By Dikembe Disembe
In her heydays, Conjestina Achieng shuttered the glass ceiling in boxing, thrashing many of her opponents down. As she detoured to penury, suffered increased exclusion and failing health, she remained holed in Nairobi’s Eastlands in a little-known estate called Luckysummer. Once in a while, I saw her take her small boy to school, or get to mama mboga for sukuma wiki, onions, tomatoes and ‘odowa’ – that stone women like eating for ingredients which, apparently, both men and other foods can’t offer.
Yes, I lived in the neighbourhood with this great boxer. Meaning, despite all her glory, her financial stature did not allow her to cross the rubicon and move on to other side of the city. Sadly, when she moved, it was to Mathare Mental Hospital. This was at the peak of campaign politics and many ‘prominent women’ came to ‘care’ for her.
When the media cameras went down on her; and she stopped being a newsworthy item, apparently, the ‘prominent women’ left for their respective comfort zones. Conje got hauled up in a mental facility where she would stay until reports of her dismissal featured again. It did not take long before she could no longer afford living anywhere in Nairobi.
Her father came for her, and with ‘Mbukinya’ (a lower class bus service) she finally made the return trip to Siaya County – the birthplace of all those ‘important Luos’ in Kenya.
She would disappear in the public limelight until recently when news reports again emerged that she was detained at a Kisumu hospital, unable to pay her bills. As Kenya celebrated independence day, Conjestina wanted to get home and celebrate her birthday. She could not afford that and out of sympathy, the medics at the facility where the horrors of life were gnashing this woman away organised a birthday party for her.
Like Chelagat Mutahi in politics, the story of Conjestina is a heart-wrenching rebuttal of a society which sunk some of its best womenfolk.
Conjestina rose at a time Kenya needed a boxing sportswoman. She carried our country’s flag; defended it gallantly in the ring and when her time was up, probably cut short by a sport whose historical eventuality, from Mohammed Ali’s days, is often violently ruthless on the players; the country was not present to ‘debrief’ her.
Boxing wore her out. Society snubbed her. In her final moments in Nairobi, she scavanged for leftovers in Nairobi’s eastland’s dumpsites, probably with pigs and and vultures in tow.
Yesterday, another funds-drive was called to release her from the hospital bondage (I shudder to imagine what the next fundsdrive will be for) and well-wishers, mostly well-off members of her ethnic community, the Luo, trooped to Kisumu to bring Conje home.
Led by venture entrepreneur Sammy wakiaga (350,000), Nairobi Governor Dr Evans Kidero (sh 100,000), Nyakach MP Aduma Owuor (sh10,00) among others, the funds-drive collected Ksh 750,000, surpassing the sh529,000 that had her detained from the health facility.
In a larger sense, what can be said of the fall and fall of this boxing ace? What will be the story of Conje, finally? Failed politics or poor mentorship? Did Kenya’s sporting industry messed her up? And how many compatriots, from musicians, athletes, footballers and whatnots endure the daily mismanagement in the sports industry?
In Rift Valley, unknown to many people, the generation whom the current Jelimos and the kembois succeeded are as poor in their mid-50’s as any other age-mates who herded goats and cows all along. They ruled the tracks when big money had not come in; and with medals and getty images, they live as basic as their peers.
If today most athletes from that region are wealthy; pouring their dollars in building expansive estates and grand hotels; it is the lessons learnt from that era. Painful lessons, bitter experiences.
As Conje leaves Avenue, one only hopes that she recovers fully to build her life and career again.
During the fundraising, an interesting observation was the conspicuous absence of elected leaders from Siaya County. Chatterboxes like Gem Mp Jakoyo Midiwo, newly elected Governor Cornel Amoth Rasanga as well as Senator James Orengo all ‘snubbed’ the noble event.