Monthly Archives: October 2017

Simiyu’s quest to change the soul of Kenya Sevens

The national sevens rugby team head coach Innocent Simiyu gets a second bite of the cherry and a chance to right the ship after a torrid first year as the head coach.

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Speaking at the team’s pre-season training session at the RFUEA grounds, Simiyu cut the image of a man at ease with his challenge and one who has the respect of his charges ahead of what will be a tough and long season.

“It was not all doom and gloom last season. We exposed several young players. I was happy with our expansive game. Into the new season it is time for the foundation we laid last season to now flourish.”

Pundits have questioned whether he is his own man or a merely lackey of the Union. Simiyu may not have the large-than-life personalities of Benjamin Ayimba or Mike Friday but in his unassuming, professorial nature there is steel that shines through.

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“Biggest thing I want to do is to improve the Kenyan rugby player. When a player is dropped from Shujaa, he drops in life. If we can improve the player such that they can improve their life for good and also when they stop playing they still contribute to the Kenya sevens eco-system then I shall have achieved something. Player is key. Changing the culture and creating purpose is the way.”

Having covered the team for close to half a decade at close range I was intrigued as to what change in culture meant for the former Impala RFC captain and coach.

“Culture is how Kenya Sevens team behaves, operates and interacts with society. We have to change that. Purpose is who we are and why are we here. If cam get clarity on that then there is sustainability in what we are doing.”

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The national sevens rugby team last season struggled in the World Rugby series blowing hot and cold before finishing 12th with a mere 63 points. Many questioned the ability of Simiyu who despite being a top rugby player in his day had little experience as a coach.

“There will always be doubting Thomases. It is life. For us key is to improve the player, play better, develop the game and off course win. Yes, we understand the expectations of Kenyans who want us to win everything.”

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In his first season coach Simuyu despite a target of 10 points a leg, only led Shujaa to 2 main cup quarterfinals in the 10 legs of the series. He cited a poor pre-season for the team’s dismal run. This season he has had the luxury of starting early and not spend most of the season firefighting. With 12 players in camp ‘Namcos’ asserts that training has been good and that he has had 100 percent attendance.

“Quite excited. Wish we keep the momentum and energy that we have started with. I have a feeling that things will be very good this season.”

Simiyu only had Team Manager Eric Ong’weno in his technical bench for most of the season after Strength and Conditioning coach Ian Gibbons resigned early on. Ahead of the 2017/2018 season Kenya Rugby Union has promoted performance analyst William Webster to assistant coach and rehired Geoffrey Kimani as the strength and conditioning coach.

“It is reliving. I was quite lonely. It is lovely that we have a full set of management. Kim has hit the ground running. He is in familiar grounds and we are happy to have him back. As for Will, he is good in analysis and this relives the pressure on me to focus on tactics.”

Shujaa have a busy season ahead with the World Sevens Series starting in December in Dubai, the Commonwealth Games in Perth Australia in April 2018 and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Fransisco USA in July 2018. This means a happy, committed and settled squad is key and areas like contracts, health insurance have to be sorted out early.

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“Contracts have been given. The players are to read then sign. The contracts are better and all the benefits are there. It is one of the best packages given. We have improved what we are offering because it is going to be a tough season. The players will tackle 16 tournaments and we require 100 percent commitment so we must compensate them.”

Last season Simiyu fell short of his 10 points per leg goal and this season he has a different outlook in as far as goal-setting.

“As management we shall be player-centric. It is not about us but about the players. Process of goal-setting is bottom up. Players set individual targets, then we set team targets. So they have the developmental forms to fill then we take it from there.”

The national sevens circuit kicked off with the Driftwood leg in Mombasa and will conclude with the Dala Sevens in Kisumu five legs later. The circuit curtain rises for the Safari Sevens which is scheduled to be held in early November while also on paper being a chance for the technical bench to pick new players.

“There is a selection committee of 5 checking out the players in the circuit. We want all the players to show what they have got. We have the core 12 in training then we pick 28 from circuit to make 40 then we whittle down to around 30. Even the 12 have to play a minimum of 2 legs. It is not a surety that they will be in the team, they have to prove themselves. They are on probation.”

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For many coaches it is winning that is the bottom-line but for Simiyu there is seemingly a desire to build a legacy that can withstand the test of time at Kenya Sevens. Given that the team has had five coaches in five years ‘Namcos’ will have to deliver results on the pitch to be given time to build the culture that he envisions.

GOD BLESS KENYA!

(transcribed from an interview with Innocent Simiyu on 5th August at RFUEA grounds)

PS: All images courtesy of Google.

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Papa Wemba and the importance of being elegant

“There is too much materialism in the world…everyone is focused on big house, big car, beautiful expensive clothes.”

