Thursday, June 19, 2008

Soccer for all by 2030?

Our Finance Minister now wants to equip the idle young men in the country with soccer balls and uniforms so as to engage in constituency tournaments all year round. This, he says, will keep them away from mischief and perhaps even earn them some living. Although he has not spelt out how he or anyone else will go about achieving this feat, my estimation is that his pronouncement is just a stunt that he hopes will cool the youth as he scratches his head for inspiration and innovative policies.

In what he described as the most difficult budget since he became the Finance Minister in 2006, Amos Kimunya proposed to address the challenging issue of unemployment amongst the youth thus;

“We will initiate and make operational a national football competition countrywide in every constituency, which will act as a mechanism to productively mobilize youth toward environmental and economic activities. I have allocated 1million to each constituency for the purchase of sporting kits to initiate community soccer competition.”

Easier said than done but as is usual with our disingenuous leadership, he talks of “We” when brushing over the intricacies of putting plan to action as opposed to “I” when allocating accolades to self in anticipation of success. Should the venture fail, as it surely will, he can come back and say “It was I who allocated the money; it was you who failed to make the program operational.”

Apparently, the budget drawing process is still largely an exercise exclusive to the treasury bureaucrats despite recent (feeble) calls by legislators to open it up for wider input from interest groups. Had the participation of target groups, in this case youth groups, been sought and incorporated, such shady plans couched in vague statements of intent and subsequent wasteful disbursement of funds might not occur. One such group that could provide enormous insight into the nitty-gritty of successful mobilization of youth is the Mathare Youth Sports Association.

Started in 1987, MYSA is a self-help organization involving approximately 20,000 young people promoting sports for development, environmental clean-ups, leadership training and community services. It has grown into an internationally renowned youth organization serving over 350 sports teams from 50 slum villages and estates within Nairobi. It is run for and by the youth themselves in 16 zones of the city with the average age of elected officials, volunteer organizers and coaches being 16 years. The youth driven leadership initiatives have contributed positively and immensely to the wellbeing of their community through slum clean-up, HIV/AIDS awareness, library/study halls projects, assimilation of children with disabilities, integration of refugee children, and rehabilitation of jailed juveniles among other activities. Examples of MYSA Alumni working abroad include Moses Mutuli (Deloitte and Touche, London), Maurice Njoroge (Building with Books Inc, Connectitcut), Eng. Patrick Busaka Kanzika (Edmund Nuttall Ltd, England). Others studying abroad include Alex Kimani and Ali Mohammed (Milligan College, Tennessee), Anne Nekesa, Lilian Mwangi and Beth Onyango (USA), David Waithaka (Park University, Missouri), Maurice Wambua (University of Rio Grande, Ohio), Robert Oguda (Southern Nazareen University, Oklahoma). Alumni playing professional soccer abroad include Arnold Origi, Wycliffe Juma and George Midenyo (Norway), Macdonald Mariga and Simon Mulama (Sweden), Sunday Juma (UAE), Titus Mulama (Rwanda) and of course Dennis Oliech now with Auxerre in France and previously earning a cool Ksh 5.8million every month playing for Nantes.

The success story that is MYSA is probably what Kimunya and his officers had in mind when crafting this ‘empowerment’ proposal even though they might not readily admit it. However, such achievements of the MYSA cannot be arrived at by million-shilling allocations to non-existent football groups. Indeed, such a group cannot be created out of a top-down government edict even though it would be a splendid idea to use MYSA as a model to roll out others countrywide. Most noteworthy in the MYSA model is the exclusion of politicians and government functionaries in its management.

What the government should be doing is facilitate funding of the numerous viable youth groups in the country but without the usual impediments that make the monies inaccessible. The unspent funds of the National Youth Enterprise Fund are testimony to the bureaucratic hurdles that frustrate youthful venture. Strangely, this year’s budget for the NYEF was raised by another Ksh 500million in addition to another Ksh 250million to provide ‘support, guidance and information’ to the groups! So in addition to the Ksh 210million for constituency football, that makes about Ksh 2billion to be kept under lock and key in the name of the youth. As usual, Kimunya exhorted finance officers to desist from wasteful expenditure of funds but then goes ahead to prepare ground for them with budgets for ghostly projects.

As MYSA has shown, the young men in this country can succeed very well without this highfalutin claptrap from government.

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