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Billionaire investor Sono makes entry into Kenya, buys Re-Union FC

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By ROY GACHUHI
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Peanuts is the word used to describe a ridiculously small amount in a business transaction. But peanuts paved the road that made Jomo Sono a billionaire investor.

Sono, who didn’t complete primary school education, but has been honoured with doctorates from the University of London and the University of Dubai “for his contributions to football and business,” was in 2004 ranked 49th in a poll of the Top 100 Great South Africans.

He hawked peanuts to survive even before he was a teenager like the little boys you see doing the same in our own stadium terraces during football matches.
The orphan boy was dirt poor but today he is in virtually any business that you can think of.

“The only business I am not in is prostitution and that is because it is not taxed,” he says only half in jest.

In a way, the timing of his entry into the Kenyan market seems perfect because Government appetite for taxes is at its peak.

Very soon, the weight of his business acumen and financial resources is coming to a Kenyan football club and academy near you to replicate his Jomo Cosmos FC operation in South Africa.

“My grandfather was a blind man. He was a shop owner and a minister of the Presbyterian Church. How he managed his affairs in that condition I will never understand.

“But I owe all my business training to him. I am what I am today because of him.

“He gave me my first box of peanuts to take to the stadium and sell. He gave me directions to the stadium and I never understood how he was able to do that.”

Sono dutifully did as instructed.

He was eight years old and his father had just been killed in a car crash.

His paternal grandparents had taken him in because his mother was nowhere in sight.

This went on year after year.

One day, he was selling peanuts and apples in the tough streets of Orlando East in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital.

He saw many people going in one direction and asked them where they were headed to.

“Haven’t you heard?” somebody asked him.

“The big Orlando is coming to play an exhibition match today. Everybody will be there.”

Sono followed them, weighed down by his box of apples and peanuts.

Soon he was in what turned out to be a football festival, something similar to carnivals that people in other countries hold annually.

The celebrations involved matches involving Under 15, 17, 19, 21 and the senior Orlando Pirates team, founded by his own father as a breakaway from another team known as Black Pirates.

The U-15 team was a player short and the manager was in a panic.

He was going to lose his job for such an egregious dereliction of duty.

He turned to the young hawker. But Sono told him: “I can’t play. I have never played football in all my life. I don’t even like football. I prefer boxing.”

The frantic old man offered him a deal: “I will buy all your apples – all 15 of them – if you agree to play for our team.”

“Fine,” Sono told him. “But you must pay me first. Give me all the money for the 15 apples now because I don’t want to come looking for you after the game.”

The man agreed at once and Sono took the money and handed it to his grandfather’s neighbour.

He then took to the pitch – and scored a hat-trick. It was a virtuoso performance and everybody seemed to be in awe of him. People were heard asking: “Whose son is he?”

He was, of course, his father’s son and many people agreed that he was just like him. The manager of the senior Orlando Pirates team said: “He has got a burning spear in him. He plays with so much fire. He has a burning desire to win.”

Burning Spear was the name given to Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was very famous in Africa at that time.

There and then Sono became Jomo, the Burning Spear.

First it was a nickname but everybody called him by it and so with time, he registered it and it became his official name.

“I have no idea how I was able to extract such deal with the guy who bought my apples,” he says. “I was only 13. But as I like to say, peanuts and apples took me to Orlando Pirates. That is how my football career begun.”

He was designed for football. He performed poorly in school and didn’t care. He was mad about football and threw all of himself in it.

His first stop as a top professional was Portugal as a player for Sporting Lisbon.

Here, he faced the legendary Mozambican-born Eusebio, who some muttered was as great as Pele during his heyday. Eusebio turned out for Sporting’s eternal rivals, Benfica.

But Sono never mastered Portuguese and after eight months, stricken with home sickness and frustrated with the language barrier, he returned to South Africa to resume his career with Orlando Pirates.

