Category Archives: guest post

Africa: Sports as a Business and a Brand

At the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, the visual imagery of almost-empty stadiums is a powerful narrative. But not the kind that African sports, African football, or corporate sponsors deserve.

The empty seat syndrome suggests that football fans are voting with their feet, or better still with their backsides. Fans are choosing not to watch live football events, and instead are opting in increasing numbers for the ‘intimacy’ of their crystal clear digital flat TV screens, or not all.

Before Egypt’s stunning 0-1 loss to South Africa in the round of 16, the host country was the only team able to attract 70,000 fans. Other than when Mo Salah and the Pharaohs have been on the field, most stadia across Egypt have at best attracted an average of 5,000 to 7,000 fans.

Official broadcast camera crews have done a creative job minimizing the visual gaps of empty seats. But wide camera angles reveal the obvious … a lack of attendance and public enthusiasm, in spite of the presence of some of the biggest names in world football on the field.

In European football leagues, where many of the stars in Egypt ply their trade, fans pay mega bucks to see the likes of John Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa, Sadio Mane, Ryahd Mahrez, Nicolas Pépé, Wilfred, Zaha, and Kalidou Koulibaly.

Which is why the empty seats in Egypt are both stunning.

Admittedly, Egypt bailed CAF out and should receive well-deserved credit for coming to the rescue and hosting the African Cup of Nations, with barely 6 months notice, when the original hosts were sanctioned due to shoddy preparations.

Nevertheless, the lack of attendance in Egypt speaks volumes high ticket costs; the timing of matches bang in the middle of work days; the difficulties faced by national team supporters in obtaining entry visas to Egypt; and challenges with the Confederation of African Football’s complicated online ticket purchasing system.

It should not be so. This after all, is the most important event in Africa’s sports calendar. At least, it used to be before England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, and Germany’s Bundesliga captured our collective imaginations.

The end result is that where once 30,000 to 70,000 fans a week watched highly competitive domestic football leagues across Africa, the empty seat syndrome has been the norm for almost two decades. It is not unusual to have less than a thousand fans in a stadium that seats 30,000.

The lack of fan attendance has obvious economic and financial implications across the sports value chain for team owners, sports federations and confederations, players, sponsors, advertising and marketing agencies, merchandisers, vendors, and local communities who once counted on fan attendance to boost fledgling economies.

What’s responsible for the increasing slide in fan attendance?

1. Poor facilities
2. High ticket costs
3. A lack of reliable transportation to and from venues. As well as sufficient and secure parking.
4. Increasingly crude behaviour and violence at event locations.
5. Technology. Mobile phones and Apps that carry events live as well as a plethora of entertainment alternatives. In other words, once big events are no longer the main gigs in town.

So, what can be done to reverse the trend? Here are 5 quick suggestions.

1. It can no longer be business as usual. Africa must run sports as a professional business. This includes the right infrastructure, training facilities, attractive pay scales for professional athletes who now consider anything less than a European league appearance, a professional failure.

Regrettably, as with Africa’s overall propensity to simply export raw materials instead of adding value to what we produce, we are doing the same with football and many other sports. Africa has a tremendous abundance of potential talent that for the most part (with the exception of South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia) we add little or no value to. Instead, millions of genetically blessed athletes are simply waiting or begging to be ‘found’ on the cheap by European and American sports teams. Why? Simply because we fail to see diamonds in the rough and because we are unable to add value to the potential of what for now seems to be rough stones.

2. Modern and professionally maintained facilities: In sizzling hot Africa, we must invest in covered stadia. When I can sit in front of my big screen TV in my air-conditioned living room, why would I want to subject myself to temperatures that I swear have gone up a number of notches in recent years?

3. Sport is a spectacle. This includes everything including pre-event and half time entertainment to keep fans with short attention spans upbeat and engaged.

4. Give back to the fans: Essentially, engagement in the 21st century must change. It’s time to give something back to fans rather than fleecing them at every opportunity with sub-standard services and products. It would seem to me that sports teams could offer something as simple as raffle draws that reward fans with extra game tickets, signed player jerseys, visits with select players, or products from local sponsors. Professional marketing firms can come up with an endless list.

5. Make sports big and make it a win-win proposition:  Real Madrid F.C. and Barcelona F.C. for example, are not owned by a few rich individuals. Instead, they are owned and supported by thousands of shareholders known as ‘socios.’ Across Africa, it’s time to change the numbers game – in ownership, money, and attendance – by giving fans a seat at the table.

These are just a few quick ideas. However, the running of sports in general and football in particular as a business and a brand proposition, will require honest analysis, political and financial will, and a collective approach.

It must be if Africa is to unlock its sports potential and turn millions into billions.

