Because of the sensitive nature of this investigative story, only the main subjects, Philip Onyango Ombajo and Joy Mupalia, will be mentioned directly in all contexts because their names are already in the public domain.
Due to threats I received while investigating this story, concerns of retaliation, cyberbullying, and potential bodily harm, I have decided to grant anonymity to other sources so they can speak freely. To make reading and understanding the story easier, I have given them fictitious names.
Subjects in their official capacities and statements obtained from the public domain are quoted directly and attributed accordingly. I have made every effort to corroborate their information to make sure they’re credible. While I took extra care to ensure the story is accurate within the context and the accounts are true, I cannot guarantee the complete accuracy of all the details. I will be keen to keep updating the story to ensure we attain the most accuracy.
Note: This is an ongoing investigative story. We’re still vetting more allegations and following leads. We will report without fear or favor. Anybody with information can reach me through my Twitter handle @MauriceNdole
In a stomach-churning interview, Joy Mupalia, a former Strathmore University basketball player, recounted her overnight ordeal at the hands of former basketball coach and disgraced journalist Philip Onyango Ombajo.
And now, three more women have come forward, alleging Ombajo, popularly know as Onyango, sexually harassed them too. Several former players are also coming forward that other female players have confided in them that Onyango violated them.
Carolina, (not her real name) alleges Onyango attempted to have sex with her twice. He lured her to a lodging the first time, bought her alcohol, and tried to get her to jump in bed with him. She was 17 at the time.
Onyango, Kenya’s former Under 18 Women’s national team basketball coach, is a middle-aged man, believed to be aged between 55-60 years old.
Carolina also alleges Onyango tried to seduce her to have sex with him at his home in Mombasa, which he shared with other female players.
Husna (not her real name) said Onyango tried to seduce her to sleep with him multiple times while he was her coach. He frequently asked her out to bars.
Tamira (Not her real name) alleges Onyango reduced her playtime in the team because she refused to have sex with him.
Three veteran basketball players have also come forward with allegations that a total of 7 female players confided in them that Onyango sexually harassed or assaulted them.
The accusers, however, have not come forward, and some have preferred to pursue their grievances through other legal channels.
Specific details about these events are withheld to protect the alleged victims’ identities.
The growing accusations follow Mupalia’s harrowing encounter with Onyango on July 3, which led her to file attempted rape charges against him.
Onyango has vigorously denied all allegations and any wrongdoing.
“NEVER, NEVER, NEVER for the close to 31 years, I have been coaching netball and basketball in Kenya. Not even a report to the school principal or local chief,” Onyango said, using all caps for emphasis. “These things were just cooked to get me out of basketball and hence deny me the chance to travel to Rwanda with the national women’s basketball team, for which I was the technical assistant.” (Quote was edited for typos and punctuation to achieve clarity.)
Onyango’s claim of innocence is undermined by numerous allegations that he often solicited sex from female players.
Onyango blamed his woes on two scapegoats; the former Kenya star and women’s national team coach Ronnie Owino and Cynthia Mumbo, a veteran basketball player and former Kenya Basketball Federation presidential candidate.
Both Owino and Mumbo have denied any involvement in Onyango’s situation and declined to comment further.
Mupalia dismissed the claims.
“That’s not true,” Mupalia said. “Just how? This is ridiculous, it makes me laugh.”
VIRAL AUDIO OF MUPALIA SPEAKING TO A FRIEND TRIGGERED ACCUSATIONS AGAINST COACH PHILIP ONYANGO
Speaking up for the first time since the Public Prosecutor found insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal charge against Onyango, Mupalia took issue with the decision and said she suspects corruption played a role in dismissing the case.
“There is just lots of evidence because there are also other victims, and the hotel CCTV is also there, but they refused us to see them,” Mupalia said.
It’s unclear whether the police or the prosecutor reviewed the video surveillance footage before arriving at his decision.
The decision contained in a handwritten note signed by J. Mburugu, PPC Makadara Law Court, made several conclusions favoring Onyango.
