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Abdinoor Aden: From cleaner to sports journalist

Thursday September 10, 2020

During the 2002 Fifa World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan, the history-making Lions of Teranga from Senegal made the African continent proud and won the hearts of many as they made it to the quarter-finals.

While Senegal was showcasing Africa’s might in football, a young boy in Garissa, North Eastern Kenya, was discovering his dream in the sport, but in an odd way. Despite enjoying the sport from an early age, this was a new phase in his life.

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Whereas he would later go on to work for international media organisations like Super Sport and BBC, Sports journalist Abdinoor Aden’s emergence was largely down to the 2002 World Cup.  

While his classmates sneaked out of school to go and watch the matches which were played during the morning hours due to the time difference between Kenya and Korea and Japan, he would rush to Santa Barbra Soccer Den in Garissa in the evening, to catch a repeat of the matches.

Even though the place is today a hardware store, to many in Garissa, Santa Barbara remains a famous football den. The place hosted all televised football games and analysis programmes. It became prominent with all sports lovers in the town. Sadly, this second chance to watch the matches wasn’t meant for him too.
“Since I couldn’t afford the Sh20 to pay for the matches, I would resort to a cat-and-mouse game between myself and the owners of the den. I envied my classmates who held conversations on the skills of Ronaldinho and the heroics of various teams and since I had no information on what was going on, I was always reduced to a spectator," he adds.

 Fortunately, or unfortunately, one evening, Santa Barbara’s cleaner wasn’t around.

 “As usual, I came earlier to the soccer den. As the owner’s son arranged the place, I started helping him hoping he would allow me to watch the game without pay in return.”

 Unfortunately, the bitter part was that despite allowing him to watch the match without pay, he would interrupt him every minute as the game continued.

“I would be asked to buy clients cigarettes, snacks and all sorts of errands. Despite their diminishing nature, I had to bear,” Abdinoor says.

“This later turned to be my routine. Every evening I would go early, sweep the place, do all errands all in the name of watching a 90-minute football game. The hall was very big yet I was just 11 years old when I was doing all these tasks. The broom was very heavy and long and sometimes I used my bare hands to clean the place.”
“The hardest part of this job was that miraa (khat) was the favourite drug for the audience. They would spit saliva and throw chewing gum everywhere on the already worn-out floor.”

Abdinoor, would without any protection, go below the seats to clear all the leaves and cigarette filters.
“Sometimes, during the weekends, I would go early and even became the ‘morning alarm’ for the soccer den owners. I did this kind of job until I cleared primary school.”
Abdinoor’s love for Arsenal was also born in this place.

 “The place was painted in Arsenal colours complete with the club badge and the owners were Gunners fans too. No matter which other match was being broadcast, Arsenal matches were always prioritised.
“I started memorizing players’ names, brands, kit sponsors, coaches and even the analysts like Terry Paine, Gary Bailey, Neil Andrews, Thomas Mlambo, who were my favourite.”

While many might trace their talents to other motivations, Abdinoor believes to some extent, this is where he learned Sports Television programming.

“The only soccer show I skipped was On the ball, which aired late on Fridays.”

Despite the health risk, he was engaging in, the youngest boy in the family was also earning the wrath of his parents.

“I would come home looking like a mechanic, with dark feet, dirty shirts, and the stench from my shirt could wake up a minor with a blocked nose."

Unfortunately, the soccer den owners betrayed their ‘cleaner’ sometimes.

“I can’t judge whether it was coincidental, or intentional, but when my father or mum came looking for me, they would come and call me without notice. This would be followed by a ruthless disciplinary action.

Abdinoor furthered his sports dream in high school when he became a member of the school’s football team. This earned him a ticket to the 2008 National Secondary School Championships in Machakos.

He would also help his choral verse group in the school earn the second place during the 2008 National Music Festivals held at Menengai High School, Nakuru.  

“2008 was a rewarding year for me. It was my first time to be awarded the most disciplined student in Wajir High School, and qualify for National Students Science Congress in Embu, National Drama festivals in Nakuru and National Secondary School ball games in Machakos School."

