Between FIFA, FKF and Kenya’s sports minister, who will blink first? 

By Son Gatitu
Posted on Thursday, 18 November 2021 17:46

Nicholas Mwendwa, President of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi
Nicholas Mwendwa, President of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), reacts as he displays his handcuffs after arriving at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi, Kenya November 15, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The governing body of the International Federation of Association Football, FIFA, may have no choice but to suspend Kenya’s top football organ Football Kenya Federation (FKF) after its president, Nicholas Mwendwa, was recently kicked out of office by the sports cabinet secretary. But what wrong did Mwendwa commit? And what are the chances of regaining his seat? 

The anti-corruption court has barred Mwendwa from accessing his former office as he waits to be formally charged.

On 11 November, Kenya’s sports minister Amina Mohamed disbanded FKF’s top decision making organ, headed by Mwendwa, on allegations of embezzlement of public funds. Mohamed’s action followed a list of recommendations by an inspectorate committee that was constituted by the ministry mid-October. The committee had been tasked to review the undertakings of FKF “following an extended deterioration of the state of football management in Kenya”, read Mohamed’s press statement on 11 November.

In a report seen by The Africa Report, the inspectorate committee accused FKF, under Mwendwa, of failing to account for grants worth more than KSh500m ($4.5m) received from the government.

“It was established that there were neither cash books nor payment vouchers in regard to grants from the ministry of sports…for the funds FKF received between 2017 and 2021 as per the documents availed to the committee at the time of inspection,” reads part of the committee’s report.

Unaccounted grants

Mwendwa, 42, was serving his second term at FKF. He was first elected to the body in 2016 and then reelected in October 2020. The inspectorate committee found that under his watch, part of the grants unaccounted for were in relation to sponsorship of the country’s national football team (Harambee Stars), funding of regional tournaments and procurement of goods and services by the organisation.

Most of the withdrawals were made from the accounts not disclosed at inspection.

In 2019 for instance, the ministry of sports is said to have extended more than KSh218m to FKF to facilitate the national team in its campaign to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). The committee claimed that FKF provided no documentation for how the finances were spent.

The committee found that in December 2017, FKF received KSh25m to organise a Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) tournament, but Mwendwa’s office could not account for the expenditure.

Missing funds from bank accounts

FKF has also been put on the spot over KSh29.5m that was withdrawn from bank accounts in its name by unauthorised persons.

In 38 bank transactions, the inspectorate committee found that the said amount was withdrawn on various dates, with amounts from as low as KSh10,000 and as high as KSh4.9m. The withdrawals were made between 16 April and 31 May this year by one Peter Kipchirchir, a man not on the list of account signatories provided.

“Most of the withdrawals were made from the accounts not disclosed at inspection,” reads part of the report.

During the probe, at least 14 bank accounts – held at two local banks – were discovered under FKF’s name. Of these, nine were in local currency, while the rest were dollar accounts.

FKF largely depends on grants from FIFA and the Kenyan government. Sponsors of various tournaments and national teams supplement the agency’s finances. In 2018 for instance, (as per FKF financial statements), FKF received up to KSh558m ($4.9m). Of this, KSh284m came from FIFA, while the Kenyan government paid FKF KSh195m.

This situation could therefore potentially lead to a suspension of the FKF by FIFA and, in such a case, it would be all of Kenyan football that would suffer the consequences.

Mwendwa, who was arrested on 12 November, a day after he was kicked out of office, may soon be charged in court. On 15 November, he was presented before a magistrate as the prosecution sought more time to conclude investigations.

Mwendwa’s woes have attracted immense media attention in the East African country. His lawyers had opposed an application to have him detained in police custody for two weeks, during which time the investigators would firm up their case.

“When Mwendwa was arrested, the public was informed that he ha[d] been arrested on account of mismanagement of [KSh] 513m… If you look at this affidavit, that figure does not feature anywhere at all,” says Tom Ojienda, one of Mwendwa’s lawyers.

FKF president not detained

Kenya’s anti corruption court has declined to detain Mwendwa for a period of 14 days, directing that the prosecution file a formal charge against him within seven days or close the case.

Magistrate Wandia Nyamu said the prosecution did not show any basis to continue holding Mwendwa. “There is no good faith in seeking further detention without charge.”

The court extended Mwendwa’s release bail terms until the matter is reviewed in a week’s time.

A debt paid back?

The inspectorate committee had raised queries over how Mwendwa got paid KSh8.5m on grounds that it was a debt owed to him. The payments were made in three tranches between May and June 2021.

“There were no documents availed in regard to when, why and how the debt had been incurred and its relationship to FKF,” the report reads.

A 15-member committee constituted by Mohamed addressed a media conference on 12 November, the day Mwendwa was arrested. “We wish to reassure all lovers of Kenyan football that the committee will ensure smooth operation of all football activities across the country and beyond,” said Aaron Ringera, chairman of the caretaker committee.

In a letter dated 14 November, FIFA secretary General Fatma Samoura told the sports minister: “This situation could therefore potentially lead to a suspension of the FKF by FIFA and, in such a case, it would be all of Kenyan football that would suffer the consequences.” To date, no action has been taken to remedy the situation.

… FIFA and CAF are asking you to consider the reinstatement of the FKF executive committee as prior thereto.

“…The appointment of a so-called ‘caretaker committee’ by your office is undoubtedly contrary to our principles according to which all of our member associations, including the FKF, are required to manage their affairs independently and without undue influence of any third parties,” reads a FIFA letter to the minister.

FIFA has – in at least two correspondences – implored the Kenyan government to reinstate the FKF officials. When releasing Mwendwa on Monday, the court banned him from accessing his office during the time of the investigations, over fear that he could interfere with evidence or influence would-be witnesses currently employed at FKF.

More hurdles

The court order may make it difficult for Mwendwa and FIFA, even if the government were to yield and reinstate the office holders. In Kenya, local court orders supersede any administrative actions by government officials, unless appealed against and set aside or suspended.

Samoura had asked Mohamed to reinstate the embattled officials. “Going forward, without prejudice to the allegations that have been raised and any potential trial for offences that may have been committed, FIFA and CAF are asking you to consider the reinstatement of the FKF executive committee as prior thereto,” the letter from the FIFA official reads.

It will now be a tussle over which rules will apply. For FIFA, FKF must be allowed to operate independently. However, for the Kenyan government, FKF is a sports organisation that is registered under the country’s law and that also receives part of its funding from the state. As the government demands accountability over resources it has extended to the body, the Kenyan courts have intervened banning Mwendwa from transacting any business on behalf of FKF for now.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options