Everyday,a conversation about Kenya men national football team Harambee Stars creates a wave of new thoughts,ideas and debates. There has been so much talk about the team that at times it gets meaningless and boring.
Harambee Stars recently fell off the Fifa rankings from position 104 to 114. The plummet quickly followed yet another humiliating drop from 88th to 104th.
The drop was largely as a result of the annoying friendlies played in Asia,against Thailand and Iraq,in both occasions,Harambee Stars lost and got their fans angry. What followed was a heated debate about whether the team had the right coach in Stanley Okumbi.
To the behest of fans,Okumbi was demoted and Kenya hired a new coach,a 39th man at the helm of the national team since Ray Bachelor in 1961. The change was necessary as Kenya prepared for the Cecafa tournament to be hosted in the country.
However,it is through this discussion that one man has come up with yet another idea. Now that Harambee Stars have had 39 coaches and counting and nothing positive seems to come off,this man believes there is a bigger problem. And it lies just within the team.
Philip Chebunet,a lecturer at the University of Eldoret believes the name Harambee is a curse in itself and has petitioned Parliament to debate over it and if possible,find a new name. But how on earth would that even be a problem?
“We spend so much money to prepare the team for tournaments such as the World Cup and AFCON but we get nothing in return. It is evident in the manner in which we keep flip-flopping in Fifa rankings,so the problem is bigger,” said the university don.
The name Harambee Stars has existed for over three decades now,since its inception by the then FKF President Kenneth Matiba in 1976. It was derived from the motto of hay days of Jomo Kenyatta’s leadership, but was solely Matiba’s suggestion as history indicates. Could it be time we gave the national team a better name?
“Yes,the name is a curse,problematic it its own way. I feel it has affected the entire team since 1976 when Matiba just woke up and called it Harambee,” said Chebunei amid giggles.
Whereas there is no tangible relations between a name and the performance of the team,Philip Chebunet says the bad omen from the word Harambee has crushed the hopes,pride and enthusiasm that would otherwise be drawn by the national team. He refers to the name as unattractive and one that keeps off fans as opposed to pulling them fondly closer to their national team .
“Everything around the team seems confusing. That’s why many Kenyans would rather name a whole first eleven of Arsenal or Manchester United than that of Harambee Stars,” he adds.
History teaches us that the word Harambee literally means ‘pulling together of resources’,the best traditional mode of survival used in the golden era of Kenya’s first two Presidents.
As a motto,Harambee was banned in 2002 after politicians took advantage of it to showcase their ill-acquired wealth. Since then,it has been neither here nor there.
“Harambee is bad omen. You can see it from the way our players behave during international matches. It scares away the pride of being part of the national team,” Chebunet says.
So what are the suggestions then?
African countries have had a variety of ways in naming their national teams. Be it for rugby,soccer,volley ball or handball. For instance,Kenya’s volleyball team is Malkia Strikers,Nigeria has Super Eagles for the men national football team. Cameroon has the Indomitable Lions,Black Stars of Ghana,Lions of Teranga of Senegal or The Sable Antelopes of Botswana. Philip Chebunet feels Harambee Stars can follow the same route.
“Let’s call our team The Wilder Beasts,or The Big Five perhaps. A name more relevant to modern day Kenya. Such names will bring back the fading love for the national team,” he explains.
The bill will be tabled in Parliament today (Wednesday November 29) and Philip Chebunet is optimistic that the honorable members of parliament shall find it appropriate for debate.
“I received a great welcome from the clerk of the national assembly. They believed that the bill deserved consideration and I also have a massive support from like-minded Kenyans,” he says.
Philip Chebunet is just one of the many Kenyans who strive to see tides change for the better for Harambee Stars. His petition however outrageous it sounds,will arouse conversation that cannot be downplayed as the country moves forward.
He thought it out and acted and in the spirit of making Harambee Stars great again,so can you.
The interview to this story was conducted by Sportika’s senior local football correspondent,Wilma M.