Africa: U17 Afcon - Kabakama Leading the Path for Women Referees

The decision to have women referees for the Total U17 Africa Cup of Nations underway in Tanzania may be for pilot reasons; however looks like it is one that has come to stay with us.

At the weekend, Tanzanian Jonesia Kabakama made history by becoming the first ever woman to officiate at a CAF men's tournament. She was in the middle during the Group B Day Three clash between Cameroon and Senegal in Dar es Salaam, which ended in a barren stalemate.

Officiating in a men's game is a familiar grounds for Kabakama, who has been handling games in the elite division of her native Tanzania for more than eight years. At the continental however, it is a first for her.

"It was not a big surprise for me because it is not my first time to officiate men's games. However, this one was a bit different. It is a high moment in my career and I felt great to be part of history," the 30-year old told CAFOnline.com, moments after her groundbreaking feat in Dar es Salaam last Sunday.

"I believe this is a turning point for women referees in Africa. Now we are ready to challenge the men who have dominated this field for decades. I want to believe that in future CAF will trust more women match officials," she said with a huge smile on her face.

"I don't have much to say but I'm grateful to the CAF Referees Committee for trusting me and entrusting me with these duties. I am happy that after the game everyone was satisfied. I was carrying the future of many women referees out there and I had to deliver for myself and for the rest out there."

Born in the Kagera region, more than 1400 Kilometers from Dar es Salaam, Kabakama has loads of experience behind her having officiated games in the Tanzania Premier League and two Women's Africa Cup of Nations (2016 & 2018), but admits such competitions comes with some mental and physical considerations.

"You need to adapt fast in whatever you are doing, and be everywhere on the pitch. For the U-17, the youngsters are very fast. Also you need to protect them because they are still young.

"For senior Men's tournaments you need to be more aggressive. The seniors know each and everything and they are tough to handle. They are also good pretenders also and you have to control their behaviour too.

"Regarding women, they play 'soft' football. They are not very physical like the men, so you have to be very cautious. I keep learning on how to adapt when necessary," said Kabakama, who officiate the semifinal of the 2018 Women's AFCON between South Africa and Mali last year in Cape Coast, Ghana.

Having attained her FIFA badge in 2014, Kabakama disclosed that a tough mindset is needed to survive in a field considered men's.

"To reach this stage has not been easy. We face many challenges even from fans, who openly express their displeasure when a decision is against their side. I'm determined and so are my other colleagues to uplift the standard of refereeing in African football."

Off the pitch, Kabakama is a businesswoman in her hometown of Kagera. Her dream is to officiate in the FIFA Women's World Cup, a dream she believes will soon see the light of day.

Kabakama is not the only one writing history in Tanzania. Also present are Assistant Referees, Mary Wanjiru Njoroge (Kenya) and Lidwine Rakotozafinoro (Madagascar).

Njoroge has already done two games, Nigeria versus Angola and Cameroon versus Senegal, both at the group stage. Rakotozafinoro on her part had a taste of action during the Senegal versus Guinea clash in Chamazi on 18 April, which the latter won 2-1.

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