Kenya’s national soccer team may have failed to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia, but the country’s flag will still be flown high in the competition.
This will be thanks to Aden Range Marwa, 41, who has been shortlisted among match officials who will be on officiating duties during the high-stakes competition.
Marwa is the first Kenyan football official to be involved in any Fifa competition, having played the same role in the 2011 Fifa U-17 World Cup.
Over the past 15 years, the mathematics and chemistry teacher at Komotobo Secondary School in Migori County has put together a glittering resume that is an object of envy among his fellow match officials.
Having served as a Fifa referee from 2011, Marwa was named a reserve official at the 2014 Fifa World Cup, before being called up as an assistant referee at the 2016 Fifa Club World Cup in Japan.
Marwa was also included as a CAF assistant referee in the 2017 Fifa Confederations Cup, where he served alongside Bakary Gassama, Jean-Claude Birumushahu and Malang Diedhiou. The three are revered as Africa’s most experienced and decorated referees.
On the continental front, Marwa was named an assistant referee in the 2012 and 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, but he had been taking charge of international matches since 2000 when he presided over an Africa Cup match in Zanzibar.
Ahead of his latest appearance at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, Marwa had officiated at three other big tournaments – in 2012, 2013 and 2015 – as well as at Chan (African Nations Cup) tournaments, U17 World Cup, CAF U23 Championship and the Fifa Club World Cup.
In a country where football standards are falling everyday, as evidenced by Harambee Stars’ uninspiring position on the Fifa world rankings and their inability to qualify for major tournaments, Marwa stands as a beacon of hope.
When he became the first Kenyan to officiate in the Fifa World Cup, many Kenyans watched the tournament with bated breath, eager to see a son of the soil do his thing at the highest possible football stage.
But these eyeballs were left dissatisfied, as he was not allocated any match for the entire duration of the tournament.
In fact, the closest he came to officiating during the competition was as a fifth official in the Argentina-versus-Iran match.
What happened is that Marwa had been selected as an assistant referee, but his chances of actively getting involved in any match got dashed when South African Daniel Bennet, a field referee he was under, suffered an injury setback before the tournament.
“Every referee is selected together with his assistants, meaning that they cannot operate without the main man,” he explained at the time.
Marwa draws a lot of pride from his predecessors, but none greater than from former head of referees at the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), Gilbert Moore Titus Ottieno (GMT), who recalls meeting a young, humble assistant referee in a league match at Chemelil Sports Complex in 2006 and sensing immediately that he was destined for greatness.
“I do not remember the teams that were playing that day, but from my first interaction with him, I saw a great up-and-coming referee. He has proved this with the kind of assignments he has received over the years.
“He is patient, humble and ready to learn. Unlike his fellow referees who have been in the field for just a short stint and are already arrogant, he is a person who will admit when he is wrong and correct his mistakes. Patience and humility have always been his hallmark.
“Marwa is doing well today because he has been developed from the lowest ranks to the stage he is in. He did not skip levels to seek quick fame, and that is the patience I am talking about. Today, he is a very consistent referee and that is why he gets top assignments,” GMT said.
Like most jobs, becoming a Fifa referee is not an overnight process. Fifa supports the training of referees through its various member associations.
These members, or confederations, have sub-members as state and country associations. To become a Fifa recognised referee, therefore, one needs to approach the local football association in one’s country to start the journey to the top.