For a man who brought colour and pomp to matches featuring the national team Harambee Stars and his favourite club from western Kenya, AFC Leopards, it was unfortunate that he had to lose his life so crudely and cheaply; hacked to death by a machete-wielding gang outside his house like a common criminal.
Isaac Juma Onyango, popularly known as ‘Ingwe’ or ‘AFC Leopards’ was a common sight in stadiums with his colourfully painted naked upper torso, his sisal skirt worn over a pair of shorts, dancing up and down the touchline to the beat of the sonorous isukuti drummers, often pausing to do a vigorous jig for the fans and sometimes rolling over on his back whenever his side scored, whereafter he would do a lap of honour waving the national flag or club flag like a man possessed by the jinnee of the beautiful game.
Where he wasn’t waving the national flag he would hoist an earthen pot painted in patriotic colours or a set of garishly-painted gourds that made up part of his jujuman paraphernalia high above his head.
A man with a big heart for the game who would do anything to travel to a match venue, Juma had an equally big heart for family, married to two wives, Christina Juma and Faridah Juma, with whom he had a total of 10 children. Overall, his children numbered close to 15.
But it was not to say that he had a sack of money from which he drew to follow the game around the country. Juma was a simple man who earned his bread by day hawking newspapers and shining shoes in Nakuru town, a job that he held for the close to forty years that he lived in Nakuru, and which supported his large family.
It is the meager returns he earned from these hustles that allowed him to travel around with the team, something he said had so possessed him that he would get no sleep if he were to miss a match. Football had grown into his system. He would be over the moon whenever his team won, and equally inconsolable whenever they lost, often pouring out his frustration on what he thought hadn’t been done right to the media. But, of one thing he was unrelenting; his support for the Harambee Stars and AFC Leopards was solid and unwavering, even when they were on a losing stretch.
On dry days he had friends who were willing to cater for his travel expenses, notably Molo Line bus company, whose management transported him free-of-charge to and from march venues whenever he approached them. If the match was in Nairobi he would make plans to sleep at his brother’s place. Come match day and he would be up at dawn to paint himself in his signature colours with the assistance of his brother before heading off to the stadium.
“Funds from fanaticism have supplemented what I earn from my shoe-shining business towards supporting my big family as I had equally invested in livestock and poultry farming from the proceeds of football,” said Juma in an earlier interview.
Born in Rukaya village in Mumias, Juma was bitten by the football bug back in the 1980s. As a child he would often sneak out of school to go attend football matches, for which he got in trouble, but which didn’t deter him. It was at the 1987 All Africa Games finals between Kenya and Egypt at the Nyayo Stadium when he made his official debut, entertaining the fans even as Kenya went on to lose 0-1 to The Pharaohs. When the game ended and Kenya settled for a silver, Juma did not leave empty-handed. Former president, Daniel Moi, who was in attendance, and noted the ‘jujuman’s’ antics, awarded him with a national flag.
But perhaps the only occasion where he received some monetary recognition for his efforts was during a dinner marking the end of the FKF league season held at the Safari Park Hotel on 25 November 2010 when he was awarded the prestigious Chairman’s Lifetime Award, and which is awarded at the chairman’s discretion since there are no nominees. The award came with a trophy and a cheque for Sh100, 000. That evening he must have slept like a king when he got back home because it had officially singled him out as Kenya’s football ‘Fan Number One’ after years of his service to the national team and the club he supports.
Save for this windfall, all that his junior wife remembers was the occasional Sh 2,000 that he brought back from the games, thanks to a generous fan, otherwise he would pick up his jembe and head off to the farm the following morning to fend for his family like any other villager. His wives supplemented the little he earned by hiring out their services as manual labourers on neighbouring village farms.
But it was the onset of Covid-19 that dealt a blow to both his businesses and the love of his life, football. During the lockdown that came with Covid there were no football matches, meaning the little money he received from well-wishers who were entertained by his antics dried up. And with his side hustles equally feeling the pinch of the lockdown he decided to relocate back to his rural home in Mumias.
Juma was 59 by the time he died on 26 January 2022. On the night of his death Juma was having supper with his family in their village home when they heard a commotion in the cattle boma outside. There had been a long-running land dispute in the family involving the land on which his homestead sat, and he was at loggerheads with some of his sisters, who wanted the land to be sold, but he would hear none of it. Actually, he had made it public on several occasions that his life was in danger. On that fateful night as he stepped out to investigate what the commotion in the sheep boma was about some panga-wielding assailants stepped out of the shadows and accosted him in the shade of a tree outside his house, hacking him to death.
It was a crude ending to the life of a man who had dedicated his life to the beautiful game, and who had brought joy to millions of soccer lovers with his antics and been able to travel with the national team to many countries, among them Nigeria, Tunisia, Cameroon and Guinea, because of what he loved to do.