Stadium in Kampala, Uganda, the hosts winning the championship with an emphatic 3-0 thrashing of Eritrea.

Mentioning Eritrea in the final is something unheard of before. A team whose last semifinals appearance was 25 years ago, stormed the final by humiliating former champions Kenya 4-1.

Yes, a team that for a decade has been out of the  competition, a country whose league has as little history as the national team in the region and in Africa.

A team which out of the 20 players who participated in the CECAFA Senior Challenge, eight are in the Under-20 side

Simply put, Eritrea underlined football is fast evolving moreso in Africa and the globe in general. That is why, any international match must be approached with utmost seriousness. It is about the flag, and as former Harambee Stars coach Sebastien Migne used to say, “football is cruel when it judges you, not waiting for tomorrow when it decides to do so.”

Poignantly, both coach Francis Kimanzi of Kenya and Jonathan McKinstry of Uganda conceded the Red Sea Boys of Eritrea  have an admirable technical ability, and so is Somalia and Djibouti whose matches were exhilarating shows for the fans.

With the 2022 World Cup qualifiers around the corner, such could be the teams that will be lined up for Kenya and shock must be avoided.

Secondly, the gap between the local players in Kenya and those plying their trade in foreign leagues is evidently so wide. Could it be that the quality of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) is so poor?

Kimanzi and his technical bench were clear they were in a mission to add to their pool of the regular senior team members, but I doubt they found what they expected.

For the CECAFA level, Kimanzi kept on saying his charges, given the conditions of the tournament, gave him eight out of 10. Interestingly, even with that 80%, it was not enough to defend the title won in 2017.

Notably, Kimanzi singled out Ulinzi Stars striker Oscar Wamalwa as a key discovery in the Kampala football fiesta. It would be a a big blessing if Wamalwa, the tournament’s top scorer with three goals and two assists, made himself, Kimanzi and Kenyans proud when he is given that big opportunity in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers.

Harambee Stars’ Oscar Wamalwa celebrates after scoring against Zanzibar during the 2019 CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in Kampala, Uganda. Photo/Courtesy.

The nation has not produced top class strikers for some time, since the exit of Dennis Oliech from the stage leaving only Michael Olunga as lone ranger in the battle of goals.

Given the opportunity, Wamalwa must take the bull by its horns and add more flavour in Kimanzi’s senior team attack. As Kimanzi correctly put it, that will be another level, the “level of men”.

Thirdly, emphasis on young players for the oldest African tournament was the order for most teams. Only Tanzania and Kenya appeared to have a number of players who have been in their local league for long.

Eritrea, Uganda, Somalia and Djibouti brought quite young teams. Diversity in the member associations cannot be ignored, but Kenya needs to emphasise this in the future.  The likes of Musa Masika, Daniel Sakari, David Owino and Co had quite an experience at their ages, and in them something invaluable was invested looking into the future.

With Kenya and Uganda leading the region in the number professional players playing in the European foreign leagues, it is important to not only to give local players a chance for such a tournament but purposely young. Such can be the best way as Kimanzi was putting it, to transition the youthful talented and untested players to the senior team.

With the emphasis of zonal competitions by Confederation of African Football (CAF), there is a lot of work to be done by the organisers and the incoming leadership.

Again, as Juma Mgunda of Tanzania and Kimanzi insisted, there lacked some basic tournament organisational structures, that diminished the quality of the competition.

From lean squads allowed to participate, one artificial turf field hosting the matches, lack of police escorts for teams in the chaotic Kampala traffic jam to several other underlying issues, the 2019 edition leaves a big room for improvement.

However, it is important to note it has not been easy for the leadership to have the competition on, the sixth of the zonal body this year. While asking for more, the outgoing leadership justifiably needs a tap on their backs.

Finally, as the CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye who has quit after 20 years at helm advised, the competition cannot grow with divisions within the member associations.

Outgoing CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye looks on at the 2019 CECAFA Ordinary General Assembly in Bugolobi, Kampala – Uganda on December 18. (PHOTO/Courtesy)

Every member association must be willing to jealously guard the gains, despite the myriad challenges that face the domestic affairs.

The absence of Rwanda, South Sudan and Ethiopia only helped to dilute the party, out of what can be argued as lack of commitment by the said federations.

As Wallace Karia, the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) chief embarks on his new four-year term as the president of CECAFA, he must be ready to enhance the cohesion of the federations. This, is not to forget attracting of sponsors as FIFA and CAF money is for development competitions.