“There is insufficient evidence to charge the accused person for the following grounds.
1) There is no medical report to show evidence of attempted rape, i.e., evidence of bruises or injuries to show struggle.
2)There is no evidence to show struggle like torn clothes.
3)The only available evidence is the complainant’s testimony, which needs to be corroborated for it to be sufficient,” Mburugu said in his report.
Nowhere in the note, however, did the report declare Onyango innocent. Instead, it stated, they found insufficient evidence to charge him with the crime of attempted rape.
The decision not to charge Onyango took many by surprise.
“This man will come with revenge against all of us,” Maria (not her real name), a Kenya women’s basketball star, said.
The Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), representing Mupalia pro bono, is looking for options.
“Our in-house legal team and pro bono Advocate are exploring various legal options on this,” Wanjiru Kamanda, FIDA Deputy Executive Director, said in an email.
Nairobi Lawyer Walters Omondi said the decision not to prosecute due to insufficient evidence is not final.
“The prosecutor is not saying the (alleged) offender is innocent,” Omondi said. “All he is saying is that there is no enough evidence to prosecute. If they get evidence, they will prosecute.”
Omondi noted there are no statutes of limitations to file a sexual offense complaint.
“Rape (sexual offenses) is a criminal offense, and In Kenya, under the Limitation of Actions Act, criminal offenses do not have a limitation period as such you can be charged even after 30 or 40 years,” Omondi said.
Section 23 of the Kenyan Sexual Offense Act covers sexual harassment. It states any person who uses a position of Authority to try and make another person have sex with them against their will is guilty of sexual harassment. And shall be jailed for three years or more or fined Kshs 100,000 or both.
The incident with Mupalia, at minimum, opens up Onyango to a sexual harassment charge. If found guilty, he could face at least three years in prison.
Mupalia said she contacted Onyango because she wanted an opportunity to advance her basketball career.
“I knew he had connections to go abroad, and that was my dream to get a team abroad,” Mupalia said.
Text messages of their conversation, inexplicably provided by Onyango, show he readily agreed to help unconditionally.
Here is a sample of the messages:
Mupalia: Natafuta team majuu ama popote outside Kenya. Maybe unaweza kuwa na connection mahali ukanisaidia. (Translation: I’m looking to join a team in the US or anywhere outside Kenya. Maybe you have connections to help me?)
Onyango: How old are you and have you completed school?
Mupalia: I am 22 years old. Nimemaliza diploma tu. (Translation: I’m 22 years old. I only have a diploma,)
Onyango: Ok, your age is alright. Let me talk to my contacts abroad, then revert.
It’s unclear whether Onyango has any connections to sponsor players in the US. When asked, he could not confirm the identity of his contacts or even provide a list of past players he had connected with opportunities abroad.
He responded to the question by providing a list of colleges in the US.
“They are many (schools) starting (with) Union University, Oklahoma Baptist, Wayland College, Weathered College Larma University, Tyler University, Cisco University, Bethel, etc.,” Onyango said in a Whatsapp message. “Most of these coaches have since changed college except Union University.”
We reached out for confirmation from Union University, but they did not respond to our inquiry.
Onyango did not mention any names of players he has sponsored to play abroad. Instead, he shared a supportive message from Beatrice Awino, who played college basketball for Union University in Tennessee between 2007 and 2011.
“Coach Philip struggled with us all the way from the village to give us a better life,” Awino said in a Whatsapp message. “If it wasn’t for him, most of us here in the USA would not have made it this far.”
Mupalia hoped Onyango would deliver for her just like he did for Awino, but he had other motives. It appears he carefully orchestrated a plot, preying on her ambitions and luring her July 3 into sharing a hotel room without her knowledge or permission.
“When I arrived in Nairobi, he picked me up (from the bus stop) and took me to a hotel he had already booked,” Mupalia said. “When we entered the hotel, he only picked one key at the reception.”
The move surprised Mupalia. She objected, but he harshly rebuffed her.
