Cynthia Shilwatso Musungu and Lilly Awuor are the latest pair of Kenyan exports to women’s European leagues. They have already set base in Spain and Germany respectively, ready to embark on a deserved professional stint.
Shilwatso started with the reigning Kenya Women’s Premier League (KWPL) champions Vihiga Queens, before moving to Europe.
Spanish club EDF Logroño sealed a three year contract with the attacking midfielder in March, before the pandemic disrupted sports and interfered with her travel arrangements.
Likewise, Awuor played for local clubs Kisumu Youth Olympic, Palos Ladies and Spedag Ladies, before moving to Tanzania in 2017.
The striker impressed in Kigoma Sisters colours. She netted four goals in five play-off matches.
It landed her a three month trial with Stockholm based club Hammarby IF. At the time, they played in the top Damallsvenskan league. In July, the Kenya international penned a two year deal with German club Borrusia Pankow.
The stream of Kenyan players to Europe was something that rarely happened five years ago. Doreen Nabwire, currently the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) competitions manager, became the first Kenyan to play professionally in Europe.
She played in the Frauen Bundesliga for Werder Bremen in the 2009/10 season. A year later, she moved to the Netherlands where she featured for FC Zwolle before returning to Germany in 2013/14 for FC Koln.
An Active National Team
The change that the Kenya national team dubbed ‘Harambee Starlets’, has undergone in the last four years has undoubtedly helped the players and the country.
Between 2016 and 2020, Starlets qualified and played in their first Africa Cup of Nations (AWCON) and made three appearances in the CECAFA (Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations) tournament. They won the title in their third attempt in 2019, got to the penultimate round of CAF Olympic qualifiers, plus a long list of other tournaments.
These achievements have provided much needed exposure, further boosted morale and made the possibility of a career in football more attainable. In years gone by, many girls invested effort into the sport only for them to walk away and venture into more life sustaining activities.
Resurgence of the Leagues
Previously, the domestic league was inconsistent. Seasons were either abandoned or didn’t start at all. In 2010, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Kenyan government stepped in and sponsored the league. However, just as it entered it’s third season, sponsors withdrew and the season was abandoned.
Since 2016, the league has now been played to completion. Vihiga Queens and Thika Queens are the only clubs to have won the league. The former are three time winners. The latter were champions in 2016. Other clubs like Gaspo Women, Kisumu All Starlets and Spedag also have players who’ve donned the national colours.
However, it’s not been without challenges. Despite FIFA’s efforts to financially support the league through grants, there’s still been little growth. Clubs have been in a tussle with the Kenyan FA over the allocation of grants.
As clubs struggle for resources, more have handed in walkovers. Last year, three clubs were relegated after failing to honour three matches. In the last four seasons, at least one club has been disqualified for the same reason.
Nonetheless, the players and coaches still work effortlessly to grab the opportunity in the hope of a better outcome.
Corporate Led Tournaments
Corporate led tournaments help to improve the way players get scouted. Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom are now at the forefront of nurturing talents across the board.
Judith Osimbo, Mercy Airo and Jentrix Shikangwa are just some of the Chapa Dimba players who have received call-ups to the national team. The best players from the eight regional competitions travel to Spain to receive training from certified La Liga coaches.
It’s definitely an exciting time for the sport in Kenya. Young girls now have players to look up to. Now more than ever, it’s possible to turn professional and make a living out of playing football. Expectations are at an all time high and it can only go up from here.