Mid-December 2021, a law firm representing several accusers wrote letters to prosecutors, urging them to mount a special investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Philip Onyango Ombajo.
The team of advocates led by Eunice Lumallas, one of Kenya’s top lawyers and 2018 Lawyer of Year, said there is an urgent need to investigate the allegations spanning almost 30 years thoroughly and uncover victims who could total more than 100.
Allegations against Onyango have come from female players in basketball, netball, and the media. Besides coaching basketball and sports, Onyango also worked as a sports correspondent with The Nation, Kenya’s leading nespaper.
So far, Lumallas represents 6 alleged victims, but the number is likely to grow as investigations proceed.
In their letter, the advocates said some alleged victims were still afraid to come forward because of threats to their security.
“On December 18, 2021, one of the complainants said she was attacked and warned against proceeding with this matter.”
Elsa (not her real name) said three men accosted her at her home.
“Walibisha mlango nikafungua nikawauliza niwasaidiaje. Walivaa kofia wakaficha macho, jamaa mmoja akaniskuma ndani, wakakaa wakaniuliza if I know philip Onyango, nikawaambia yes,” Elsa said. “Then wakaniambia eti we ndo wajua kutoa ushaidi. I kept quite because tayari nilikua nimeingia uoga. Then wakaniambia niachane na hyo story or else I know what they might do next.”
Translation: They knocked on my door. I opened it and asked how I could help them. They were wearing hats to cover their eyes (faces). One of them pushed me inside the house and asked me if I knew Philip Onyango. I said yes. Then they told me they heard I was one of the witnesses and needed to back off the case, or else I know what they’d do next.
She said the threat threw her life in a tailspin forcing her to make costly adjustments to ensure her security.
The lawyers said they’re working with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and other relevant agencies to provide her and other alleged victims with adequate protection.
Onyango declined to comment.
On July 3, 2021, Ombajo, popularly known as Onyango, lured former Strathmore University player Joy Mupalia to a hotel room in a Nairobi hotel, promising to give her a spot in the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) basketball team.
Things went south for Onyango when Mupalia refused to give in to his demands for sex as payment for arranging for her to join the KPA team.
It later emerged that Onyango was not even a KPA employee. His position as an assistant coach was just an administrative arrangement KPA made for him to qualify for company allowances during trips.
The next day, a recording of Mupalia confiding to a friend that Onyango attempted to force himself on her leaked and went viral, triggering a chain of events.
Onyango wrote a letter on July 7, 2021, and resigned his position as coach and Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) official in disgrace.
“It has come to my attention that I have been accused of inappropriate behavior by one Joy Mohali,” Onyango said, misnaming his accuser. “These are serious allegation(sic) that touch on my integrity as a coach, a technical official, and as a parent.”
“In view of the aforementioned,” Onyango continued in his letter. “I would like to willingly step aside from all basketball activities as a:
- A Member of the Kenya Basketball Federation Executive Committee
- A member of the Kenya National Team technical bench
- As a member of the Kenya Ports Authority technical bench
- As the coach of Kaya Tiwi Secondary School.”
Onyango copied the letter to KBF Chairman Paul Otula and Bildad Kisero, KPA head of administration.
Onyango, however, did not resign from his media job.
Nation Media, where he worked as a sports correspondent, promptly fired him, saying they have a zero-tolerance policy of sexual misconduct. And despite resigning from KPA, they made his termination official in a scathing letter.
“The Authority has a no-tolerance policy for sexual abuse, and it takes all allegations of misconduct seriously,” Daniel Ogutu, KPA General Manager for Human Resources, said in the letter dated July 7, 2021. “You’re hereby removed from being a member of the team’s technical bench with immediate effect for your inappropriate behavior and actions.”
But several weeks later, prosecutors dropped the charges, citing insufficient evidence to sustain an attempted rape charge.
Lumallas said instead of setting Onyango free, the prosecutor should have charged him with sexual harassment, a lesser but easier-to-prove charge, since it was clear, Mupalia did not consent to Onyango’s advances and by the fact that he booked one room for both of them.
COMMITTEE OF GENDER WELFARE IN SPORTS REPORT DUE THIS WEEK.
Accusations against Onyango led Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to start a ministerial-level Committee on Gender Welfare in Sports.
Mohamed appointed Catherine Ndereba, one of the most decorated Kenyan athletes, to chair the committee. Ndereba’s mandate was to conduct an urgent analysis of women’s inclusion in teams and federation management, existing challenges, and opportunities for corrective improvement.
And as if this mandate was not broad enough, the 9-person committee, sat on July 10, 2021, was also charged with the responsibility of investigating:
“A status of discrimination and abuse in the sports ecosystem.”
And report back within 30 days. Six months have passed, and the committee has not reported back.
Gerry Kweya, Former Red Cross-Kenya Chairman and Committee Member in charge of research, said the long-awaited Gender Welfare in Sports Report would be released at a 3-day conference on January 16.
The Agnes Tirop Conference, named after Kenya’s Olympics long-distance bronze medalist, murdered inside her home last October, kicks off January 17 to 21st at Diani Reef Hotel in Kwale County.
Tirop, 25, died from multiple stab wounds in her abdomen. Her husband, Ibrahim Kipkemboi Rotich, 41, was arrested for the crime and charged with her murder.
Naming the conference after Tirop squarely focuses the nation’s mind on violence against women in Kenya.
KENYA BASKETBALL FEDERATION INACTION
While Onyango is the only one publicly accused of sexual misconduct among Kenyan basketball officials, he’s certainly not the only one. Several coaches and officials are also involved in having inappropriate relationships with female players.
In one incident, a coach allegedly had to simmer down drama at his home when a female player he was having a relationship with arrived unannounced in the morning, only to find another female player spent the night at the coach’s home.
The incident is common knowledge within Kenyan basketball circles.
Coaches having inappropriate relationships with players is a common phenomenon worldwide, but sports bodies have implemented zero-tolerance policies to protect athletes from exploitation in many countries. Up to this moment, KBF has not put any discernible policies to curb sexual harassment.
So far, KBF Chairman Paul Otula has never directly addressed accusations against Onyango or assured female players that his organization would protect them from sexual harassment.
Otula’s silence has baffled many. Some of Onyango’s accusers are wondering if he’s in the tank with him.
In some secretly-recorded audio, Onyango is on tape campaigning for Otula during the last KBF election.
Some have, however, suggested that some KBF officials are scared of taking a public posture against Onyango because he could expose their corruption.
For example, Onyango could use KBF financial reports to blackmail the officials. The financial statements signed by Otula and KBF Treasurer Paul Orero show irregularities in various line items and expenses KBF is known not to have.
Onyango alluded to using accounting tricks to cover their tracks and use KBF cash to payout officials even when such payments were unwarranted.
He said KBF classified such payments as “miscellaneous” to bypass the scrutiny.
Trust between KBF officials, team managers, and coaches is also non-existent.
The team managers and coaches have accused KBF officials of lacking transparency.
In a letter to KBF, dated April 9, 2020, team managers, through their lawyer, demanded to see the terms of a broadcasting rights contract worth Kshs 100,000,000 between KBF and Badoer Investments Limited.
But KBF refused to divulge the details of the contract.
The 5-year contract has since been rescinded for unclear reasons. Sources within KBF say the investor pulled out after KBF violated material terms of the agreement, only one year in but after receiving Kshs 20 million to KBF.
A source within KBF said, “the contract was canceled because KBF couldn’t account for the (Kshs) 20m.”
KBF officials have declined to comment.