“I warned him and told him to pick another room, but he became so harsh to me. I really did not expect something like that,” Mupalia said.
People who have known Onyango over the years describe him as harsh, and he uses crude sexualized language toward players.
“I don’t like how he coaches the players. He is always shouting at them,” Pamela (not her real name), a Kenya women’s basketball national team veteran who has known Onyango for more than 15 years, said.
A player who attended Onyango’s months-long live-in basketball camp at his home in Mombasa confirmed Onyango’s harshness. She shared that he often used sexually solicitous language with them.
“He never wanted to see any male talk to us. To him, that was a crime,” Husna said. “He used to call us on a meeting and even dared to tell us ‘hizo vitu mnawapa machali zenu wenye hawawezi kuwanunulia pads si mnipe tu mimi?'”
(Translation: Why don’t you give me those things (sex) that you’re giving your broke boyfriends who cannot even afford to buy you sanitary pads?)
Husna alleged despite being her coach, Onyango tried to seduce her into having sex with him multiple times, but she refused.
“Mine was him trying to buy me alcoholic drinks so that I can get drunk and take that advantage,” Husna said.
Onyango’s harshness caught Mupalia off-guard and made her start having second thoughts about seeking his help.
“The way he spoke to me, I don’t think I was able to join him in KPA,” Mupalia said.
WhatsApp messages between Mupalia and Onyango show Onyango pitched the idea of Mupalia to join the KPA team temporarily. KPA would need the help because several of its players were part of the national team called to represent Kenya in the Afrobasket tournament held in Kigali, Rwanda, in July.
Onyango had promised Mupalia she would join the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), and everything seemed on track.
Upon arrival at the hotel at around 7 p.m., he checked them into a room, believed to be number 202 at Veecam Hotel in Nairobi. Once inside the room, it didn’t take long before Onyango allegedly pressured her for sex.
“Kidogo kidogo, naona jamaa anatoa nguo (translation: he suddenly started to undress),” Mupalia said in an audio recording that went viral and triggered action against Onyango.
He justified his demands by saying sending her bus fare to Nairobi was not a free service because he was not her boyfriend. And that as payback, he wanted a one-night stand.
She refused to give in to his demands, and tension escalated in the room. He tried to grab her at some point, Mupalia said.
“He undressed and only remained with his boxers,” Mupalia said. “I fought him, and he left me alone.”
After failing to get his way with her, Onyango became harsh and verbally attacked her. Mupalia says the insults were painful to hear, demeaning and crude. Her mind blocked some of them.
“He said he has money, and he is offering to help and am misbehaving,” Mupalia said. “He said I am cursed. That’s why I am not in school. They are disgusting. I can’t even say (the insults).”
Andrew Mupalia Simiyu defended his daughter and vouched for her integrity.
“Joy would never lie,” Simiyu said.
Simiyu said Onyango presented himself as a good samaritan willing to help his daughter advance her basketball dreams.
“He (Onyango) told me he was willing to take her, enroll her at KPA, then she will be getting some allowances to keep herself going,” Simiyu said.
Onyango then offered to send her bus fare because he said KPA needed Mupalia.
In his account, Onyango said Simiyu asked him to pay the fare, painting himself as the savior of a desperate parent. But Simiyu dismissed the claims.
“I never asked him for it (the bus fare),” Simiyu said. He needed her to go immediately.”
WhatsApp messages confirm Onyango pitched an idea that Mupalia would be accepted to play in KPA as a fill-in to cover the KPA team, while some players were on the national team assignment.
The conversation started on June 6 and concluded on June 11. In this conversation, notice how Onyango makes Mupalia believe everything is set for her to join KPA.
June 6, 2021
Onyango: So you left Strathmore Kabisa?
Mupalia: Yeah, I’m not there anymore.
Onyango: Wooi. Siungesema nikuchukue KPA (Translation: If you had told me, I would have taken you as a player in KPA)
At this point, Mupalia explains she dropped out for financial reasons, and Onyango seizes the opportunity to prime her, promising her “pesa ya KPA.”
