She was once the darling of the public. The media couldn’t get enough of her. But when Conjestina Achieng’ or Conje, as she came to be known, reappeared in the media recently after a long break, she was a pale shadow of her former self.
Kenya’s best know female boxer, she rose to the international limelight when she won the Women’s International Boxing Federation’s middleweight belt after beating Fiona Tugume of Uganda.
But now she has joined the list of tragic Kenyan sportsmen and women.
Last year she was checked into a mental facility.
While the doctors treating her would not say exactly what her problem was, it was rumoured that she was suffering from depression.
When her condition had stabilised, she was detained in a hospital in Kisumu over an unpaid Sh595,000 bill. After the media highlighted her plight, well-wishers raised Sh785,000,which was enough to clear the hospital bill and leave her some surplus to take care of herself and her son.
Following her release from hospital, Conjestina called on the government to intervene to help resurrect her career.
Indeed, many Kenyans, feel that the government should do more to help the country’s sportsmen and women.
World reknowned marathoner, Paul Tergat, accused the government of neglecting these “Kenyan heroes, among them Conjestina, and letting them live in a sad and painful state.”
And during an interview with the media, her father, Mr Clement Adala remarked: “The government has abandoned the sportsmen and women who have carried the country’s flag high…it is embarrassing,”
But sports bodies and psychologists are quick to respond that the affected stars have only themselves to blame.
Said S.K. Paul, one of the senior administrators at the National Olympic Committee: “The government and sports bodies do all in their power, including organising conferences and mentorship camps, to make these sports people act rationally, but we can only do much for a famous grown up”.
‘HAPPENS WHEN TOO MANY WANT A PIECE OF SPORTSPERSON’
He says Conjestina is a typical example of what happens when too many people want a piece of a sportsperson, a phenomenon that has been the downfall of many sports stars.
“There was a chain of unscrupulous people waiting to cash in on her hard work in the name of promoters, managers and public relations advisers, among others, and these people did not give a damn about her wellbeing as long as they got their money…there was no way she could have saved any money to secure her future, he explains, adding,
“Even if the government gave money to sort her out, these greedy people would show up again to manage her and leave her at the first sight of a hiccup.” Mr Vitalis Gode, the Secretary General of the Kenya Basketball association, says another factor that contributes to the downfall of these stars is their low level of education, which not only makes it easy for them to be short-changed in their contracts, and also limits their understanding of the economic value of short-term economic gains that sports offer.
“Most of these sports people do not know that at 35, they are likely to retire. If they did, they would invest wisely,” Mr Gode says.
But Conjestina is not the only tragic character whose career benefitted others more than herself.
Peter “Goal Den Header” Dawo, a former Gor Mahia Football Club player who rose to fame when became the top scorer in the Mandela Cup in 1987, has a similar tale to tell. Dawo‘s ability to penetrate the opposing team’s defence was outstanding and that same year, he helped Gor Mahia win a domestic league and the club’s only African Cup Winner’s trophy after scoring 10 goals in the competition.
Such was his athletic prowess that he was voted seventh in the 1987 African Footballer of the Year.
Dawo’s career appeared set for the stars when, at the age of 23, he was signed by Egyptian high-ranking club, Arab Contractors.
He stayed in the club for only a year then left for Omani side, Al-Seed, in 1991. Before the season ended, he was back in the domestic league, and signed up for his old club, Gor Mahia FC, which he again helped win the local league.
Because of his success in 1987, Gor Mahia officials were reluctant to sign his release forms when better clubs came looking to sign him.
Says Dawo: “They wanted to make a quick buck out of me…Gor officials were asking for too much money from all the clubs, both local and international, that were interested in me. They wouldn’t let me go, yet they weren’t offering me much,” he trails off.
Today, Dawo earns a living working as a clerk in Kisumu County.
“I really yearn for the money I was earning back in 1990, which was good money at the time,” he said in an interview with DN2 recently.
“It is sad that even after doing so much to bring glory to this country, many former sportsmen and sportswomen lead pathetic lifestyles. I am not saying we should be given hand-outs, but there is a need to create avenues for retired sportsmen and women to earn a decent living,” said Dawo.
