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Why Hold the World Cup in Africa?

Sadaharu Kataoka
Associate Professor, Faculty of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University

When the Second World War ended in 1945, there were only four independent states in Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Liberia, but in 1960—a year that came to be known as the Year of Africa—as many as 17 colonies (1) gained their independence from the European Powers, almost all at once. At the present time, there are now 53 sovereign states which have gained their independence on the African continent, a presence which accounts for more than one quarter of the entire member countries of the United Nations.

Now, in 2010, just as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this Year of Africa, it is timely and of great significance that for the first time in history the World Cup is about to be held in Africa, in South Africa, which sees itself as the political and economic leader of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

And it is not just the World Cup. At the moment, Africa is capturing the attention of people from all over the world. Africa is truly becoming the focus of attention in international society in fields as diverse as security, natural resources, immigration, trade and investment, economic cooperation, epidemics, culture, literature, fashion, and tourism.

In economic terms, Africa is receiving attention from across the world as the last growing continent, the last undeveloped market, described in terms such as a BOP or bottom of the pyramid economy. In fact, the economic and political situation of African nations has been improving since 2000. Influenced by the global rise in the price of natural resources, countries rich in such natural resources have been able to achieve rapid economic growth, and through this engine of economic growth, even other countries which lack such natural resources have been able to display unprecedented high growth rates. Many African nations have been stimulated by the booming market in South Africa and other southern African countries, and in the region's oil producing nations, and have recorded high growth rates. The growth rates for African nations as a whole were 5.2% in 2005, 5.7% in 2006, and 5.8% in 2007. In 2008, this level of growth was maintained, and exports were increased. African nations have started to show signs of being able to maintain the upward trend in their economic growth rates at a high level, even when seen in terms of economic history. After the global economic crisis that ensued following the fall of Lehman Brothers, 2009 ended on a down note of zero growth or negative growth rates all over Africa. But even so, there has been a rapid recovery since the beginning of fiscal 2010, and there are predictions that individual purchasing power will increase as well.

However, despite this sort of optimistic analysis on the one hand, it remains the case that almost 70% of Africa's population are impoverished, forced to live on less than two dollars a day. The deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is approaching in 2015, and it is thought that many African nations will be unable to fulfill their targets. In fact, after achieving independence in the 1960s, African nations experienced a period of high economic growth which continued until the first oil crisis. Subsequently, these nations suffered sluggish growth or declines in growth for an extended period, which at last shifted to positive growth only in the latter half of the 1990s. But this is growth from the very lowest starting point possible, and while it is true that African countries have now managed to join in the rapid growth trend, it is certainly too early to say that they have completely taken off. There still remains a large accumulation of people living in poverty and, in addition, Africa is faced with a serious unemployment problem.

As an event being held under these circumstances, the 2010 South Africa World Cup is historically vital. It has to inspire hope not only in South Africa, but also throughout the African continent. There were in fact important political considerations behind the choice of South Africa as the location for the hosting of the first ever World Cup to come to the African continent.

If, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who became the President of FIFA in 1998, had not introduced the continental rotation system, African nations might never have been given the opportunity to host a World Cup. In the election for hosting the 2006 World Cup, which was held in July 2000, South Africa held out for three rounds of votes before finally being defeated by Germany. At that point, President Blatter made the positive assertion that no matter what problems there might be in terms of infrastructure or law and order or organizational capabilities, there was a need for the World Cup to be hosted on the African continent. However, even in asserting that Africa should host the World Cup, the reason for Blatter's choice of South Africa as the first host was both a political and economic one.

On May 15, 2004, South Africa went into the election to determine the host of the 2010 World Cup with the strongest possible line-up of people in support of their bid. They were represented by former soccer stars, such as Abedi Pele (Ghana), Roger Milla (Cameroon) and George Weah (Liberia), who acted as Goodwill Ambassadors, while they were also supported by President Mbeki, as well as three Nobel Peace Prize winners in Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and F. W. De Klerk. After defeating Morocco, South Africa gained the right to host the World Cup. Nelson Mandela's presence was clearly the critical factor. It can be said that the choice of South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup was the product of the efforts of both Nelson Mandela and President Blatter.

More than anything, for South Africa, this World Cup has to be first of all a symbol of the integration of its people. Moreover, the host nation bears the weight of considerable pressure. It is likely that even the smallest incident would be scrutinized, and as the host nation, South Africa has determined its fate as being able to ensure that the event can be held peacefully from start to finish. The event requires an enormous budget of close to four billion dollars which South Africa is seeking to provide as part of its responsibility as the host nation. Five new stadiums have been built, and infrastructure such as airports and roads, and the like has been redeveloped. The number of policemen and security guards has been increased, mechanisms for maintaining law and order have been enhanced, and efforts have been made to improve and expand public transport. South Africa has great expectations for this World Cup. It has already created 160,000 jobs, and South Africa is also expecting a further effect from the special demand created by the World Cup in terms of the large number of tourists visiting the country. South Africa's neighboring countries are conducting pro-active tourism campaigns in order to attract people across the borders as well, and they also have great expectations of the event. Other African countries which are appearing in the World Cup also anticipate various aspects of the special demand that they hope that the World Cup will bring, in both political and economic terms. Almost as if they were being pulled in tow by South Africa, the countries of Africa are all eagerly anticipating the success of this World Cup.

It is certainly true that no illnesses can be cured by soccer, and political tensions cannot be eased by it. But it is possible to give hope to people who are struggling with poverty in their daily lives and who are faced with the realities of conflict. This hope can make them more courageous. On the soccer team representing the Cote d'Ivoire, for example, Christians and Muslims play together side by side. In this World Cup, if they can prove that a united front can bring victory, they may show their people that reconciliation among the people of the nation is possible. This South African World Cup—held at the milestone 50th anniversary of the Year of Africa—should give confidence and courage to each individual African, to deepen the solidarity and esprit de corps of Africa as a whole, and to increase further still the level of attention focused on the African continent.

Many of the countries which gained independence in 1960 were the former colonies of France. The 17 countries which gained independence in 1960 were Cameroon, Senegal, Togo, Madagascar, (Democratic Republic of) Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina-Faso, Cote D'Ivoire, Chad, the Central African Republic, the (Republic of) Congo (Communist), Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, and Mauritania.

Sadaharu Kataoka
Associate Professor, Faculty of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University

Brief biography

Sadaharu Kataoka graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. He received his doctorate in Political Science from the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne. From 1996 until 2000, he worked at the Japanese Embassy in France (in the political group, responsible for the Middle East and Africa). From 2000 until 2004, he worked at the Japan Institute for International Affairs (as a researcher, responsible for Europe and Africa). He has served in his current position since April, 2004. He has been Head of the Waseda Institute of International Strategy at Waseda University since April, 2006. He has a large number of long-standing friendships among European and African politicians and government officials. He has a well-developed network of contacts from across the world. In particular, he has a large number of friends among the leadership elite in African countries, such as Mali's President Amadou Toumani Tour辿 (often known as “ATT”). His specialist areas are international relations theory, African conflicts and development, and European security.