Esse Akida: On AWCON, Aspiration For Professional Football

When Kenya women’s football team- Harambee Starlets, qualified for its first ever Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON), everyone in the country momentarily became a football fan. Even though the Starlets bowed out of the group stages- largely blamed on dubious officiating, everyone agreed that they had given a sterling performance and predicted a bright future for them.

They were expected to be the whipping dogs in the tournament, having been pitted in an experienced group with eventual champions Nigeria and three-time runners-up Ghana. The team spirit and individual performances were amazing, and even Nigeria didn’t have it easy when they played the already eliminated Starlets in the final group game.

Esse Akida, the Harambee Starlets striker, melted the fans’ hearts with her dazzling skills on the pitch. Afromum caught up with the first Kenyan to score in the AWCON. The 25-year old striker talks about her life on and off the pitch…

Who is Esse Akida?

Esse Akida is a humble Kenyan from Kilifi Country who plays for Kenya’s Spedag FC at club level and the National Women’s Football team, Harambee Starlets. I started playing football at the tender age of five with the usual kick about but seriously fell in love with the game when I was in class six. I have never looked back ever since.

A young Esse Akida playing the lineswoman during a game Credits: Esse Akida Facebook Page

Does Football Pay your Bills?

YES. Football pays my bills.

If you had not been a footballer, what other career paths would you have followed?

I am currently a student at Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) and I have one semester left to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Business (Entrepreneurship). So I have something to fall back on in case football doesn’t work out.

Do you have any other hobbies besides football?

I like swimming a lot.

Apart from athletics, women’s sports has been mostly been relegated to the backstage in Kenya. Most people do not take it seriously. What do you think should be done?

Previously, women came second in everything not only in sports but the world is changing and women have been in the forefront of many initiatives. Sports is a growing business right now and more should be done to encourage all aspiring sportswomen to choose this as a career path.

Harambee Starlets made their maiden appearance in the AWCON in 2016. Please tell us about the experience

It was a good experience not only for us as a team but the country as a whole. We had not been in such a situation before as a nation but the experience was epic. We managed to interact with the best talents in the continent and I believe we were just unlucky not to make it past the group stages. The experience will be helpful heading into our next assignments because now we know what to do.

Very few Kenyans knew about you before the AWCON tournament yet you have won several individual awards over the years. Tell us some of the awards you’ve won…

I won the Cotif golden boot award, having topped the scoring charts with 5 goals in the 2016 Invitational women’s football tournament in Spain. I was the third runner-up in the African Player of the Year for 2016/17. I have also won the CECAFA silver boot and was named the 2016 Kilifi County Shujaa.

Tell us about the Global Goal World Cup…

MTG (Moving the Goal Post) is all about developing women’s football and I am a proud product of this initiative; they are the people who gave me my breakthrough in football. We managed to win the showpiece tournament (the Global Goal World Cup- regional edition) organized by teams in the country who have the same aim as MTG. Now as winners, we will be heading to New York later in September this year to represent Kenya in the global edition.

Akida and teammates celebrate winning the Global Goal World Cup regional showpiece

Do you feel that the government investment in sports is sufficient?

We can’t wash away what the government has done for sports over the years but I feel more should be done.

What are your future plans as a player?

As a player, my dream is to play professional football at one time in my life and I know this will one day come to reality

Any word of advice to young girls aspiring to take football as a career…

Nothing comes easy in this world and football is no different. They just have to keep doing whatever they are doing and they will surely make it. Discipline and practice are key.

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