As East Africa prepares to host AFCON in 2027, we continue to look back at past AFCONs to see what Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are up against in terms of hosting and participating as hosts. This is the first time three countries are jointly hosting AFCON.
In 1996, when Kenya pulled out of hosting AFCON, the tournament was expanded to 16 teams. This changed the format from four groups of three teams to four teams in each group. South Africa hosted the tournament in four stadiums while Kenya struggled to finish a second one. The drama for this tournament was Nigeria pulling out in the last minute due to a political tiff between military leader Sani Abacha and South Africa.
In April 27, 1993, the Zambia national team died in an air crash in the Atlantic Ocean on their way to a World Cup Qualifier against Senegal. All 25 passengers and five crew members were killed in a flight that Zambia’s Chipolopolo captain Kalusha Bwalya missed. He organised his own transport from Europe together with his brother Johnson Bwalwa and Charles Musonda who was injured. Zambia assembled another team for the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia and reached the final. They lost the chance of winning the title for their lost heroes when they lost the final by one goal to two to Super Eagles of Nigeria. They beat Ivory Coast, Senegal and Mali on their way to the final.
The “Madiba magic” of South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela whose clan name is Madiba, came alive from 1994. South Africa with no international football experience went on to beat Tunisia and win the title in their first attempt. South Africa did the unthinkable when they beat the top team in FIFA ranking from Africa, Ghana in the semifinals. Midfield ace the late John Moshoe recalled how he broke down in tears when a white fan asked for his autograph. That is what AFCON did to a deeply racial South Africa.
The 1998 edition was hosted by Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso put forward three stadiums to host the 16 teams. They had two stadiums in Ouagadougou and one in Bobodiolaso in a tournament where South Africa reached its second final in as many editions. Egypt whose players were observing the Holy Month of Ramadan beat hosts Burkina Faso in the semifinals before seeing off South Africa to win the title.
Frenchman Philipe Trousier aka the “White Witchdoctor” was the Nigeria Super Eagles coach during the qualifiers. He helped Nigeria who were banned from AFCON for withdrawing from the 1996 edition to qualify for World Cup. He was sacked before Burkina Faso hired him to take them to AFCON.
The 2000 edition was slated for Zimbabwe who dropped the ball like Kenya did four years earlier. CAF held an emergency meeting in Conakry in 1999 to decide after Zimbabwe failed to avail infrastructure in good time. Two bids were on the table, Morocco and a joint one between Nigeria and Ghana. The joint bid won leaving Morocco livid.
The hosts availed two stadiums each in Kumasi and Accra for Ghana and Lagos and Kano for Nigeria. The opening ceremony was hosted by Ghana and final played in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria was fortunate to host the final match which they played against Cameroon but unfortunately lost in front of home fans. The debate now is on which countries will host the opening ceremony and final match between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Meanwhile, what concessions will the two countries make to the one who will miss out on the opener and show-stopper?
In 2002, Mali hosted AFCON for the first time. In an unprecedented move, they presented six stadiums in five cities for the four groups where four would suffice. Four of the stadiums had a capacity of 15,000 fans only the two stadiums in the capital Bamako had 55,000 and 25,000 capacity respectively. Cameroon won their second consecutive AFCON after penalty shootouts when they beat Senegal 3-2.
For the 2004 edition, Zimbabwe put up another bid as well as a joint bid from Malawi and Zambia. They both missed and the tab was pushed to Tunisia. Kenya showed up in Tunisia 12 years since they played in 1992 in Senegal.
Kenya coached by Jacob “Ghost” Mulee was in Group B with Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali. The tournament is remembered for Kenya’s first win at AFCON when we beat Burkina Faso by three goals to nil in their last group match. Kenya finished third in the group and failed to progress to the knockout stage.