The business behind the Africa Cup of Nations

The economy of Afcon 2021

Just like any sport event, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021, which is also dubbed TotalEnergies 2021 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship reasons, has strong socio-economic and political repercussions. After several postponements due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and criticism of human rights abuse by the Cameroon authorities, the tournament kicked off on 9 January 2022 and is supposed to end on 6 February 2022. Let us ponder on the business behind AFCON 2022, focusing on the host country and also Côte d’Ivoire, a country that has a strong team in the competition and millions of soccer fans, while spending a lot of money on specific items: food, drinks and much more.

A breath of fresh air for Cameroon?

Numerous analysts are pondering the “other sides” of the African Cup of Nations. The host country had a tough time turning this ambition, desire and plan into a reality. This is the second time the country of the Indomitable Lions is having that honour; the first time was in 1972. It was postponed twice, since 2019, because of the COVID Pandemic, the ill preparedness of Cameroon and its structures deemed it unfit for the tournament. A lot of money has been invested in hosting the event, and much is expected from the Cameroon national team. The politics of soccer is certainly at play here. The event takes Cameroonians’ minds away from the political crisis that has engulfed the country. One can read a verisimilitude of peaceful coexistence between the Anglophone and the Francophone parts of the country. Limbe, which is one of the largest cities in the Anglophone zone is hosting some of the games. This is, therefore, an opportunity for the country to change her image on the international scene. The strikes that the “Ambe boys” have been inflicting on “the Republic” are forgotten for a while, at least. It is no secret that most countries campaign aggressively to host sports competitions in order to contain simmering socio-political crises. Guns will be silent for some time and the bloodshed will take break.

The cost of AFCON 2021

It is, officially, said that Cameroon spent 520 billion CFA francs or 800 million Euros for the construction or renovation of several stadia. That amount represents two percent of the GDP of a country where 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line. One of the symbols of such an investment is the Paul Biya Stadium in Olembé, near Yaoundé; the opening ceremony of the competition took place there. It has a capacity of 60,000 seats and approximately 250 million Euros went into its construction; it is the “most expensive stadium” in Africa. Three other stadia were erected in Douala, Bafoussam, Garoua and Limbe. Three similar structures were renovated in  Yaoundé, Douala and Limbe. In addition, roads, hospitals and tourist attraction sites were put in place, noted Désiré Avon, a Cameroonian Professor of Economics. 

Twenty million Euros has been invested in the organization of the event, and it is believed that AFCON will boost or improve the ailing Cameroonian economy which is bearing the brunt of the COVID Pandemic, the high cost of raw materials, and food shortage caused by the Boko Haram Jihadist attacks which have been hitting the north of the country. The tourism industry hopes to take off after several years of decline. Many hotels in Douala, the largest city in the country, are almost empty and managers and owners hope to cash in with tourists who might be interested in watching the soccer games on large screens in hotels. Many people are skeptical when it comes to that positive economic impact of the tournament. Such analysts believe that the investment required by the AFCON are way above the money that businesses will make. 

AFCONrelated business in Côte d’Ivoire

Mariam Cissé is an Ivorian lady who is not a professional make-up artist but who makes money by painting the faces of the supporters of the Ivorian national team. She applies green, white, and orange colors on them, at a spot called “the fans’ zone”. She charges every client 50 CFA francs and, in a day, she makes 4,000 CFA francs. Many Ivorians started businesses during the competition. They sell vuvuzelas (horns blown to support players), T-shirts of the national soccer team and nose masks to the fans of the national team who are glued to the screens. So many things can be done if one wants to benefit from the competition. Tea and coffee sellers, owners of restaurants and drinking spots make much money. Some customers believe that the more beer they drink while watching the games, the more chances there are for their team to win. Alice Diomandé is a restaurateur who moved her business to the “AFCON village” and she says that when the Elephants (Ivorian soccer team) are playing, people eat a lot, and she makes much money. Certain economies, like that of Côte d’Ivoire, are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, during this tournament. Such business owners fervently pray that the Elephants go far, in the competition.

This 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nation is special; I do remember a sports event that healed national economies, in a context of global pandemic.


Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape CoastGhana.

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