“It was great playing for Gor Mahia and winning the Africa Cup Winners Cup. It’s an achievement I take a lot of pride in. Probably that’s the only thing in my career as a footballer that makes me proud. But despite all my achievements, I have nothing to show for it,” he laments.
Dawo now coaches the Kisumu Municipal Council team, which plays in the lower leagues.
He even hopes that the devolved county system would “get more organised and create opportunities for sports personalities”.
But even as he remains hopeful, one cannot miss the tinge of bitterness in his voice when he says current players “get huge allowances” yet their sports performance pales in comparison to the high standards of the game during his days in the ‘80s.
Apart from the unscrupulous mangers who line their pockets at the expense of sportsmen and women, there is also the problem of low levels of education among the stars. Take for instance, John “Koki” Kariuki, a well known boxer in Nakuru.
NOTHING TO SHOW
In 2006, Koki floored a Seychellois opponent at Nairobi’s Charter Hall to win the gold medal in Kenya’s novices’ championships. But he only his medal to show for his efforts.
Apart from the first-class bus that he rode in to and from the fight, and he national anthem being played in his honour, Kariuki returned home with nothing.
“Not even a single penny,” he told DN2 dryly: in my pocket,”
He does not have a stable job and ekes out a living working as a porter at the Nakuru Wholesale Market.
Kariuki has realised that being champion meant little apart from the title.
As Paul and Gode observed, the lack of or limited formal education such — Kariuki only went up to Standard Seven — pmakes it difficult for him to realise when a contract is not in his favour.
But Kariuki knows he is not the only one in this situation. “When I am on my knees praying every morning, I don’t just pray for myself; I pray for the deaf, the blind and all handicapped marginalised people and other sports personalities”.
But while Congestina and Kariuki are examples of those who are suffering because they did not succeed, for some stars, the success they seek turns out to be theirvery downfall because they cannot cope with the fame that accompanies it. The late marathoner, Samuel Wanjiru, is a case in point.
Perhaps the most remarkable r race that Wanjiru ran was the marathon in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, which he won, and became the first Kenyan to accomplish the feat. But by that time he had made a lot of money, and was only in his twenties.
Although he did make some investments, he is reported to have lived an extravagant lifestyle, spending money as if there were no tomorrow. At the time of his death, it was reported that he had just about Sh5,000,000, a tiny fraction of his total earnings.
FAME MINUS FORTUNE…
Kenya’s first boxing medalist in the Olympic Games in 1968 as well as winner of the Val Baker Trophy.
He was the most decorated boxer in the history of boxing in the country. An eye problem ended his boxing career. He underwent four operations in Japan, but all these efforts were in vain. He now lives with this mother in Nakuru, having lost his sight.
JOHN ‘KOKI’ KARIUKI
He’s the flag bearer of the Nakuru Amateur Boxing Club and current Kenya national lightweight champion. He went up to Standard Seven and has no permanent job.
Every morning, the slight-built boxer treks two kilometres to the Nakuru Wholesale Market where he works as a porter. His earnings are not even enough to pay his Sh1,500 monthly rent.
One of the finest forwards Kenya has ever produced on the football pitch. He won several titles for his club, Kenya Breweries (now Tusker FC) and the national football team i in the ‘90s.
Wazee wa Kazi midfielder Henry Motego in action during their Gotv match against Internationale on 21st July 2013 at City Stadium.Wazee wa Kazi won 3-1.Photo/CHRIS OMOLLO
However, the stocky striker retired to a life of misery. He now works as a casual laborer at various construction sites in town and coaches high school budding talents for free during his free time.
JULIUS ‘AWILO’ OWINO’
A no-nonsense right full-back in his prime, the defender gave his all to football, especially for Gor Mahia and the national football team. He captained both teams during the sunset of his career.
But things went South moments after his retirement. The father of five can now be spotted collecting used water bottles for recycling in Nairobi’s sprawling Eastlands area.