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Friends, colleagues euolgise Benja

Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) has confirmed the former Kenya Rugby Sevens Coach Benjamin Ayimba will be laid to rest on Friday, June 11, 2021, in Siaya County.

A requiem mass was held at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Nairobi’s South B on Tuesday, June 8.

On Wednesday, June 9, from 12 pm to 2 pm, the public will get the opportunity to pay their last respect to the late Ayimba at RFUEA Ground in Nairobi.

The body will then be taken to his native home in Alego, Siaya County where he will be buried.

Benja died on Friday, May 21, at a Nairobi hospital after battling cerebral Malaria for close to two months.

Here is how some of the people who interacted with him remember who Benja was.

Eric Odanga aka The Punter covered Benja for a large part of his playing and coaching career and says that to many, he was just Benja. To others, chesco.

“To the players, Benja was a fatherly figure, mentor and confidant. I mostly interacted with his brother who talked about somebody who took a different path than soccer, a favourite with youth from Kibera,” he says.

He also describes him as a fearless hard tackler, “Benja defended his territory well. He would use these same qualities in life as a player, coach and father.”

He also remembers his style. “You cannot speak about Benja without mentioning style. He was a sharp dresser. Long before the national team had branded wear, Benja would improvise. It was nothing extravagant but within the means of the players. It had a common theme Benja could have danced his last dance on earth but the memories will live with us for a long time.”

“You have fought the good fight and won your race. A time will come when we will honor our sporting heroes with dignity. In the words of The Staple Singers: Tell Heaven..I am coming home.”

Geoffrey Kimani who worked as the Strength and Conditioning Coach during Benja’s two stints as Shujaa Head Coach described him as a “Generous, upfront straight talker., but caring to all, walked in as a jobless stranger, left as part of a family! Needless to say, that was the mantra that he cultivated and lived with – Brother’s keeper.”

Former KRU CEO Ronald Bukusi tells of his endearing friendship with Benja a man who pushed the envelope in life to the very edge and then some. “He was my friend.”

KRU Admin Manager Judy Wanjira adds that many knew him as a rugby player, captain, coach, analyst, and critic. She also says that he was her friend. “He was loud, opinionated and had a rugby brain like very few in the country. I shall miss his sometimes loud obnoxious self, with the “devil may dare” glint in his eye, always looking for the next championship to conquer.”

David “Lucky” Lukalo, a former Impala RFC Chairman and KRU Director describes as one who ‘The Midas Touch’. “I believe that the reason for this is that he found his calling, God’s purpose for his life, early on and he had the courage of his convictions to pursue that purpose with diligent faith.”

He adds that he was a humble soul and it is for this reason that “I have used the photograph of him on his knees honouring God. He recognised that his ability was a gift from God to be used for God’s purpose and that all accolades and success were through him for the glory of God.”

Charles Nyende, Benja’s former international teammate and a sports journalist at Nation also relived their good old days saying that he was a true servant of the game. “Fare thee well champion,” he says.

Benja played for Impala as a rookie (back row) in 1995 after completing his school studies and went on to captain the Red Shirts to two Kenya Cups, Enterprise Cups and Floodlit tournaments in 2000 and 2001.

He also inspired the team to three National Sevens Circuit titles between 1999 and 2001.

He then moved to record Kenyan champions Nondescripts in 2002 before joining English side Cornish Pirates the following year.

Before venturing into coaching, he had featured for Shujaa at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games as well as the 2001 and 2005 Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments in Argentina and Hong Kong respectively.

He then had a short coach/player role for the Simbas before serving as Shujaa coach between 2006 and 2011 after succeeding his Impala’s Bill Githinji.

He also led Kenya to a maiden main HSBC Series World title in Singapore in 2016.

He was 45.