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Kenya community football league targets deviant youth

Before joining the league, Wambua terrorised Nairobi residents with violent robberies. Now he mentors young people to dissuade them to leave crime and drug use   -  
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Kibera is a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Here, an independent, community football league is making a difference, in more ways than one.

One beneficiary is 33-year-old former criminal Elijah Wambua.

Before joining the league, Wambua terrorized Nairobi residents with violent robberies.

But after losing some of his friends in the violence - Wambua decided to turn over a new leaf.

"Football is everything to me, and if it were not for football, I would be dead or in jail," says Wambua, whose nickname is 'Gaucho', after famous Brazilian forward, Ronaldinho.

"I use football for a living. It has made me be a useful person in my community, a useful person in my area," he adds.

Now, Wambua mentors young people in the community, moving them away from a life of crime and instead honing their football skills with hopes of a better future.

The league was founded in 2019 by Eric Juma, who's also known as 'Totti', a name he was given for playing in a similar style to Italian forward Francesco Totti.

"Inter Base League is a league which we play in. We normally call it an amateur league, played within a slum settlement. Basically, the league was introduced to end things to do with crime and drugs in our society," says the 32-year-old, who also works as a mechanic.

Juma was inspired to start the league after his childhood friend was killed while taking part in a carjacking.

On that fateful day, Juma and his friend were meant to meet for a football match.

The fear of losing more friends to crime inspired him to start the league.

"A lot of people are being killed in our society and football was the only uniting factor that could unite us as one family. We normally say that football unites and that is the only language we use to end crime in our society," says Juma.

Juma hopes the league might one day have two men's divisions, also a children's and women's divisions.

The league has many fans who come to support the teams that consist of around 1,000 young people.

While each team ideally has 16 players, some have 50.

As a show of support, some fans make small donations, while players pay for their own team jerseys.

Players are forbidden from playing while under the influence of drugs.

The term "base" is popular slang among Kibera youth, meaning "hangout spot."

This inspired Juma to bring young people from different hang-out spots to form teams.

Many players have since left a life of crime and drugs.

A ban preventing Kenya from taking part in international soccer activities has been lifted after nine months.

Soccer governing body FIFA notified the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) on Monday (28 November), the decision was made following the reinstatement of the federation's executive committee by Kenya's new sports minister.

The ban took effect on Feb. 24 after the sports ministry disbanded the FKF over the alleged misappropriation of funds and appointed a caretaker committee.

The FIFA letter stated that "upon the lifting of the suspension, a FIFA-CAF mission will be deployed to Nairobi in order to define the next steps for the FKF and also meet with the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Sports."

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