Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda’s sports ministers were in Cairo, Egypt, early in the week to hear the Confederation of African Football Executive Committee announce the hosts for the 2025 and 2027 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
The three countries put in a joint (Pamoja) bid for the 2027 games. They won. It will be the first time East Africa hosts Afcon.
The ministers cut a fine figure together. That is rare.
Recent years have seen improvements but, for the longest period, African sports ministers don’t look the part.
Even worse, officials of sports federations, who usually will have been embroiled in scandals and fights for control of the governing bodies for years, tend to be uninspiring. The ones who lead football, the most popular sport on the continent, are particularly bad.
It is not decisive, but one can’t help but feel that a spritely air, a reputation for competence, a sunny disposition, suits that sit well on their shoulders, and looking like that they can still kick a ball, would all help give comfort to bodies like Caf, that a tournament was being put in capable hands.
Kenya, for one, has left Caf high and dry twice before. It handed Kenya the card to host the 1996 Afcon, and 2018 African Nation Championships (Chan), and both times had to pull the plug when Nairobi fell woefully short in its preparations.
Like Kenya, Uganda is not good at doing things like Afcon.
However, the East African economy, which would get a big boost from a successful hosting, can only pray that 2027 happens. It would also be a shot in the arm for the regional integration project. The leadership on this will have to come from Tanzania, which probably has East Africa’s most impassioned domestic football league. And the man and woman on the Tanzania streets puts their money where their sports mouth is, in ways other East Africans don’t.
For years, for example, Tanzanian sports publications — and they were many — sold copies in numbers that the other two big print markets in the region, Kenya and Uganda, wouldn’t even dream of. Tanzania will also have put the 2025 polls out of the way.
In Kenya and Uganda elections tend to a big distraction, corrosive, and far more divisive. They are a bitterly fought year-long affair, and in Uganda in the past, they have turned parts of capital, Kampala, for example, into a war zone.
Uganda will go to the polls early in 2026, a year to the games, and President Yoweri Museveni is expected to seek a history-shattering ninth term. The Museveni government’s highest priority is to find money to fund its 1.443-kilometre heated pipeline from the shores of Lake Albert to the port of Tanga in Tanzania.
Kenya will just have voted, so the final year of the preparations for Afcon 2027 will happen during high-octane election campaigns. Both countries are also saddled with debt. Granting Tanzania a first-among-equals status on the 2027 games will help manage some of these risks.
Winning the 2027 hosting rights also signals to the East African Community new direction in which it could re-organise itself.
Holding the tournament in stadiums scattered in three countries is unwieldly and increases the cost. This could be better managed by creating specialised event capitals. The EAC could choose one of its cities (or member states), to be its capital of arts, culture and sports.
A regional instrument, which is outreach of the grubby hands of politicians, would be set up to raise money and fund the infrastructure – museums, football stadiums, arenas (for basketball, netball, boxing) in such a capital.
It would pick another to be its business and conference capital and invest in a similar manner in world-class meeting venues, hotels, financial centres and roads. All African Development Bank annuals that come to the region, climate summits, United Nations meetings, World Bank and IMF meetings, would all take place in that capital or country.
A third one could be the technology and science capital. Technology parks, research labs, innovation hubs, and new cutting-edge universities, would be concentrated there, and the existing town built into a smart city.
A fourth could be an East African health and science capital, with investments in new hospitals, medical research labs, pharmaceutical parks, expansive cold storage for medicines, a doctors' university, and nurses training institutes.
A fifth would be a food capital. There would be an East African commodities exchange, food silos to hold enough food to feed East Africa at least two months, agricultural research and innovation labs, seed development enterprises, and an elaborate railway link to tank the grub in and out.
But East Africa would have to be politically structured differently. First, the borders would need to come down and allow for dynamic flow of goods, capital, services and people.
Then, in the same way the Community has tried to synchronise the presentation of its budgets, it should do the same with its elections. It would be unwise to hold them on the same day, but they should be within the same year.
A political federation and monetary union would be needed for this to materialise effectively, but there could be intermediary steps. Upgrade the EAC Secretariat, with its leadership elected on a common list by the community parliaments and give it a consolidated fund-type budget to splash on this.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". X@cobbo3