Onyango: Sasa uko team gani? Because kama umetoka kabisa, then I can still take you at KPA. Buda (Coach Ronnie Owino) can do nothing because you’re no longer at Strath. Njoo ukule hii pesa ya KPA. (Translation: Which team are you with now? Because if you don’t have a team, nothing stops you from joining KPA. Coach Ronnie can do nothing to stop you because you’re no longer at Strathmore. Come and enjoy this KPA money.
Onyango said he got the green light to recruit Mupalia.
“I discussed her case with all the KPA sports officials, including TM, coach, and administrator who both approved,” Onyango said.
KPA sports officer Lennox Safari denied Onyango’s assertions, suggesting he had no authority to recruit Mupalia on their behalf.
“On the issue of Philip traveling to Nairobi, we were not aware as a team,” Safari said. “Philip was not an employee of the Authority. This contract was only to enable Philip to get some allowance at the time of traveling out of Mombasa.” (Quote edited for typos and punctuation to achieve clarity.)
As illustrated by the WhatsApp conversation below, Mupalia was skeptical about what Onyango was selling, but she went along.
June 11, 2021
Mupalia: Na players saa hii KPA ni wengi. (Translation: It looks like KPA has a lot of players at the moment.)
Onyango: Yeah. Lakini wewe huwezi kosa namba (Translation: Yes, I agree with you, but you will not miss a spot.)
Mupalia: But most of them are good players. Coach wao atakubali niingie? (Translation: But most of them are good players, will their coach let me replace them?)
Onyango: Si mimi pia ni coach KPA ama? (Translation: I’m I, not a KPA coach too?)
Mupalia: Oooh yeah, ni sawa. Thank you for inviting me into your team. (Translation: Oh yeah, that’s true- sawa, which means correct in Kiswahili, is used as a term of agreement in this context).
Onyango: Wacha nikuje tu finalise (Translation: We’ll finalize everything upon my return from Malawi.)
At no point in this conversation did Onyango tell Mupalia he was not the man in charge of the KPA team. As an assistant coach, he was at the lowest rung on the technical bench and unlikely to be in a position to make such commitments.
Some people who have known Onyango over the years say he likes to pretend he’s a bigshot and the man in charge. A player familiar with the dynamics within KPA said Onyango often undermined Anthony Ojukwu, his head coach, and forced on the team players who are closely affiliated to him. As a result, it was not unusual for the officials to fight over the final list of players whenever the team traveled.
Following the accusations, both The Nation Media Group and KPA severed ties with Onyango.
In the “Removal from The KPA Ladies Basketball Team” letter, KPA does not state whether Onyango had the powers to act on its behalf.
“The Authority (KPA) has received allegations of sexual abuse against yourself by Ms. Joy Mupalia,” Daniel Ogutu KPA, General Manager of Human Resources and Administration, said in the opening paragraph. “It is alleged that the said incident occurred while you were meeting the player for the purposes of potential recruitment to the KPA ladies basketball team.”
“You’re hereby removed from being a member of the team’s technical bench with immediate effect for your inappropriate behavior and actions,” Ogutu said in the letter dated July 7, 2021.
Elias Makori, Nation Media Group Managing Editor, said The Nation terminated Onyango’s contract on July 9 and in the process, also exposed him as a faker.
In secretly recorded audio of Onyango, we have reviewed, Onyango presented himself as a prominent journalist with The Nation when he was not considered a staff writer.
“His services were terminated on July 9. There is a difference between a correspondent (contributor) and a staff writer in terms of engagement with the company. A correspondent is basically contracted to be paid on a contribution basis and is not permanent and pensionable,” Makori explained. “Onyango was a contracted contributor to the Nation Media Group. Once the allegations were brought to our attention, we terminated his services immediately.”
Onyango has threatened to sue The Nation to get his job back, but it’s unclear whether such a lawsuit would have any basis when he was not even a permanent employee.
Onyango allegedly has used his position as a journalist to get his way around KBF.
