Kenya’s History at AFCON As Harambee Stars Take Backseat Again Ahead of Ivory Coast Tournament

Kenya’s History at AFCON As Harambee Stars Take Backseat Again Ahead of Ivory Coast Tournament

Martin Moses
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
In this article:
CAF Africa Cup of Nations logo
D. Oliech
-FKenya logo
Michael Olunga logo
M. Olunga
Al Duhail logoFKenya logo
  • Kenya will not participate in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations that kicks off in Ivory Coast on January 13
  • Harambee Stars has never made it past the group stage in their six appearances at the tournament
  • We take a look at the tournaments Kenya qualified for and how they fared

In a few days, all focus in Africa will be shifted to Ivory Coast as 23 teams attempt to dethrone Senegal as the kings of the continent.

For Kenyan football fans they will have to find temporary teams to support after the national football team, Harambee Stars, failed to qualify for the tournament for the umpteenth time.

Dennis Oliech, Kenya, Harambee Stars, AFCON, Michael Olunga, AFCON 2023
Former Harambee Stars captain Dennis Oliech in action against Togo during an AFCON qualifier match in 2013. Photo by Carl De Souza.
Source: Getty Images

Only that this time, it wasn't a matter of poor planning or disastrous performances but a case of the government poking its nose where it shouldn't have and FIFA cracking its whip. The ban imposed by the world governing body saw the country miss out on the AFCON qualifiers.

How many times has Kenya participated at AFCON?

Kenya has participated in six editions of the tournament with the first one coming in 1972. They failed to qualify for the next 16 years before making three consecutive appearances in 1988, 1990 and 1992. Afterwards, they have featured twice again in 2004 and 2019.

In their maiden appearance in 1972, Kenya was grouped with hosts Cameroon, Mali and Togo in group A. At that time, AFCON only had eight teams, with the top two proceeding to the semifinals.

Jonathan Niva got two goals in the group stage as they went 2-1 down to Cameroon and claimed a maiden AFCON point against Mali. Peter Ouma scored in the one-all draw against Togo as they exited the competition.

In 1988, Kenya landed a tough group of hosts, Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon. They suffered identical 3-0 defeats to the first two before holding the Indomitable Lions to a goalless draw.

Kenya landed Cameroon again in the 1990 edition when it was hosted in Algeria, with Zambia and Senegal completing the group. Cameroon won 2-0, Zambia won 1-0 while Kenya nicked a point of Senegal after a 0-0 draw.

Senegal hosted the 1992 edition, adding four more teams to make 12. Kenya arrived looking to right the wrongs of the previous two editions. The 12 teams were drawn into four groups of three teams each, with Kenya getting Nigeria and Senegal.

They lost both games 3-0.

Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee era

Kenya then went under until 2004, when they qualified for the Tunisia-staged finals. They once again got opponents from the West, with Mali winning 3-1 and the Teranga Lions winning 3-0.

However, despite the drubbing in their first two games, Kenya, under the legendary Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee, made history in their dead-rubber match against Burkina Faso. Goals from Emmanuel Ake, Dennis Oliech and John Baraza saw the country record its first-ever victory in the final tournament.

Something to savour despite the elimination.

The country had to wait for 15 years for a Michael Olunga-inspired side to beat Ethiopia 3-0 at a sell-out Kasarani Stadium to qualify for the 2019 edition in Egypt. Coached by Frenchman Sebastien Migne, Kenya were drawn against eventual finalists(Senegal and Algeria) and their East African neighbours, Tanzania.

Like clockwork, they lost 3-0 to the superior teams in the group before battling out to beat Taifa Stars 3-2 and get their second win at the competition. The win was inconsequential, though, as Kenya suffered another early exit.

What next for Kenya?

Kenya's earliest chance to make a comeback at Africa's top-most football competition will be by qualifying for the 2025 tournament to be hosted by World Cup semifinalists Morocco. Afterwards, they will qualify automatically as the hots of the 2017 edition after CAF awarded them joint rights alongside Uganda and Tanzania.

Kenya to host AFCON 2027

Sports Brief has previously documented what it would take for the three countries to stage a successful competition.

The CAF Exco committee were convinced by the 'Pamoja' bid, which beat solo bids by Senegal, Egypt and Botswana. The East African region has never hosted the Africa Cup of Nations before.

Martin Moses photo
Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)