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But his sights remained on the horizon. Sporting Lisbon had expedited his purchase upon getting news that Prof Julio Mazzei, the legendary Brazilian coach employed by Pepsi Cola and who formed a life-long partnership with Pele, was looking for him. Sono made contact with Mazzei again and before long, he was heading for America for trials with the New York Cosmos. The trials were rigorous, took two days, and he was the only African.

He made a decision: he would play in the free-wheeling African style that he knew, no one-touch stuff that he was being asked to perform like the Europeans.
“If it was putting the ball between defenders’ legs to have my way that is what I was going to do. I was not going to do things that I was not accustomed to.”

He a tad pessimistic about his chances and wistfully thought that having his picture taken with the legendary Pele and then return home would be satisfying enough.

As if to confirm this outlook, he was the first to be pulled off his game after 20 minutes of the second half.

That’s it, he thought, I am going home.

But as he walked towards the dressing room, he looked at the people on the grandstand above and the first person to catch his attention was Pele, clapping happily for him.

Then he say Mazzei who gave him a thumbs up sign. He was overwhelmed.

He burst into tears. He showered and raced for the nearest telephone booth to call home and inform his grandfather that he had passed the trials.

The American adventure would take him to Atlanta, Denver and then to Canada where it would end in a tragedy that he called a blessing. Toronto Blizzards, for whom he was playing, was in the process of selling him to Italy’s Juventus. The fans loudly objected and he felt trapped. But Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of Juventus was not going to have it any other way. And so there was one last game between the Blizzards and Manchester City. For Sono, it was time to move to England.

But it was not to be. Dennis Tueart, drove a hard tackle into Sono’s right ankle and the tough South African came tumbling down, his career at an end. His ankle was broken. There was going to be no Juventus and what lay ahead was anything else but playing time.

“I didn’t take it as a setback,” he says, “I took it as God’s signal for me to return home. I have never allowed storms to interrupt the course of my life. Even real storms, like the ones you see smashing though entire towns and causing massive destruction of life and property, they shouldn’t bring despair to those who survive them. Look, after they have done all that damage, go there a few years down the line. You will find beautiful hotels and homes. Whenever a storm comes my way, I just let it pass and then I proceed with my life. That is what I did.”

He returned to South Africa and purchased a white-owned football called Highlands Park for R50,000 (approx. Sh350,000).

All white players left because they couldn’t play for a black owner and so Sono had “a certificate but not club.”

He renamed the outfit Jomo Cosmos after his beloved New York Cosmos and started from scratch.

Today, it is valued at hundreds of millions of shillings.

And so he now has his sights set here. I asked him whether he had researched on Kenya’s football clubs.

He told me had done it on the surface because, “if you have seen one African team, you have seen them all.

“The problems are the same and so are the opportunities. There are a lot of complaints about incompetence and corruption in Kenya but don’t tell me that there are no good people in Kenya.

“There are. I hate corruption, in fact, at the 2002 World Cup the father of one player offered me a million rand to include his son in our national team. I said to him: ‘Say that to me again, and I will break your neck.’ I did that in the presence of the assistant coach. I don’t do business like that.”

Sono’s philosophy has always been to go for the new.

He thinks the problem with Kenya football might be focusing too much on professionalism at the top rather than development below.

He wants to reach the furthest corners of the country believing that “a country with one Victor Wanyama has 30 others.”

He is credited with bringing into South African football new stars such as Beni McCathy, Mark Fish, Helman Mkhalele, Sizwe Motaung Philemon Masinga and even others outside the country’s borders such as Zambia’s Chris Katongo.

He says: “What sports can do to unite people, nothing else can. President Mandela got it right; only sports truly unites people. I am going to use this vehicle for that purpose for as long as I live.”

Next time you walk into the stadium and a boy within sunken eyes and threadbare clothes implores you to buy a packet of peanuts from him, respect him. You never know.

He might end up employing your children, their cousins, friends, neighbours and countrymen at large.

For these are the mysteries of the world.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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