By Spy Uganda
Africa’s biggest football tournament is well underway. After a competitive start, the continent’s finest teams are now battling it out in Cameroon for a spot in the quarter-finals.
But while teams from west, north and south of the continent have been competing for this year’s title, one region is noticeably absent: East Africa.
This is not the first time that countries from east Africa have not made their mark on the biggest football stages. Since the tournament began, no country in the East African Community (comprising Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and South Sudan) has taken home the trophy.
Even qualifying has been a challenge. Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania have only made it to Afcon’s main draw a handful of times—most recently in 2019—but are yet to go deep in the tournament. The majority of countries in the region are yet to make it to the World Cup.
It’s a vicious cycle of mismanagement, underinvestment, and poor performance for east Africa’s football teams
Poor management has meant less investment and resources available for the associations to be able to grow the sport. Local and regional leagues lack the competitiveness of their African counterparts.
With the region’s governing bodies struggling to put in place the right structures to nurture young talent, East Africa has also had little success in exporting its players to the top European leagues.
Even when talent is identified, getting east African players to compete abroad, such as the English Premier League has its own obstacles. Work permits for the UK remain difficult, with all of the East African teams falling below the work permit threshold of a top 50 FIFA ranking. As such, few foreign agents and scouts are located there.
But recent developments in East African football show promise. The region is seeing a rise in the number of academies and partnerships which aim to nurture young talent. At the end of 2021, French football club Olympique Lyon entered a deal with Rova Sports Academy in Kenya to support amateur footballers to get to a professional level.
Tanzania’s league has seen increased investment, which seems to be paying off. In 2019, the Taifa stars qualified for Afcon for the second time.