How joint Afcon 2027 could help boost integration

Harambee Stars players during a training session at Utalii Grounds on March 19, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The acceptance of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania “Pamoja bid” to host the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) was received with great jubilations in East Africa.

For the first time, the region will host the continent’s most prestigious tournament. By hosting the tournament, the East African Community (EAC) vision of deeper integration can be realised. The EAC envisioned a united region working together for the good of its member states.

Globally, sports diplomacy has played a major role in the way states relate with each other. For instance, it is through global sporting events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup that some states build close ties.

The “Pamoja bid” was motivated by this. Could this be the right opportunity for the region to cement its calls for deeper and stronger regional integration?

Hosting this tournament will have great impact locally and internationally. Firstly, the countries will benefit domestically where all the three countries will enjoy enhanced infrastructure to meet CAF standards as well as other economic boost due to influx of fans from other countries.

The region is likely to gain economically, socially, and in terms of sports development. Secondly, hosting the tournament will boost the region’s soft power appeal and international standing. By hosting the tournament, political frictions that existed between them could be resolved.

The joint effort required to successfully host such a major sporting event can foster stronger ties and encourage sharing of resources and expertise.

Drawing insights from the ping pong diplomacy between the US and China in the early 1970s, where table tennis matches between these two provided pathway for formal diplomatic ties and thawing Cold War tensions. By hosting Afcon, it will similarly thaw regional tension.

Through AFCON, there will be joint infrastructural developments, especially stadiums, road and air network to facilitate easy movement. This will be in line with the fundamental objectives of the East African Common Market Protocol of facilitating free, safe, and orderly movement of individuals across the region.

This is because some players will be staying in Kenya but having their matches played in Uganda or Tanzania thus the need for fast and swift movement. 

The tournament is likely to push the region towards strengthening one political federation in charge of the entire region. AFCON will provide a platform for high-level government officials from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to engage on various issues ranging from sports-related matters to broader issues of regional cooperation, trade, and security.

The shared experience of hosting and participating in the event can facilitate dialogue and collaboration on various fronts.

- The writer is a researcher at Kenya School of Government