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Hussein Swaleh obituary: Ethiopia Airlines victim was a 'dedicated servant' of the Kenyan game

17:28 SAST 2019/03/11
Hussein Swaleh of FKF.
The football administrator was one of 157 victims of Sunday's aviation tragedy in Addis Ababa

Kenyan football administrator Hussein Swaleh, who was one of 157 victims of the Ethiopia Airlines tragedy on Sunday, was a giant of the domestic game who was influential in the national team's qualification for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, their first since 1992.

The former Kenya Football Federation Secretary General was among 32 Kenyans who boarded the Boeing-737-800MAX flight en route to Nairobi before it crashed at Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), six minutes after taking off from Bole International Airport.

Swaleh was returning from Egypt, where, in his duties with the Confederation of African Football, he had been acting match commissioner for Friday's Caf Champions League game between Ismaily SC and Democratic Republic of Congo giants Tout Puissant Mazembe.

The 52-year-old was appointed FKF Secretary General in 2000 and oversaw a period of prosperity for the national side, including qualification for the 2004 Afcon in Tunisia.

Before his death, he had taken his passion for talent development back to the grassroots level, and was elected as chairman of Lower Eastern Branch three years ago.

He was also influential in helping Stars striker Dennis Oliech, arguably the finest East African talent of his generation, secure his first professional contract with Al-Arabi SC of Qatar, opening the door for a greater flow of Kenyan talent overseas.

“He was a man, who knew what he wanted for Kenyan football," former Harambee Stars coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee told Goal, "and said it straight without mincing words.

“I have lost a friend and a mentor,” added Mulee, who worked in tandem with Swaleh to guide Kenya to the Afcon finals 15 years ago.

After a spell working with the United Nations in Nairobi, Swaleh first ventured into football administration in 2000, when he served as the Secretary General of the Kenyan Federation under the chairmanship of Maina Kariuki.

He was initially elected as Deputy Secretary, but was promoted as a replacement for the suspended Dan Murunga.

Harambee Stars frontman Dennis Oliech, who took his first steps overseas after Swaleh's input

“We were accorded the best ever treatment under the watch of Hussein," echoed Musa Otieno, who captained Kenya in Tunisia. "He was keen to speak to the players and was ready to help whenever there was a problem.

"He kept telling us to win matches as this could put us on the world map."

During his time in office, Swaleh oversaw the running of two domestic leagues, and he negotiated some of the more unorthodox elements of Kenyan football - including intermittent government interference - admirably.

Current Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa paid tribute to a man who he described as a close friend and a mentor.

“It is a sad day for Kenyan football," the FKF chief told Goal. "I have no words to explain the news, but as the Kenya FA, we have lost a dedicated servant who wanted to see the game improve every day.

"May his soul rest in peace.”

"You were doing what you loved most," Mwendwa added in a tweet. "Fare thee well my chairman, until we meet again."

Another of Kariuki's successors also recognised Swaleh's contribution to the local game.

“I worked closely with him during my time as the President of the Federation," former FKF President Sam Nyamweya told Goal, "and it is very unfortunate to lose such a young soul that was dedicated to serving football in the country."

Former Kenya head coach Jacob Mulee

Swaleh's time with the Kenyan federation was not without controversy, however, and in 2003 he was banned from all Caf activities for three years after Kenya's U-17 team was found guilty of age cheating.

The Confederation accused the football chief of playing an active role in allowing players sometimes over 20 years of age to represent that national side during the qualifying campaign for the African Championship in Swaziland.

Swaleh ultimately had the ban lifted, and had been working with Caf since last year.

His contribution both to the Kenyan game and the sport across Africa was recognised by Caf President Ahmad Ahmad in a statement published by the continent's football governing body on Monday.

"Swaleh's death is a blow to the Kenyan & African football fraternity," added a statement from the Kenyan Premier League Limited.

Even though he was only 12 when Swaleh served his last term in office, current Harambee Stars skipper and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama also paid tribute to Swaleh on his @VictorWanyama Twitter handle.

“Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of FKF Lower Eastern Branch chairman and Caf official Hussein Swaleh and all the victims of the #EthiopianAirlineCrash,” Wanyama wrote.

• Hussein Swaleh, Kenyan football administrator, who died 9 March 2019.