The ongoing Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt evokes the power of sports to unite the continent. Momentarily, many of Africa’s nations that are dealing with conflict, economic collapse, disease and poverty have a diversionary activity. A famine plagues Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Sudan and Southern Sudan are on the brink of civil war. Extremism threatens to tear West African countries. Ebola has claimed an estimated 1,400 lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and knocked the door in Uganda.
The practice of sport in general, and football in particular, is one of the main pathways to our young people’s fulfilment and their integration into the socio-economic fabric. It is also a means to shield them against all forms of delinquency and extremism, and to spare them the risk of putting their lives and their future in jeopardy by resorting to illegal migration.
Football is more than just a sport or a means to achieve titles. It is about values and principles. It builds on sportsmanship, teamwork and fair competition. It contributes to promoting greater openness and understanding, in addition to fostering closer bonds between peoples. The continent’s leaders must tap into this momentum to laud values of peaceful co-existence, pragmatic hope and productivity. They must also strategize to reap inclusive dividends from being home to 8 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies, an expanding consumer base, and a continent-wide free trade area.