Democracy and Its Impact on Kenya Running

Getting Kenya runners into a residential camp is proving to be a headache for head Coach Julius Kirwa, who is pleading in local media for the athletes to heed Athletics Kenya call to train together for a month to boost their prospects in Beijing.

With the rich European Golden League and Grand Prix season just starting, some of the elites feel their bank balances would be seriously dented if Athletics Kenya insists that they pitch camp in Eldoret before next month’s Olympics trials. Most runners are opting to do their own training.

Kenya runners have been upstaged by Ethiopian runners in recent major meetings and Kenya athletics federation thinks one reason why Ethiopian runners have done so well is because they train as a team just before a major a tournament. But Kenya runners won’t heed calls to report to camp.

Why Kenyan Runners Can’t be forced into a training Camp

One difference between Ethiopia and Kenya is the level of democracy in these countries. The way a country is governed is always reflected in the way sports federation are run. While Kenya is miles ahead of Ethiopia in development of democracy; active opposition, free media and assertive citizenry. Ethiopia is still ruled by a strong man. Just last week, Ethiopian President Zenawi was re-elected without opposition.

Anything Zenawi says, Ethiopia does. And the Ethiopian federation officials have learn’t from him; when Haile Gebreselassie announced he wont be running in Beijing the Ethiopian federation hit the roof,


It is not up to Haile Gebrselassie to decide on participation in the marathon event in Beijing,” EAF technical director Dube Jillo said.

“It is the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, representing the nation, that determines whether Haile is fit to compete in the marathon event in Beijing’s Olympics or not.” As they tried to force Haile to run the marathon.

While this command and control style has helped the Ethiopian federation force discipline in the national team, In Kenya such tough talk would be met with talks of WE HAVE RIGHTS!

Their word was law

In the 80s Kenya was an autocratic country and thats how everything was run. Most sports federation were run by allies of the president. If the federation said “get into camp” everyone got in running. In the 80s dissidence was not tolerated in Kenya. This was an era Kenya runners won medals after medals around the world, thanks to the forced discipline. If any runner had tried to run outside the country without the authority of the federation, it would have been very easy for the officials to have his pass port withdrawn.

In the 90s multi party democracy arrived in Kenya and citizens got a voice. Street mass action became a divine right, teachers who are employed by government even staged a successful strike in the 90s that forced the government to award them a 200% salary hike. Kenya athletes started jetting outside the country to compete, confidently knowing no one had powers any more to stop them.

Today, With their old power dismantled, the Kenya federation officials can only look at Ethiopia federation with envy.

Long live peoples power!!

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