“Philip manipulates them and threatens to expose them with writing their dirty deed in the newspaper. He is so powerful, and these guys (KBF) are afraid of this,” Kariba (not a real name), a Kenya basketball veteran, said.
It’s not clear whether Kaya Tiwi Secondary School, Onyango’s third employer, has sacked him.
Some who have known Onyango for many years say he acts like a con man and is a master manipulator who preys on vulnerable females from low-income families.
“Philip ni shetani (translation: Philip is satan). Let me put it that way. Philip has a con language that ‘I’ll take you to the US,’ so the girls give in easily,” Kariba said. “He goes bring these girls from shags and promising them scholarships for education, and they end up staying at his place. This is where Philip pounced on them and harassed them and sexually abused them.”
Mupalia said Onyango told him he has a contact looking for players, giving her hopes she’d be considered.
Kariba alleged two female players confided that Onyango sexually harassed them. But they were scared to report because they did not have confidence police would do anything about it.
BELOW ARE SOME DOCUMENTS RELATED TO THE CASE.
Simiyu said he first learned of his daughter’s predicament when she called her mother at night in desperation, asking for her help.
Just like his daughter, Simiyu expected sleeping arrangements would be similar to her other teams. At Strathmore, players are assigned individual rooms while on a trip.
“She (Mupalia) had expected, if it means sleeping, she would be booked in her own room, or together with one of her female colleague players,” Simiyu said. “But to her surprise, this man had booked one room for himself and for her.”
To Simiyu’s surprise, he received a middle-of-the-night phone call from Onyango. In the phone call, Onyango tried to paint himself in a positive light.
“He (Onyango) said, ‘Joy, she looks like she has declined the offer to go to Mombasa… and she wants to travel back immediately early in the morning,'” Simiyu said. “I pressed him further, but he was not able to explain.”
Mupalia’s change of mind came as a surprise to the parents because they knew her passion for basketball. They knew something terrible must have happened.
Mupalia could not travel that night as she wished because of the mandated COVID-19-related curfew in Kenya. She was stuck in the room with one bed, a table, a chair, and an allegedly half-naked Onyango.
Simiyu said Onyango called him again the next day to plead with him not to report what he did to his daughter. But he confronted him for trying to entrap his daughter into sleeping with him.
“It was like he was emploring me to talk to my daughter so that she does not maybe proceed with that case or something like that kind,” Simiyu said. “And the way you told me that you know actually you made a mistake for booking one room with her, what were your intentions?
Onyango can easily explain away many of his actions on the night of July 3, but booking a single room for himself and Mupalia to share is one fact he cannot shake off.
Safari said KPA does not allow technical bench members to share rooms with players, and Onyango’s actions were an ethical violation.
Others have pointed out this fact as an indicator the allegations against him are plausible.
“How does a coach share a room with a player?” Kariba asked. “There are very many avenues other than pursuing it as a criminal case.”
Kariba did not specify the other avenues, but according to Kenyan laws, there’s no time limit to file a sexual misconduct charge.
In multiple, sometimes contradictory WhatsApp chat messages, Onyango claimed the police exonerated him.
“I’ am currently with my lawyers consulting on (the) way forward after my alleged attempted rape case was rubbished by Police and ODPP,” Onyango said.
It’s difficult, however, to see how his lawyers will overcome the fact that Onyango booked and spent the night in the same room with Mupalia without her consent.
Onyango said the allegations were just part of a carefully orchestrated smear campaign against men in authority.
“If you have been a teacher, a leader, a coach, or in any position where you’re dealing with ladies, then you know that even punishing your employee for coming to work late, they will say you made sexual advances, and they refused. [And that’s] the reason you’re paying back,” Onyango said. “This very tired narrative is common all over the world, and it comes from the lazy, not hard-working ladies and failures, not any successful ladies.”
Mupalia quickly torched the argument.
“I can’t just wake up from nowhere and start saying things that did not happen,” Mupalia said. “And there are so many people in the KBF. Why did I just choose him?”
