Africa Business Communities
[Column] Frida Frans: The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) - A Beacon of Unity Amidst African Challenges column

[Column] Frida Frans: The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) - A Beacon of Unity Amidst African Challenges

Hats off to the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire for securing the trophy of the 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. What a host! It was a fascinating month as Africans united on the field of play.

24 nations competed fiercely for continental supremacy, and billions of viewers from across the continent and the diaspora tuned in, passionately supporting their teams and eagerly anticipating their rivals' missteps. Amidst global challenges and societal divisions, AFCON 2023 stood as a beacon of unity for Africa, fostering camaraderie, pride, and a shared sense of identity among diverse nations.

There's a saying I often cite: "Africans do more than just play." One evident aspect is the infusion of diverse cultural elements into the fabric of AFCON. To extend on that statement, Africans don't just play; they bring with them a kaleidoscope of traditions, customs, and identities. As seen during AFCON matches, fans proudly display their national colors, chant traditional songs, and perform lively dances that reflect the rich cultural heritage of their respective countries, notably Mama Joy of South Africa, Ngando picket of Cameroon, and other captured fans of the matches.

This vibrant display of cultural pride not only adds to the spectacle of the tournament but also serves as a reminder of the continent's rich diversity. Making it also a celebration of African culture, talent, creativity, and humor. Through its unique blend of sport and tradition, AFCON continues to captivate the hearts and minds of millions.


Forging Bonds Beyond Borders: #Integrate_Africa

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) plays a pivotal role in fostering much-needed integration across the African continent. Bringing together nations from diverse backgrounds, AFCON promotes mutual understanding, cooperation, and solidarity among participating countries. Through the shared experience of competing in high-stakes matches and the exchange of cultural traditions both on and off the pitch, AFCON facilitates dialogue and collaboration, transcending geopolitical boundaries. Additionally, the tournament acts as a catalyst for economic development, with host countries investing in infrastructure and tourism, attracting visitors from neighboring nations and beyond.


Amplifying The Voices to Addressing Societal Issues

The day I shared my pride on my Instagram about DRC reaching the semi-finals, a thought-provoking comment surfaced, shedding light on the longstanding issues of instability and conflict plaguing the country. It served as a reminder of the tremendous challenges faced by the Congolese people, who have been tirelessly striving to ensure the safety and welfare of their communities amidst turbulent times. This insightful observation underscored the harsh reality that, in the midst of such adversity, the nation's focus understandably deviates towards addressing pressing concerns, leaving little room for leisurely pursuits such as sports.

Beyond the realm of sports, the AFCON, therefore, does not only showcase the best of African football but also serves as a rallying point for addressing broader societal issues and promoting unity and solidarity across the continent. A notable instance occurred during the just concluded tournament when fans from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) displayed imagery depicting a person brandishing a firearm while obscuring their face, symbolizing the enduring genocide and the longstanding Save Congo campaign. This powerful demonstration underscored AFCON's capacity to amplify voices and draw attention to pressing issues beyond the confines of the football pitch.

Organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Côte d'Ivoire also made use of the opportunity to organize an online campaign that recruited approximately 100 online volunteers, of which I participated, to raise awareness on various themes including combating plastic pollution, deforestation, gender-based violence (GBV), promoting messages of peace and social cohesion. Volunteers utilized social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to share communication tools and links. The success of the campaign was monitored through tracking views, likes, and shares of publications throughout its duration.

In previous editions, the tournament has been instrumental in promoting various causes, such as environmental conservation and social justice. During the 2019 Afcon held in Egypt, efforts were made to raise awareness about the Nile River's ecological challenges, highlighting the importance of preserving this vital waterway for future generations. Similarly, Afcon has been a catalyst for addressing gender-based violence (GBV), with campaigns launched to promote gender equality and combat harmful attitudes and behaviors. The 2017 Afcon in Gabon saw initiatives aimed at raising awareness about GBV and empowering women and girls to speak out against violence and discrimination.

Peace and security concerns stand out as significant hurdles confronting the continent. In the annals of history, the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) has served as a remarkable testament to unity amidst discord. The 2021 edition, hosted in Cameroon, witnessed a profound reconciliation between Francophones and Anglophones, who had long been embroiled in internal strife. Afcon served as a poignant moment for these communities to set aside their differences and come together in unison once more. Moreover, Afcon, as a platform for promoting messages of peace and social cohesion, can be referred to in the aftermath of the 2010 Afcon in Angola, where efforts were made to leverage the tournament's success to foster reconciliation and peace-building initiatives in the war-torn nation.


Addressing the elephant in the room,

Luke Feltham wrote, “Another international football tournament, another dose of sportswashing”. Dr David Matsanga, on a Twitter post, commended: ‘’sponsored by the French company called Total Oil Energies, who bewitched Africa?’’  The French petroleum giant Total Energies has been a longstanding sponsor of the tournament; its generous support raises concern about its intentions, with some suggesting that it may be a strategic move to deflect attention from criticism regarding its environmental practices. By associating itself with a widely celebrated sporting event like Afcon, its partnership hence raises questions about the influence of corporate interests on the sport and its governance. As Africa continues to navigate its path toward progress and development, events like AFCON will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping a brighter future for the continent.

While Total Energies' investment has undoubtedly contributed to the growth and success of Afcon, it is crucial to ensure that such partnerships are in line with the values and integrity of the sport. As conversations surrounding sustainability and climate change gain momentum, the environmental practices of Total Energies' involvement in Afcon warrant careful scrutiny. Cautionary counsel to Africans highlights the potential vulnerability of African nations when excessively reliant on external entities, potentially subjecting them to manipulation as mere pawns in larger corporate agendas. Therefore, there's a growing call for heightened local and regional financial backing for events such as Afcon. Finally, balancing commercial interests with the preservation of football's essence as a unifying force for the continent requires careful navigation by stakeholders.

Frida Frans is a Regional Integration Analyst and a Consultant on intra-Africa Trade issues. 


Share this article