On 3 September 2012, Kenyan television station Kiss TV broadcast a moving interview with former female professional boxer Conjestina Achieng, who made a name for Kenyan boxing across the continent. Achieng is currently destitute and suffering from mental illness.
The former boxing champ has like many former sports personalities, seen the authorities turn their back on her even after she made a name for the country with her impressive achievements.
She won the GBU (Global Boxing Union) Middleweight title in 2004 after knocking out Fiona Tugume of Uganda. In 2005, she again won the WIBF (Women's International Boxing Federation) middleweight crown by knocking out Guillermina Hernandez of Argentina. She also did contested for the middleweight division in the WBU (World Boxing Association).
Following this story, there was a great outpouring of emotions, comments and views from Kenyans online. On Twitter, under the hashtag #KOT4Conje (KenyansOnTwitter for Conjestina) netizens made a passionate appeal to fans to raise money for her medical and other expenses.
Here are samples of the responses:
‘Conjestina Achieng Will Rise Again’
There were also a couple of bloggers who found time to write something regarding this unfortunate state of affairs. NairobiOne stated this in their post, ‘Conjestina Achieng Will Rise Again':
We have seen the video and the tweets lately, we have cried at the state of our boxing champion and we have pulled our efforts, or are trying to do so and is nice. One thing we all know here at Nairobi One is Conjestina will arise again, she will shine again, she will be well again!
Konvigilante also had this to say about Conjestina's state:
The Pride of Kenya who set the stage for all Kenyan female boxers, Conjestina Achieng’ has recently emerged from oblivion and dominated the social sites. This time not to re-live her glory days as Kenya’s female boxer ranked 5th in the world but to depict the misfortune that befell her along the way.
It seems that life has gone sour for our once ”Hands of Stone” champion. She is now claimed to have gone mad and is now forced to live in deplorable conditions in a one roomed house on the outskirts of Nairobi despite having the opportunity to brush shoulders with the mighty like Laila Ali (Mohammed Ali’s daughter).
SportsKenya's blog post asked about other sports personalities who may be suffering from conditions such as Conjestina's or worse:
A section of mainstream media yesterday showed us the deplorable state that one of Kenya's better known female boxers Conjestina Achieng is living in. Last year she was checked into a mental facility after her sister managed to get the media to highlight her plight and was released though it has been claimed she's still on the verge of ruin from substance abuse and depression.
We share our concerns and hope that Conjestina's condition improves. But of greater concern is what happens to many other former sports personalities. From former footballers to former athletes and boxers we have seen the sorry state that most of them have ended up in. Abuse of alcohol, cases of depression as well as abandonment from their handlers are some of the issues they suffer from.
In a country where social services are still very deficient especially for the middle-aged and the ageing, the Government has not helped matters too by having not much in structures to look into such issues. It's even worse for sports personalities who have to look at their respective sports federations and organisations most of which still struggle to manage daily affairs let alone the very sports people they ought to think of.
Brandlyf asked this on its blog, Who is a True Kenyan?
I watched the recent documentary on Conjestina Achieng’ and felt a twinge of despair at her plight. It is a real shame for our collective conscience as Kenyans, to let one of our celebrated heroines wallow in a world of dire poverty, helplessness and ill-health. What happened to our collective pride of being our brother’s keeper, the African way? [...] The strength of a society is defined by how it defines its weakest members. How have as Kenyans treated those who are weaker than us? Our true character is mostly revealed in the ever-present traffic, where might is right, and everyone is a [Michael] Schumacher [racing driver] in their quest to outdo the other to get to a non-existent destination.
Journalism Dry Cleaner a blog by a former journalist, admonished the mainstream media for a poor job in covering the story:
It's in the public interest, especially for Kenyans to realise just how low one of the country's renown female athlete has sunk. But in highlighting her plight, the media should not abandon ethical considerations like upholding her right to privacy, as an ailing person. The press should help Conjestina Achieng' get help but please, don't ridicule or make a mockery of her condition. It was disturbing to watch one channel over-emphasise Conjestina's most recent case of mental instability, despite it having already been established, courtesy of another local TV channel. Was it that necessary to air the ‘extended’ clips of the one time champion pugilist, primarily to showcase the fact that she's incoherent in her speech and actions? Is this not being insensitive to the thousands of others afflicted by the same condition and debasing an already dire situation faced by Conjestina? The media should not add to the already heavy burden of those caring for or struggling to get support for mental health patients. I honestly hope that journalists will back off and probably just concentrate on assisting Conjestina to get all the help that she requires, whilst safeguarding her inalienable rights as a human being.
Sitawa Wafula in her blog raises serious concerns about mental illness in Kenya and how Conjestina still remains her hero despite her state:
I start this blog post as a happy woman, reason being, Kenyans spent a whole day talking about mental health and much more, they want to help, very humbling. I have been highlighting issues of Mental Health on my blog and talks and my poetry and to everyone who cares to listen ever since I first discovered I have a mental illness or two or three and it is really so very humbling that people have taken notice of how real these issues are…guess it hasn't happened until it happens.Conjestina is world No. 5, Conjestina is the best in Africa, Conjestina is…she is and she will always be. Depending on the diagnosis and the causes of her illness, the support she gets from her sister and community, Conjestina can be anything she wishes to be.
She also summarises her post appropriately as follows:
Again thank you all for standing with Conjestina, thank you for standing with persons with mental illnesses. Hugs, Kisses and Sunflowers to each and everyone of you.
On Thursday, 13 September, prominent Kenyan personalities came together via a tweet-up ( informal meet-up) to raise funds for the boxer and her family. Using the Twitter hash-tag #PamojaConje and now with a Twitter handle @PamojaConje, the personalities were able to raise over 100,000 Kenyan Shillings (about US$ 1,200) on the first night.
In light of this issue, many Kenyans have asked the Kenyan Government to put in place structures that would ensure retired sports personalities do not suffer in their retirement. A proposed Sports Bill has been in the offing to finance such developments but whether it will be enacted into law before the end of the year is another thing.
As for now, the retired sports personalities will have to rely on the ingenuity and generosity of the Kenyan public.