Onyango’s argument sounds like a carefully crafted pre-emptive strike against other potential accusers. Some of them accuse Onyango of thwarting their careers because they refused to have sex with him.
Tamira (not her real name) alleged Onyango denied her an opportunity to be in the senior team starting line-up.
“One time, I asked coach Philip why I am not getting playtime, and he said, ‘I spotted you when you were a young girl and virgin too. You’ve given it to a lot of people now except me,'” Tamira said. “He said it casually, but I didn’t take it lightly.”
Another player said Onyango tried to seduce her into having sex with her twice, but she rebuffed his advances both times.
The first incident took place in 2005 at a high school basketball tournament. Carolina said Onyango tricked her into accompanying him under the pretext he wanted to pick up something in the outskirts of Nairobi. But she was surprised when they ended up at a lodging. Once there, Onyango offered to buy her a drink before heading back.
“He asked me what I wanted to have, and I asked for a Fanta soda. He said no,” Carolina said.
Carolina got the cue; Onyango was suggesting an alcoholic drink for her. Carolina, 17 and in high school at the time, said she ordered a Kingfisher while he bought himself a beer. After one drink, Onyango told Carolina to come with him upstairs to pick up his stuff.
“I take him upstairs, and he gets to his room, and it’s one room, those lodgings that have one room that has one bed,” Carolina said. “So he’s like, ‘why don’t you come in?’ and I’m like, I’ll just wait for you here. Just pick up [your] whatever.”
Carolina’s suspicions grew, but Onyango insisted.
“Why don’t we just sit down, we can talk and then just go back?” Carolina recalled Onyango asking. “I get in [the room], and he tells me, ‘why don’t you come into the bed?’ And I’m like, I’m not gonna do that.”
Onyango persisted and started justifying himself, a behavior Mupalia also allegedly observed.
Carolina said Onyango tried to assure her there was nothing wrong with what he was doing. He told her they were both adults, even though Carolina was still in high school and under 18.
A second incident took place around 2012 when she accepted to play for Onyango’s team in Mombasa, Carolina said.
Onyango invited her to stay at his house, where he housed other female players, including some current KPA players. At night, Onyango told Carolina he wanted to talk to her in private. She thought the request was odd, but she gave him the benefit of the doubt and went along.
“He asked me to go to his bedroom for a conversation,” Carolina said. “He calls me in, and I told him, let’s talk. And he told me ‘no, lock the door.'”
Once in the room with the door locked, Onyango tried to seduce her.
“‘I wouldn’t do anything; if I wanted something from you, I would ask directly,'” Carolina recalled Onyango telling her. “‘Besides, is it wrong? I’m not a married man. And you see, I don’t have a wife here. I also have my [sexual] urges.'”
When Carolina refused to relieve his urges, Onyango employed a familiar tactic he used with Mupalia — trying to make her feel she owed him.
He started telling her that he was the one who paid her fare to come to Mombasa. And he allegedly repeated the comment publicly, embarrassing Carolina in front of her teammates and making her decide to stop playing for his team.
Carolina’s experience illustrates Onyango’s pattern of luring female players and seducing them to have sex with him. Similar to Mupalia’s case, when rebuffed, Onyango resorted to making the females feel they owe him something because he paid their bus fare or gave them an opportunity.
The alleged encounter at Nairobi’s outskirts, where he allegedly bought Carolina alcohol before leading her to a lodging room, shows Onyango had no problem seeking sex from underage females.
Over the years, Onyango, who served as the Under 18 national team girls basketball coach until July, has housed numerous female players at his house in Mombasa. The arrangement has raised propriety questions about their safety and sustained rumors of sexual exploitation. Onyango has denied having sex with the females and maintained his only interest is helping them develop their basketball skills.
A player who lived in Onyango’s residence said no other males or visitors were allowed at the house. Onyango said this was an effort to protect the female players in his charge, but Husna thought otherwise.
Kenya Basketball Federation officials have declined to comment on this story.
TO BE CONTINUED…