A resident of Phnom Penh for nearly 14 years, Ken Gadaffi has played a leading role in Cambodia’s contemporary sports history and in the country’s growing Nigerian community. This week he met with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon to talk about the places that have marked his time here.
The Cambodian University for Specialties
It’s a kind of merry-go-round; originally I was in China – that’s where I lived for about two years when I left Nigeria. I then went to Laos. I came to Cambodia for just a short visit. When I got to Cambodia in 2003, it was more of a sleepy country, and I saw a lot of opportunities, because the country was coming out of long, drawn-out civil unrest. There were very few cars; lots of cyclos. And there was a lack of human resources. One of my tuk-tuk drivers taking me around said: ‘Hey, Ken, why don’t you teach here?’ I got a little bit fascinated with this opportunity. The first university that invited me was the Cambodian University for Specialties, and I saw great enthusiasm among [the students]. I helped them to start up the sports program, especially in football.
The Olympic Stadium and the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia
I got involved with the NOCC in 2009. Before then, I was involved in sports development as a lecturer at various universities (CUS, PPIU, HRU). The interesting thing is that at that stage there was no reporting of local sports in Cambodia. That was when I approached the Phnom Penh Post and said: “Hey, why don’t you guys report local sports?” And they said: “We don’t have any information or journalists in the field.” And so I started to freelance, along with Andy Brouwer. That was the genesis of local sports reporting in Cambodia. So that’s how the NOCC took an interest in me: they needed someone to liaise between the national and the international Olympic [bodies]. Most of my time here has been within this Olympic Stadium area. I’ve seen this area evolve in the last decade. It has still maintained that serene nature of the city. Of course, it is now receiving a facelift, [so] I’m afraid really that it might lose its charm.
There are a lot of African restaurants here and, do you know one thing? I was one of the very first people to start an African restaurant in Cambodia. We have a series of African restaurants here: we have Do It All Pub; we have Mama Kalaba; Charles Munchies near Phsar Daeum Thkov. We also have Iyaibo restaurant in that same neighbourhood. Also Owan restaurant. This is just to mention a few; we have several others. I often go to these restaurants or order food to take home. But you know, I have family here. My wife is Nigerian, so we prepare food at home sometimes. Nigerian foods are very interesting – they make us strong. We have foods like fufu – this is made from cassava flour; then we have eba – it’s the same, but a different process. Egussi or ogbono are soups that would go with those starches, and we also have rice. Our food is always very spicy. Jolof rice is like a fried rice concoction mixed with the stew.
Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO)
In 2004, we had a strong African community and noticed more Nigerians than [people] from other countries. Then football began to become a little bit popular, especially with the publicity that we were giving to them. We don’t have an embassy here [and] we have this problem of stigmatisation. Nigeria is a country of about 180 million… but unfortunately, a marginal number of recalcitrant people stigmatise the average Nigerian. We felt it was important to have an association so we can be able to control and at least enlighten these people. So the [Nigerian] embassy in the Philippines came… and I was elected to be the president of the association [in 2006]. I served until 2010. It was a challenging period. A lot of people come to Cambodia with different notions… it was our duty to put them together, harmonise them. I was dealing directly with the authorities. We had some occasions where members were arrested for nefarious activities… and some cases where they were innocent – especially in cases where they go to raid [somewhere] and arrest everybody there. We also found footballers were being brought [to Cambodia]… by [fraudulent] agents.
Boeung Tompun is where I have my academy now; it’s where I’m developing young talent. But there are so many pitches now. In 2009, I took the first under-16 team, Kirivong Sok Sanchey, to Singapore for a tournament and we won the championship. It was supported by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, and he saw in Singapore there were many pitches, and so when I came back, people were fascinated and started building pitches. The very first of these pitches is called Vietcam. It was located around the Northbridge [School] area. It’s now a residential area [since 2011]. We had the first tournaments there. When I started my Rising Stars Academy, the problem was, ‘Where are the pitches?’… But after the experience of Vietcam, many other investors got fascinated.