Invest In Africa – Win in Africa!

Africa has always been referred to as the “Dark Continent”. The majority and most recent international media coverage has always been about HIV/AIDS, starvation, hunger, coups d'état, corruption, civil wars, strife, refugees, droughts and other natural disasters in Africa.
Obviously, this portrays a general perspective and perception of the continent as one place a potential investor should avoid at all cost. The “bread and butter” issues on the development agenda for Africa are so pressing and urgent such that if one were to introduce the issue of sports, people around you would consider you insane.
Issues surrounding education, food security, energy, infrastructural development, transport and communications tend to drown out all attempts to introduce the subject of sport development on the African continent.
The adoption by FIFA of the “Win in Africa with Africa” theme has been a real breath of fresh air. The approach has played a big role in deflecting attention from all the negativity that tends to be associated with the African continent.
With the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the African continent was able to project a new image of a place full of energy and great potential for prosperity and general development.
Despite claims by some African politicians that Africa’s time is now, there seems to be very little action to back these assertions. The African Union (AU) is still a toothless bulldog, which commands very little respect even among the various member states and people that it purports to lead.
The economic and business fundamentals in Africa are indeed upside down. For the hard-nosed economic and business technocrat, sport is a luxury; something that should only be attended to when the core issues of economic or business survival have been accomplished. This is indeed a very erroneous perception. It is a wrong perception that fails to appreciate that, in terms of natural resources endowment, Africa is the richest continent on Earth.
Although, it is currently marginalised in global commercial activities, Africa is central to world stability and prosperity. For this reason, I personally feel that the “Invest in Africa” initiative by the Tullow Oil plc and brought to life through a unique partnership and advertising on the football uniforms of Sunderland Football Club in the English Premier League (EPL) is a very welcome development indeed.
It is indeed very disappointing that the so-called African affairs experts, politicians, business authorities and other pundits have largely ignored this very noble initiative.
While it could be conceded that Sunderland FC does not command the large following in Africa or the United Kingdom, however, this unique initiative will be a roaring success in terms of effecting paradigm shifts in investment trends in Africa.
Some critics would actually dismiss the Tullow Oil plc and Sunderland initiative as being motivated, primarily, by self-interest.  However, in my book that is the essence of business development. One has to venture into the uncharted waters and virgin forests to discover new value. It could also be true that promoters of the “Invest in Africa” initiative have not done a good job of marketing it on a global scale and to Africans in particular.
However, the anticipated broadcast of Sunderland FC games in the Swahili language will be a first and will certainly make the club more appreciated, especially by the majority of East, Central and Southern Africa, with an estimated population of 300 million.
 It seems like the “Invest in Africa” initiative is moving in the right direction by arousing genuine interest as well as involving the people most affected by the critical shortage of investment on the continent – that is the Africans themselves.
It does not need a survey of African football fans to determine that the most followed EPL teams are Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea,and Tottenham Hotspurs, more or less in  that order. Sunderland does not feature in the top 10 of the most liked English or European clubs. The EPL and European leagues are hugely popular on the African continent.
Indeed the “Invest In Africa” initiative makes a lot of sense considering that the annual turnover of the world’s richest soccer club, Manchester United ‑ at approximately US$3 billion ‑ eclipses the individual annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a good number of countries such as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Gambia, Malawi, Niger  and Sierra Leone.
Sunderland FC should take advantage of this popularity of the EPL on the African continent to build a solid reputation of the club. Sport in general and indeed football in particular is great tool for national and personal development, for social inclusion, conflict resolution, health education, women and girls empowerment as well as general community building.
It has been proven in this world that he/she who cares, wins.
Tullow Oil plc and Sunderland FC have amply demonstrated that they do care by exposing Africa, as a brand to a global EPL audience of approximately 4.7 billion people.
In my opinion, there is absolutely no harm in the two partners capitalising on this initiative to build solid brands on the African continent.
If they have not thought about it already, Sunderland FC should undertake off-season tours to Africa.
The club should work with African clubs and scout for African talent. Already, the club has benefited from the services of African stars in the form of Asamoah Gyan, John Mensah, Stephane Sessegnon, and Ahmed Elmohamady. Now the good news is that there is plenty more and even better talent in Africa to make Sunderland a top-four club in the EPL.
Investing in Africa also means establishing academies for identifying and developing African football talent for the world to see. A good number of African players have added great value to clubs in Europe. Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Emmanuel Adebayo, Steven Piennar are just but a few of the great African players who have graced European stadia and provided very good entertainment.
I have no doubt that even some EPL clubs can make themselves very competitive by following Sunderland’s great example.
Africa is definitely not the “Dark Continent” by any stretch of imagination. It is alive with so many possibilities for those who care and dare to find out.
 The development of the private sector and entrepreneurship at all levels in Africa is the only way of making the continent competitive in the global market place and eliminating abject poverty.
As Barack Obama rightly stated in his 2012 victory speech, “Hope ….is that stubborn thing inside us, that insists despite all evidence to the contrary that something better awaits us, so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting”.
Sunderland FC is, in its own unique and modest way, contributing to the sustenance of hope in Africa
. It is indeed no coincidence that they play at the “Stadium of Light”! The rest is for other stakeholders, Africans themselves and investment partners, to see this light and follow through.
It is indeed time to “Invest in Africa”.

 

February 2013
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