Hosting rights for the two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) that follow next year’s are up in the air, and, already, one bid being lined up looks particularly sizzling: Tanzania/Uganda/Kenya 2027.
The first feature that strikes you about this soon-to-be-confirmed joint effort is that it has been strung together by three nations.
That sort of thing has become a bit popular ever since the North American trio of USA, Mexico and Canada pulled it off with their 2026 Fifa World Cup shot, hasn’t it?
The 2030 edition has a fair few of such tripartite proposals in the hat already, and now Africa could have its very first three-nation tournament — and, no, I’m not complaining at all.
Then there is the other characteristic, the really interesting bit: that East African connection.
It’s been almost half-a-century since the Afcon was hosted in that sub-region, a stat that, reviewing the preceding 19 years, is quite surprising.
Five of the first ten editions of the Afcon — including the inaugural event — were played on East African soil, split in a 3:2 ratio between Ethiopia and Sudan.
And not only did East African countries develop a habit of hosting the competition, they also did a pretty fair job of playing in them, too. Ethiopia and Sudan won one title apiece in that period, also recording second- and third-place finishes.
On both counts — hosting and competing — East Africa hasn’t had much joy, if any at all, since 1976. Ethiopia, that year, was the last of the lot to host the Afcon; at the very next edition, hosted and won by Ghana, The Cranes of Uganda became the last East African side not to return from the Afcon empty-handed, finishing runners-up to the triumphant Black Stars.
The pendulum of dominance has since swung between the continent’s West and North, leaving only scraps for the rest of Africa to pick up. South Africa and Zambia have one title apiece; five-time champions Cameroon, geographically tucked into the heart of Africa, is cut from the same cultural fabric as its western neighbours.
East Africa has been starved, with entire editions of the Afcon not involving any of its teams, their noses only pressing longingly against the window.
In the last decade or so, though, there has been a stirring, one that promises to open up new possibilities for East Africa, if not a way back to reclaim glories of old.
In 2017, Uganda reappeared at the Afcon for the first time since their 1978 peak — after missing 19 in a row — and they’ve also been at one of the last two editions.
Tanzania, in 2019, also ended a 19-edition run of absence. That tournament was also the first time Kenya were seen at the finals since 2004; heck, even Burundi made their maiden Afcon appearance at Egypt ’19.
Well, they were at the last Afcon, their latest attempt at a revival since the one around the end of the noughties that quickly fell apart.
None of those overdue comebacks has been exactly worth the wait; only Uganda have made it past the group stage. But, still, this trend represents progress. If anything, it only fits snugly into the overall narrative of East Africa rising again, throwing off the shackles that have held it back for decades, the renaissance of a footballing culture that had all but died.
Strides have been made, too, in club football.
This week, Tanzania’s Young Africans (Yanga) became the first East African outfit to reach the final of a Caf inter-club competition — the Confederation Cup — since Al-Merrikh Omdurman of Sudan in 2007. In recent years, the likes of Al-Hilal (Sudan), Gor Mahia (Kenya), Simba (Tanzania), KCCA (Uganda) — have also made an impression.
The feeling, then, is that East Africa has earned its seat at the table. And now it seeks to go one better, with the grand objective of hosting the African game’s biggest party — but that honour, too, must be earned.
Competition from Algeria and Egypt — far more experienced bidders and hosts — would be keen, while there are internal issues to sort out. Kenya, ostensibly front-and-centre of the bid, are currently suspended by Fifa and its teams banned from international competitions, while the country only has a solitary stadium approved for international games by Caf.
“I put [sic] a commitment to Kenyans that I will put more focus into sports if elected and I said we will try to host Afcon as a joint bid, and we are launching our bid on Wednesday,” William Ruto, the Kenyan president, told the media last Sunday.
“We have a very big chance [to host the Afcon] because we have the predictability, the financing, training and making sure the teams are in good shape.”
Uganda and Tanzania, needless to say, have just as much work — if not more — to do in convincing Caf of their own readiness; not to mention the effort that would be required by all three, before the August 15 Caf Executive Committee decision, to demonstrate their collective ability to realise the exciting novelty of spreading an Afcon across three countries.
The will exists, for sure.
We’ll know, soon enough, if the way does, too.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks