Athletics, food and politics: Ruto reminds me of what we’ve missed

Sunday October 16 2022
Kenyan President William Ruto and Tanzania's Samia Suluhu.

Kenyan President William Ruto and Tanzania's Samia Suluhu in Dar es Salaam on October 10, 2022. PHOTO | POOL


The “Hustler” came to Dar and went back to Nairobi, having won big during his maiden visit here in terms of agreements between himself and his host, President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Although President William Samoei Ruto was the star of the show, I could not keep my mind off another Kenyan of days long gone, a great athlete called Charles Mukora, now sadly departed.

Let me explain.

I was my country’s young director of youth and sports when I made acquaintance with Mukora, former star athlete (long jump, triple jump, decathlon), former coach to the incomparable Kipchoge Keino and (at the time of our meeting in Moscow), chair of his country’s National Sports Council.

I had known of Mukora through the media, but now that I was meeting him for the first time I was focused on what we Tanzanians could learn from him and Kenya in the field of track-and-field, especially how Kenya could have such great runners from the Rift Valley and Tanzania did not.

In short, I asked him to allow me to send my officials, trainers, coaches and sports medicine people Kenya to “spy” and find out how Kenya managed to outdo us in this area when we were blessed with the same land topography and people types.


Around this time, I used to chide my dear colleague boss of the National Sports Council, the late Ricky Kirimbai, on the fact that the Konchellahs — a clan on both sides of the border — were Olympic champions in Kenya, while ours were mere cowherds.

Mukora agreed so graciously, asking me to send some 100 experts to Namanga (the border between our two countries) and leave them for a couple of weeks in the Kenyan countryside at Kenya’s expense. He said he would also do some “spying” of his own.

Elated, I rushed to my minister to announce the great news. Was he impressed? Did he even want to exchange hellos with my new friend? He just ignored me, telling me not to bother with “these fellow paupers. They have nothing,” he said, adding, “You better follow those there,” pointing at a group of French, West German and Canadian sports ministers.

“They have the dollars, not these Kenyans, masikini wenzetu.”

I was mortified. I was in shock. This was a minister with two degrees from two reputable universities and yet what he was displaying was evidence of a deep-seated illiteracy. But he was minister and I was a subaltern officer doing his bidding. So, I went away crestfallen and tried to drown my misery in vodka as I tried to assure Mukora we would soon meet in Nairobi, which we never did.

I was young then but not too young to realise that we were governed by ignoramuses whose understanding of the most basic things was suspect. To date, Rift Valley and other athletes from Kenyan continue breaking records while ours — also from the Rift — are forced to wonder, alongside all of us, what juju potion the Kenyans use.

And for all that, Tanzania did not need anybody to tell us that the Bayis, Shahangas and Ikangaas were also from the Rift and they had shown us how to beat the world in their disciplines.

Back to the Ruto visit. As I watched him work his magic on Samia, I could not help thinking of that miserable evening in Moscow and what we had missed because I was accompanying an ignoramus of a minister. Certain ideas came to me and I hoped that someone in our national delegation would raise them with their counterparts from Nairobi.

The most obvious one: We have plentiful arable land suitable for agriculture, of which Kenya is deprived. Could we engage Kenyan agricultural expertise to put half of Tanzania, if not more, under crops that could easily feed hundreds of millions of mouths from the Miombo woodlands in western Tanzania all the way to Luanda on the Atlantic?

And, perhaps at a more hidden level, could we learn from the Kenyans how they supervise the fortification of their processed foodstuff to fight undernutrition and stunting among our young ones who have displayed an inability to perform in mental and physical activities owing to backward foodstuff processing?

What about the teaching of our own Kiswahili? I was writing in a Tanzanian paper warning, many years ago, that if we did not stop treating Kiswahili as a worthless vernacular, Unesco would soon be looking for Kiswahili teachers to send across the world, not from here but from Kenya.

Have we checked this one out? While we are at it, we may want to ask them how they have moved from killing each other over badly run elections to running fairy credible polls, and resorting to legal channels when there are misunderstandings.

Time was when our two countries were at each other’s throats over petty nationalisms, when we called Kenya a “man-eat-man society” and they answered by calling us a “man-eat-nothing society”. Now, at least our two presidents agree we should not be sharing poverty but wealth.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]