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The moment of truth for Kenyan football arrives

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NAIROBI, Kenya, October 28- The moment of truth for Kenyan football is finally here after a protracted process with more twists and turns soap opera script writers would relish.

On Saturday, some 5,500 voting delegates will shape the future for the country’s tattered game during elections that will usher in national and regional officials of Football Kenya, the proposed new governing body for the sport.

Focus will be who among seven candidates vying for the post of national chairman will get the mandate to lead the envisaged new dawn in a contest that has pit the old order against reformers.

Football Kenya Limited (FKL) chairman, Mohammed Hatimy, rival Kenya Football Federation (KFF) boss, Sam Nyamweya, Extreme Sports CEO Hussein Mohammed and Gor Mahia FC chief, Ambrose Rachier are the presumed frontrunners in the race.

Elizabeth Shako, the only female candidate, Twaha Mubarak, the KFF vice-chair and little known Fredrick Awich, a former player with Gor Mahia complete the list that saw Sammy Obingo whose name will be on the ballot paper withdraw from the contest at the 11th hour.

“Kenyans will have themselves to blame if they do not elect visionary leaders. Lack of proper football leadership has taken the game down the drain and this is the chance they have and it is my hope they will vote with their conscience, not money,” Former Harambee Stars and Tusker FC midfield stalwart who is Hussein’s running mate observed.

And that is the essence of the whole exercise that since the initial announcement that unified polls would be held last December, has been postponed on four different occasions.

“Kenya is the only country with the dubious distinction of having two federations running football and the time has come for this to end. I do not mind even if I lose as long as there is a reformer in place since these two or three individuals who have messed the country’s football need to go,” Rachier charged.

Years of bickering first within KFF that saw the country indefinitely suspended by Fifa twice between 2006 and 2008, two parallel top flight leagues being staged and the stagnation of the proposed Fifa Goal Project at their height dealt a death blow to the country’s game.

At the core of the debilitating wrangles was the claim by both Hatimy and Nyamweya that they were the bona fide chairman of KFF.

Then towards the end of 2008, the KFF faction led by Hatimy transformed themselves to FKL and with the backing of Fifa, managed to be the only limited company in the world to run national football affairs.

Nyamweya, who was said to enjoy support from the Kenyan Government (or precisely, the Party of National Unity wing of the Grand Coalition), instituted litigation against FKL that found its way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport before it was dismissed last year.

Though Hatimy was in charge by his own insistence as ‘interim chairman’, his three-year reign lacked the legitimacy necessary to galvanise the development of the game, hence the clamour for elections.

Middle ground was struck between Government and Fifa in the latter third of 2010 that precipitated the formation of the Interim Electoral Board (IEB) led by James Oswago that was mandated to organise unified polls.

With both KFF and FKL trying to gain leverage in the face of stern challenge from the reformists, the process to harmonise the voters register, financial constraints and the electoral code of conduct are some of the fronts that led to the postponement of the elections on four occasions.

On the surface, Hatimy and Nyamweya who have held sway in Kenyan football management for over the last decade that has seen the country fall from position 68 in 2008 to the current ranking of 135, the worst in history, hold the advantage.

Voting delegates have been drafted from clubs allied to FKL and KFF that would ideally give the pair a head start but external intrigues have clawed into the presumed leverage.

For starters, Fifa has apparently withdrawn its backing from Hatimy and allegedly vested it on Rachier after the FKL leader openly supported the failed bid for the world body’s presidency mounted by Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam.

One of Hatimy’s most trusted and lieutenants, Titus Kasuve, who was FKL’s second vice-president, decamped to the Rachier train at the last dealing his quest another body blow.

Nyamweya has also lost his right hand man at KFF, Mubarak who opted to run on his own and neither he or his archrival enjoy the support of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) the top flight domestic competition management company whose clout in the country’s game has grown immeasurably since it was formed in 2008.

Hussein, who at 34 is the youngest contender, has staged the most visible campaign for the top seat and the unease his bid caused is thought to have informed the IEB’s electoral code stipulation of an age limit of 35 that was later expunged.

He enjoys massive youth support as evident in social network forums but it remains to be seen whether his robust campaign will resonate with voting delegates.

Shako, who is playing the gender card, Mubarak and Awich compose the rank outsiders in the race.

The Independent Interim Electoral Commission (IIEC) will conduct the election and all results will be channelled to the national tallying centre at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani where the national chairman and his vice will be announced.

IIEC involvement in the process has given the FK election the credibility they craved since the poll body has build an impressive record since it succeeded the Electoral Commission of Kenya that was accused of bungling the 2007 general elections that invited the violence that rocked the country.

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