The number of Kenyan female footballers who have dumped the Kenya Women Premier League for foreign leagues hit an all-time high towards end of last year, raising concern about the state of women’s football back home.
Top on the list are striker Jentrix Shikangwa (formerly of Vihiga Queens and Turkish club Satih Karagumruk and currently at Tanzanian club Simba Queens), striker Topister Situma (formerly of Vihiga Queens, now at Simba Queens), midfielder Cynthia Shilwatso (formerly of Vihiga Queens and Spanish club Logrono and currently at Fountain Gate Princess in Tanzania), midfielder Corazone Aquino (formerly of Gaspo women and currently at Simba Queens), defender Esther Amakobe (Wadadia Women, now at Fountain Gate Princess), and defender Ruth Ingotsi (Vihiga Queens and later Cypriot side Lacatamia, currently at Simba Queens), all of whom play for national football team Harambee Starlets.
Shilwatso and Amakobe joined Serengeti Lite Women Premier League (SLWPL) Fountain Gates Princess in Tanzania, while the quartet of Situma, Shikangwa, Ingosti and Aquino joined SLWPL champions Simba Queens.
Starlets duo of Dorcas Shikobe (formerly of Oserian FC) and attacking midfielder Faith Ivy (formerly of Wadadia FC) also joined Indian Women Premier League team SETHU FC for an undisclosed period of time.
On the other hand, Kenyan promising Star Violet Nanjala also joined Municipal de Laayoune Women in Morocco on a two-year deal from Trans Nzoia Falcons. She is currently the league’s top scorer with 11 goals in11 league games.
The Starlets players are among the 31 Kenyan female footballers who have dumped their Kenya Women’s Premier League clubs for greener pastures.
So what could be behind the exodus of Kenyan female footballers from local clubs to foreign clubs, especially those in Tanzania?
According to a veteran Kenyan coach Alex Alumirah who is the technical director of Tanzanian league side Fountain Gate Princess, huge sign-on fees, better contracts and salaries, and the fact that Tanzanian league matches are screened live on TV are some of the reasons Kenyan female footballers are moving to Tanzania in droves.
“Most of the players move to Tanzania where they feel valued and well taken care of. Players join clubs that pay handsomely. They prefer places where salaries are timely and consistent,” Alumirah, who has served as Harambee Starlets coach, said.
“Fountain Gate Princess, Yanga and Simba’s matches are all broadcast live on TV. Players prefer this because it makes it easier for them to generate videos for scouts in the European market. At the end of the day, it’s all about packaging themselves for greener pastures,” he said.
“Some teams in the Tanzanian women’s league pay their players better than most Football Kenya Federation Premier League teams. Teams give out huge sign-on fees that some of the players have never received since they started playing football,” Alumirah, who won the KWPL title with Vihiga Queens in 2019 and went on to lift the Cecafa Club Championships title with the club in 2021, said.
He said Tanzanian clubs attract top players since they are better branded and marketed, and provide players with a conducive environment to train and live.
“In Tanzania, media helps market the players and the league, thereby putting them on the world map. The clubs have attractive and palatial accommodation facilities where players feel very comfortable living. On top of that, meals and other basic needs such as medical cover are provided,” he said.
Simba Queens team manager Selman Makanya said the SLWPL has only been in existence for six years now but proper structures put in place by the Tanzania Football Federation have contributed immensely to the growth of women’s football in the country.
“We have signed players across East Africa that make the league very competitive. We have sponsors who are always on standby to support us. They pump money directly to the federation and to the clubs. In turn, the clubs are transparent and accountable to partners,” said Makanya.
“In Tanzania, female footballers are given equal support as men, we try to create a friendly environment for them. We honour their contracts by paying them on time. This sends a strong message back to their countries, which attracts more players to our country,” Makanya added.
In Kenya, a good number of the KWPL clubs don’t pay salaries. Players only receive match allowances as low as Sh1,000 every weekend during match days.
Elizabeth Katungwa who plays for Rangers FC in India is worried that soon the KWPL will lose its value due to the exodus of players to foreign leagues.
“I can’t blame players for ditching the local league. Playing professional football is a good achievement, this portrays the talent that Kenya has. As we all carry the national flag high in other countries, it encourages more players to work extra hard locally,” Katungwa says.
“As we speak, I have grown career wise. Football is very competitive abroad, and it’s paying. I depend on football for a living here, unlike in Kenya where players are not paid. The Football Kenya Federation should be worried that our football is sinking so low. The Kenyan league is losing quality players to foreign leagues and with time, Kenyan club football will lose its taste,” she says.
Ndovu Esitoko Benpeters who is the chief executive officer of KWPL side Nakuru City Queens echoed Katungwa’s sentiments.
“Kenya has good quality players compared to neighbouring countries. The biggest challenge that Kenyan football faces is that great talent is not well taken care of. I always depend on well-wishers to fund our club. I don’t mind losing players to other countries as long as they get good pay,” Benpeters says.
Nakuru City Queens lost key player Peris Oside to Fountain Gates Princess Academy last season.
Kenyan attacking midfielder Francis Kahata who played for Simba in the Vodacom Premier League for two seasons says Tanzanian fans love their football and support the clubs by buying tickets and attending matches in large numbers.
“Tanzanian football has really grown. They have good stadiums and the old ones have been renovated. The league is well organised and everything is done professionally. I often feel so sad for my country, we have good talent that is not well taken care of. I don’t see any problem with players dumping the local league. They are looking for a better life,” said Kahata.
Last year, CAF changed its rules and now requires clubs wishing to participate in men’s continental competitions to have a women’s team.
The new requirement will take effect in 2022/23 CAF competitions. As a result, teams will be monitored to ensure consistency and full support for women football.
A month after being he was sworn into office, Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba said developing women’s football will be a top priority. He promised to work closely with FKF to help the young girls grow their footballing careers.
“These young players should be encouraged. I want us to start with nurturing talent from the grassroot to the national league,” Namwamba said at the time.
“I got a chance to watch the final of the UEFA Women’s European Championship last year. That is the biggest competition in women’s football in the world. The stadium was packed and the fans came out in large numbers to support their teams. This shows that women’s football has grown all over the world,” added Namwamba.