The Post 1990s Offered Many Opportunities for Africa, in Economics and Soccer
How Have African Countries Done in Realizing Their Hopes? Part 1

What African Governments and Soccer Associations Do To Realize Their People's Hopes

Since the 1990s, Africa’s people have seen many policy initiatives aimed—at least officially—at expanding exports and achieving middle and high-income status and fostering success on the global soccer field. The main export and economic policy actors are typically in government and include officials in finance, trade and industry, planning, and other central ministries. The main soccer policy actors are in national football associations.

The policy efforts these actors have devised are obviously different when it comes to economics and soccer and across country and time.  There are similarities, however, in the general categories of activities most countries have undertaken in the two arenas (even across time). I have identified five such activity categories from reviews of policy products like plans, strategies, and vision documents and statements in both the economics and soccer domains.

  1. Attracting external support is a key underlying focal point of most economic growth and soccer promotion strategies in Africa. In respect of economic policy, it is sometimes made explicit in targets related to FDI (foreign direct investment) attraction but is more often implied in discussions about the levels of ODA (overseas development aid) needed to finance policy work. External support is also key in the soccer domain, where the activities national associations undertake tend to be funded by distributions from the African or International soccer federations (CAF and FIFA). This is because own-revenue is low in most African national soccer associations, just as most African countries face limited tax bases, but policy interventions are conceived as major cost items that demand money. Policy actors must, therefore, focus on attracting external financial support for proposed work.
  2. Building off existing endowments is another theme of most policy initiatives I reviewed—in the economics and soccer arenas. I see this in economic growth strategies where documents emphasize the importance of building off their countries’ existing comparative advantages in certain product areas—most often natural resources but also in location-specific services like tourism. Even where strategies speak of diversifying into new product or service areas, there is a common emphasis on ensuring—primarily—that countries maximize the value of existing, known, endowments. I see this in the soccer arena as well, where most African associations build future strategies off existing pools of known players and staff (not looking to the diaspora for insatnce), and on the playing relationships they know (scheduling matches against only countries they have played before, usually close by, and in tournaments they have previously participated in).  
  3. Establishing attractive institutions is a fundamental part of most economic strategies, and important in the soccer arena as well. I see this in the way economic strategies almost always emphasize improving public governance, private sector regulatory structures, and more. Policies often focus on making general progress in this respect, to be captured in global indicators (like the World Economic Forum competitiveness indicators, various other governance indicators, and the now defunct Doing Business metrics). The implicit idea is that strong institutions are key to making a context business-friendly—and vital if one is trying to attract and retain mobile talent, capital, or manufacturing knowhow. The emphasis on ensuring attractive institutions has been growing in soccer as well, where national associations focus on issues like governance and political neutrality to ensure they are in good standing with FIFA (to qualify for support and participate in competitions), attract funding from sponsors, and imbue confidence in their talent (encouraging players to represent their home country instead of others, and even attract players in the diaspora).   
  4. Building attractive infrastructure is also commonly emphasized in policy initiatives targeting economic growth (and exports growth) and improved national soccer performance. National vision and economic planning documents regularly explain that growth demands infrastructure modernization—especially emphasizing general information, communications, water and sanitation, port and airport and transportation infrastructure, but also mentioning specific infrastructural needs (like those in export-oriented economic zones, or related to tourism development). The explicit idea is that modern infrastructure is needed to foster economic activity. The implicit idea is that countries with better infrastructure will be more able to attract and retain business activity (and especially those with an export orientation). I see this explicit and implicit rationale for infrastructure development in the soccer sector as well, where national associations regularly showcase efforts to build stadiums and training venues, establish state-of-the-art tracking and data-analytics facilities, and the like. They aim to provide the infrastructure needed to play soccer well, and to demonstrate their commitment to modernizing the soccer sector (something they hope will attract the best players, managers, and most supportive sponsors).
  5. Strengthening human capital is the fifth activity category I find common to economic and soccer strategies across Africa. The main activities I see in economic policies relate to health and education reform and modernization efforts. These aim, explicitly, to improve the well-being and capabilities of a country’s people. An underlying assumption is that healthy and well-educated people are key to promoting economic growth and competitiveness (where productivity and competitiveness are often seen as related). Economic policies will often include indicators related to health outcomes, education access, and even certain skill profiles as a result (where some countries even track numbers of nurses, engineers, accountants, and managers to show their human capital resources). The focus on human capital is similar in soccer, where most African associations’ strategies refer to the importance of expanding access to soccer in their countries and providing education and health services to staff and players. Recent efforts to expand training opportunities for girls are common, for instance, and many associations have also been offering programs through which they can expand their back room and managerial capabilities (emphasizing new skills, like performance medicine and data analysis, and offering opportunities for staff to obtain international licenses and qualifications).

As noted, countries do many different things in their policy initiatives. These five categories of activity are common, however, and one is unlikely to find a government or soccer association that does not do something in each category in their effort to build their country’s export capability or improve its soccer performance.

How have these interventions been working?


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