Most musicians live flashy lifestyles but Congolese musicians really live it up and thus this statement that Papa Wemba makes on his way to church holding two young boys and looking quite the deeply religious man half way into a film where he is the star made everyone watching the film at the Alliance auditorium spontaneously burst into laughter.

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The film ‘The Importance of being elegant, focus on Papa Wemba’ is intense.

It captures a variety of issues and makes one pause to think. There is laughter but like the film which is shot in a grainy style there are issues which tug at the heart and not in a pleasant way.

Papa Wemba was a legendary Congolese musician. He started off with the influential Congolese band Zaiko Langa Langa in the 1960s, had a stint with Afrisa International before founding his own band Viva La Musica in the early 1980s. One of his songwriters was Antoine Agbepa now internationally known as Koffi Olomide, a star in his own right.

The film was not about Papa Wemba the musician but rather Papa Wemba as the Patron of the Sapeurs and the effect, the ‘religion’ of Le Sape has had on a generation.

Congolese men have cut a niche for themselves across Africa and Europe as men who put in the effort in dressing up and looking good. Sapeurs under the stewardship of Papa Wemba have taken this to a different level and the effort and expense put in dressing well and expensively is stunning. By the way Le Sape loosely translates to “Society of Atmosphere-setters and Elegant People”.

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One of the characters in the film is Archbishop who is sapeur living in Paris. Archbishop travelled to Paris in 2001 leaving behind a well-paying sales job in Kinshasa after being inspired by Papa Wemba. After 16 years in Europe Archbishop still has no papers and has to keep renewing his temporary refuge status as he tries to get political asylum. As he eats a meal of bread and soup the Archbishop gives a damming indictment on the influence of Papa Wemba.

“We live in France but Papa Wemba is the president of an invisible country, Le Sape. How?  How is a musician more important than the president of a country? Politicians are manipulators. That is how they get what they want. Papa Wemba is the biggest manipulator.”

Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the resource richest countries in the world but colonialism under Belgium, dictatorship under Mobutu and uncertainty after his toppling has left DRC divided and many Congolese living in abject poverty.

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Thus being a sapeur is as much a quest to be a dandy as a quest for identity, a sense of belonging and a brotherhood. One would go as far as to say being a sapeur is a religion and Papa Wemba was the god.

Papa Wemba was accused of being involved with a network that allegedly smuggled hundreds of illegal immigrants from DRC to Europe. He was arrested, spent a couple of months in jail in Paris before being released on bail.

After his release, Papa Wemba became deeply religious. To those watching the film his religious views were in sharp contrast to his lifestyle.

At one moment he is clubbing in Paris where he was based and in the middle of drinks he preaches to his crew telling them about Jesus and how they do not need to change from the drinks, drugs, women and the good life but just take five minutes to commune with God daily.

Sapeurs in Africa and abroad are men (and women) who do menial jobs to make ends meet. Lack of education and papers makes them to operate below the radar living on the fringes of society. This however does not stop them from living it up fashion-wise. A coat for 8,000 euros (Ksh. 990,000) is a normal purchase for a sapeur. This means that forays into the illegal side happens to sustain this lifestyle.

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Another character in the film is Anti-gigolo a sapeur in Brussels. He was given the name by Papa Wemba due to his monogamous lifestyle in Kinshasa. Interestingly he now lives in Brussels but on a visit to Paris he and his boys drive into the red light district checking out the Congolese ladies on display in the shop windows. Anti-gigolo delves into a monologue of how these ladies from Kinshasa have being cheated to come abroad and now sell themselves to sustain a fancy lifestyle.

Songs for pay is another theme addressed in the film. Called dedication and done by musicians across many genres dedication becomes sinister when people around Papa Wemba sell the dedications informing interested parties of their ability to have access to Papa Wemba.

With too many dedications and too little time in the songs, the hangers-on end up not delivering on their deals. This leads to Papa Wemba’s personal bodyguard nicknamed Poison to chasing hangers-on from the studio. Then he asks Papa Wemba to give him a mention but not as Poison but as ‘KGB Protector Number One.’ Cue more laughter at the irony.

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Not that Papa Wemba minds the trade, he is also making money of it with a sound man stating how even cars are given for dedications. In a conversation with a woman who wants to be mentioned in one of Papa Wemba’s songs, the woman tells Papa Wemba that she can steal clothes, shoes and perfume and that can be payment.

Papa Wemba asks her to also steal underwear because he hates it when he undresses a beautiful girl and she has torn underwear. This as his wife who cuts a matronly figure prepares dinner for her husband.

Religion and a decadent lifestyle. Migration and immigration. Running away from poverty in DRC to wallow in poverty abroad. Guys working in menial jobs yet spending money like kings. A quest for identity turning into a cult following. Music as art and also a cheap base commodity. Inspiring and manipulating.

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Contradictions.

Elegant contradictions that live together side by side until they become the norm and one is totally thrown off when light is shone on the contradictions.


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