In August 2008, Abdinoor started performing at national events and public sensitisation campaigns in Garissa and Northern Kenya where he entertained using comedy, poetry and hosting events.

He also commentated football tournaments in Garissa. His efforts and hard work saw him given the opportunity to commentate the 2009 Copa Coca Championship in Garissa and proceeded to the National Championships at Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi.

His post-high school journey saw him emerge best performing artist in Northern Kenya twice in 2010 and 2012. After his win in 2010, he would gain admission into the prestigious National Youth Talent Academy. Abdinoor never left his passion for football and sports in general.

After winning a radio fellowship in Garissa in 2011, in the Garissa Youth project sponsored by USAID, Abdinoor furthered his journalism passion where he produced radio features and hosted radio programs in English and Swahili languages.
The features were aired on Star FM Radio, which covered the larger Northern Kenya region and Nairobi.
Produced promos

He was immediately noticed and signed up by newly opened Risala FM, where he started working as a Swahili news anchor and co-presenter for mid-morning Rasha Rasha program. Abdinoor had an instant impact on the station when he played various roles including producing promos for the station.
Abdinoor’s exploits would see him serve as a commentator for Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom then dubbed ‘Sakata Ball’. His hard work in Garissa saw him earn the opportunity to commentate the national finals at the City Stadium in 2011.

“While doing Sakata Ball in 2011, an enthusiastic young man called me up asking for a chance to commentate our North Eastern Regional Games in Garissa. It was just one of those many calls I kept receiving on this or that.  Then one day he tracked me down and begged for the same,” Tournament Coordinator Patrick Korir told Nation Sport.

"I didn't want to give him false hope. we didn't have a budget for the tournament and I told him."

To Korir's surprise, the young man told him: "You will find me at the venue. Don't worry about budgets. Don't pay me. In Garissa just give me the mic, and a brief of the tournament."

“Fast forward. Garissa happened. He blew us all away and we had to find a budget to give him another chance for the tournament's grand finale - national finals - at City Stadium. That's where the lad announced himself to the world. It's little wonder years later he was sought after by SuperSport, and later landed at BBC.”

In 2012, Abdinoor entered a football commentary competition sponsored by SuperSport dubbed ‘Bongaboli’. After emerging second nationally in a tough competition, he was offered the opportunity to work with the South African Pay TV giants.

“It was like I was in dreamland. From sweeping a soccer den to watch football on SuperSport then end up working for the organisation was just unimaginable.”

In 2013, Abdinoor was hired by Mombasa-based Radio Salaam where he was a news anchor and sports presenter.

One of his highlights was co-commentating the 2014 Uefa Champions League final in Lisbon as Atletico played Real Madrid.  While still at Radio Salaam, Abdinoor was given the role of an analyst and a reporter for SuperSport's Swahili program Mchaka Mchaka.

“I couldn’t imagine being surrounded by the SuperSport brand, sharing seats in the van and the stadium alongside celebrated Kenyan football legends like Simon Mulama and veteran broadcasters like Jack Oyoo Sylvester and Ali Salim Mmanga. I was privileged to work alongside experienced analysts like Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee, Bernard Otieno and also interview players, coaches, officials, while at times enjoying the stadium atmosphere.”

He would continue the role until late 2014. The following year, he joined the BBC World Service. Abdinoor kept his ties with sports at the BBC where he would go on to host the sports program every Friday. He resigned in 2017 to go for further studies.
He applied for a Turkish scholarship and joined the Ankara University to pursue a Masters Degree in Media and Mass Communication. The scholarship was two years, but with a separate year to study the Turkish language proficiency course.

He received the good news after covering the 2017 Kenya General elections for the BBC.

During the same period, Abdinoor was also awarded a BBC Digital fellowship as one of the two successful applicants from the Kenyan Bureau. It was a tough decision to make, but Abdinoor chose the former considering the challenges he had endured while still in school.

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