Apollo Tusiime: Beyond the Excitement of Hosting AFCON

By Apollo Tusiime

Kampala: The excitement is real after Uganda together with Kenya and Tanzania –all East African countries were selected to host the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament in 2027. Not a mean achievement considering the prestige that comes with hosting a continental event, Uganda’s image abroad and the economic benefit as national teams and delegations converge to enjoy the game of football in cities of selected countries.

It is not actually the only big international event coming to Uganda because the country has also been endorsed to host the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in January 2024 – the largest gathering of Heads of States Uganda has ever hosted (a total of 135 countries and China). It’s Big time for residents of the Pearl of Africa.

As such, almost all sports lovers across East Africa, politicians, and the business community must be excited (for different reasons) about this rare opportunity to host a continental sports event at home.

In Uganda, the excitement is obvious because we love ‘the game.’ But, beyond the excitement in anticipation of a glamorous event, technocrats must be rolling up their sleeves to draw huge budgets which will facilitate a memorable AFCON. And then, one must reflect on the outcomes from past events of the same calibre as AFCON -and specifically; the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM2007) which was held in Uganda.

The excitement was super high. The sweeping of streets, the planting of trees and flowers, and the renovation as well as the construction of new hotels around Kampala, indeed spoke about how much the CHOGM was a very important event for the country. ‘CHOGM’ almost became a household name across Uganda. But immediately after the summit ended, reports of corruption scandals emerged.

The optimism, excitement and hype from government officials who utilized every opportunity to drum up support for CHOGM quickly evaporated after traders in the Kampala Metropolitan area (some of whom had acquired loans in anticipation of bigger rewards) failed to register an increase in sales but fell into losses.

The vendors in markets which had been erected along Kajjansi and Abayita Ababiri and hoped for huge returns from the event will live to tell the bad story of CHOGM. The roadside furniture dealers in Nsambya along Ggaba Road, who were forcefully evicted ‘to avoid a bad impression of Kampala city’ as high-level delegates were being chauffeured to Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort Hotel, can ably tell the painful story that came with the CHOGM illusion.

Nuwa Wamala Nyanzi who runs an art gallery/studio at National Theatre Crafts Village still calls CHOGM a total disaster. Nyanzi recalls how for no clear reason their market was closed by authorities all through the CHOGM period leading to huge losses since they had invested much in anticipation for many customers, especially foreigners who usually buy art crafts as souvenirs.

The value-for-money audit reports which arose from the mess in CHOGM2007, give an impression that this was an occasion for government bureaucrats to enrich themselves. To many Ugandans, the much-hyped event turned into a very bad dream. CHOGM almost left taxpayers regretting why Queen Elizabeth II (now deceased) ever came to Uganda.

One would argue that mistakes were bound to happen since Uganda had not hosted an international meeting of the magnitude of CHOGM from way back in 1975 hosting of the OAU. That, indeed required high-level facilities far beyond what was available in the country such as modern Hotel rooms, conference halls, ICT, transportation infrastructure, airport facilities etc. This time, however, a good portion of such deficiencies has been fixed (to some extent) considering what was available then and now.

That is why, this time, the organizers should not only maximize the benefit of hosting AFCON but also avoid the CHOGM nightmare and ensure that the benefits are spread across the board. The anticipated football facilities to be constructed, opportunities in the hospitality industry, and the anticipated flow of cash must be deliberately channelled to avoid the CHOGM scenario where those in privileged positions benefit at the expense of the common man.

Remembering how the glamour which came with hosting CHOGM quickly vanished after it emerged that high-ranking government official had dipped their fingers deeper into the treasury, is discouraging. The procurement scandals ranging from the importation of expensive cars for transporting delegates to the mismanaged award of contracts for the beautification of the city; all kill the excitement over AFCON.

One can only hope that the ghosts of CHOGM 2007 have been exorcised and won’t pounce again to haunt Uganda. The sad reality is that the same ghosts are still here and hungry for blood. The recent iron sheets scandal in the Office of the Prime Minister which left almost all top government officials ‘naked’ tells of how the ‘CHOGM ghosts’ are very much active.

This also dismisses hope that lessons have been learnt from the CHOGM scandal, which would also provide hope that AFCON 2027 would be a different case altogether. What is true, however, is that Ugandans will flock to stadiums and enjoy the beautiful game -because they do love it anyway; but one must also expect another probe into AFCON 2027 funds.

The author is a multi-media journalist working with Salt Media.


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