Monate Akuei: From South Sudan war ashes to rugby stardom

He was born in the face of war, spent his early childhood days in a refugee camp, and almost lost his leg from a rubber bullet while being chased by the police.

Before his playing days, if best described, Monate Akuei had a ‘dance with the devil’.

Behind his tall towering figure, hidden deep in his shadows, is a player who has championed every ounce of turmoil life has thrown his way, both in and out of the field, to become the player he is today.

His journey to Kenya, began in South Sudan when he and his family were escaping the war back in 1998.

Monate Akuei in red tries to catch up with a Mwamba opponent. Photo Courtesy

Their search for peace landed them in Kakuma Refugee Camp at the Kenya-South Sudan border where they stayed for two years, before moving to Nairobi, then later Nakuru, their current abode.

“South Sudan had become a war zone. There was war against the rebels, and also against the Arabs. We stayed at Kakuma before moving to Nairobi when my father got a job. Being the only breadwinner, life in the city became ‘too hot to handle’ for my father, and that’s when we moved to Nakuru,” Monate who is currently in the USA told the Scrummage.

While in Nakuru, Akuei’s first game was soccer, which he used to play together with his buddies at the same field Nakuru RFC academy used to train. His curiosity about the game played with an odd-shaped-ball was his first step to becoming a Mnyore.

“We used to leave the field at 4 PM. That’s when Nakuru Academy used to enter the field with this weird ball that I had never seen before. I later learnt the game was called rugby.  After some few weeks’ anxiousness to join them, I approached some of the players who welcomed me to train with them. That’s how I started playing rugby,�? he revealed.

“Being tall than the rest of the players, I was induced in the forward department by Felix Oloo (current Kenya Lionesses 7s coach), who was the academy coach back then,” he added.

His biggest challenge while starting up, he explains, was the dire conditions that his family was under. This robbed him his training time so that he could go and make extra cash to help the family. This later forced him to join a gang mob that snatched and stole anything valuable for cash exchange.

“My dad used to send us 50 Sudanese pounds (Sh 1500) which we used to survive on. This forced me to join a gang mob that used to snatch people’s phone or anything. My turning point from that life came one day when I was shot by a rubber bullet on my knee. It took six months for me to recover since I had no money for surgery,” he revealed.

The Kirobon High School alumnus would later return to the rugby field a changed soul after a full recovery, to train with the Nakuru team B side.

His debut came immediately after high school a year later, during the 2016 Nakuru 10s Tournament, Enos Otieno, the then Nakuru coach drafting him in the squad for the assignment.

It was here that Monate made a name for himself, which earned him a promotion to train with the Eric Shirley Shield (ESS) side, where he later earned his full debut in a Mwamba Cup tournament clash against Mombasa RFC.

“After the 10s aside tournament, I was promoted to the second team, whom I used to train with only on Wanyore Thursday-the most physical training day. My debut was against Mombasa, in Mwamba Cup. I later played all of the tournament’s games, including the final, which was against Impala at RFUEA, and we won,” he narrated.

His Kenya Cup debut came during the 2016-17 season against Mwamba when he was named to flank in the open side of the Wanyore’s pack. He kept the slot the entire season playing every single minute in the competition.

“I was named a flanker in that game. This came as a shock as all the while I was training as a lock. Coach Enos Otieno just encouraged me to take up the challenge and it really paid off. I scored eight tries in my debut season,” he said.

Since his debut in a rugby match, he cannot mention any joyous moment in his rugby career that matches winning the 2019 Safari Sevens tournament, in his entire career.

“I had always wanted to play in the Safari Sevens. Although I had been dropped from the national 7s side for two consecutive years, 2017 and 2018, I never gave up on the dream. When my name was called for the Morans team, I was elevated. The experience with the side is my most memorable moment in rugby,” he said.

While his journey reflects a hard-working player who never quit, Monate explains the efforts cannot be attributed to him alone, for there have been individuals who greatly impacted his decisions during the long trek.

Coaches Felix Oloo, Enos Otieno and Mitch Ocholla, all whom Monate has passed through their hands, are the greatest subjects who have impacted his rugby career for the better.

“Felix Oloo tops the list. He basically taught me the game. He made me understand the game from a very young age. He taught me how to hold the ball when passing, the rules of the game and everything concerning rugby. Other guys like Enos Otieno and Mitch Ocholla have also helped shaped me to become who I am today,�? he revealed.

Nakuru Coach Felix Oloo issuing instructions to players including Monate Akuei, Jersey 7. Photo Courtesy/Denis Acre-half

Monate looks up to his fellow Mnyore and Kenya 7s star Oscar Ouma, who he describes as a humble and skilled player who has given everything to the game.

‘I’ve always emulated Oscar Ouma in the field. His experience in the game coupled with his humbleness out of the pitch has always been qualities that make an ideal player for me,�? he said.

For rugby lessons to the upcoming gems, Monate says, “Rugby builds character. If you are ready to learn, it can change you to great and awesome effects. It is also a doorway to many things. Also, I have come to realize that one should not solely depend on rugby. Side hustles are important as injuries can condemn one’s rugby career to a screeching halt.”

His standing future plan is to play in a World Cup with the Kenya Simbas, as well as exploring overseas possibilities, to help take his career notches higher.

If not playing rugby, he teases with a mention of his towering height, he would have become a point guard in some basketball team.

“I love drawing. I am also taking online IT courses. If not playing rugby, I would definitely be in a basketball court with my brother playing basketball,” he said.

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