Dr. Victor Oladokun, is the Director of Communication and External Relations at the African Development Bank

Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan

Getting There: Qatar Air was the best, and the only real option picked by our travel agent. We booked tickets early and they cost about $1,000 for a round trip. The flights are Nairobi-Doha and Doha-Baku and total time and the total journey time was about eight hours. Our layover in Doha was short and we had to sprint through the airport to get our connecting flight. Fortunately, we had received boarding passes for the Baku-leg in Nairobi, but in the rush, we lost some documents.

In the weeks prior to departure, there was some confusion about how to obtain a visa to enter Azerbaijan. The country has an e-visa page, but the pull-down menu of country choices does not list Kenya. Some other travellers going for the race chose South Africa as the nearest country to complete the e-visa application but we chose to wing it.

The Formula One race is a big business deal in Baku, and there was a Presidential directive on the internet that the Government of Azerbaijan would offer visas on arrival for F1 fans coming to attend the race. We had arrived early for check-in for our flight in Nairobi which was a good thing as we had to haggle with the Qatar Air staff and make some calls as they checked a book register of passengers. Eventually, they allowed us to proceed and board. There was no issue in Doha, other than the sprint across to catch the connecting flight.

On arrival at Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD) in Baku, there was a special desk section for F1 fans with special ushers around, dressed in F1 garb, ready to assist. You showed your ticket, paid a $26 fee and were issued with a 30-day single-entry visa. Note: We had bought our tickets through the official F1.com site and they arrived two weeks before the race, delivered from the UK by DHL to Nairobi.  

For other fans who already had applied for and got e-visas online, they could walk up to airport machines and get served.

After getting an e-visa, you then proceed to the immigration area.  There, they ask a few questions about the purpose of your trip and you also have to provide an email and phone number (we gave Kenyan ones).

if you intend to stay for more days in the country, you have to register online within 10 days of arrival and even the hotel you are staying at can process this

Getting Around: Baku is a small city and we walked end-to-end across it on different days. There was no need for taxis as it’s a very walkable city with lots of sights. We took a taxi from the airport that cost 50 Manat for a distance of about 40 kilometers using an unofficial cab (the official airport ones charge 70 Manat) and that was the only ride we hailed. All cabs are old Mercedes cars. As you walk around, note that weather changes were quite abrupt from sunny to cloudy. days were ok, but the nights were chilly.

Where to Stay: We had made a reservation at the Viva Boutique using Booking.com which we had made a while back and the rate was about $120 (200 Manat). They cost much more if you have booked late. Hotels tend to block off and charge higher fees for Grand Prix weekends. This room which would now be about  400 Manat on race day while other hotels would charge about 800 Manat. 

The hotel is not far from the track and we walked to different events of the race weekend.

We had arrived a few days before the race and had made an Airbnb reservation for the first few days. The homeowner had offered to pick us from the airport, and we had even negotiated an amount for this. But after clearing immigration, the Airbnb host was not answering his phone and we got worried. So we went to the hotel and negotiated for extra nights.

What to Eat: Restaurants are many, from local ones to others serving common international cuisines such as London Pub, McDonald’s and Starbucks.  Local restaurants had many dishes which we did not try. They have chicken served in many different styles and we ate a lot of chips and bacon.

Staying in Touch: It’s usually advisable, when visiting a new country, to get a local phone SIM card, in order to avoid roaming rates that are very expensive. We got Azercell lines from a booth at the airport that cost about $20, and which came with lots of minutes, SMS and 10GB data bundle that lasted the whole trip. This enabled lots of phone chats, browsing, and sharing of images and videos from the Baku trip with friends. However, like in a few other countries, you can’t make phone calls on WhatsApp – a VPN is advisable for that.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: The local currency is called the Manat. It’s quite strong $1 = 1.70 Manat (so a Manat is ~$0.6 or ~EUR 0.5). Credit cards work well here for most purchases, but it is always a good idea to call your bank before you travel to any country.

Sights to see on the streets of Baku are the full-grown trees, especially in the old city section. The buildings also have interesting architectural designs, walling and engineering of tiles on newer buildings.

Baku is a small town. Malls are modest in size. There are kiosks that are rather expensive, compared to the supermarkets.  By Monday, after the race, malls were quite empty.

One popular tourism attraction is Yanar Dağ, (“burning mountain”), a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku. Tourist charges to visit are 2 Manat each.

Race Day:  The race is at 4:10 PM, which is late compared to other F1 races, and Baku is an hour ahead of Nairobi. 

We had great seats across the pit lane that cost about $500 and it was a fun vantage point. The race itself was kind of anti-climatic given the dominance of the Mercedes team who recorded their fourth consecutive 1-2 finish in 2019, and pre-race favourites Ferrari again seemed lost. The stage was set on Friday, during practice, when one of the cars from team Williams ran over a manhole cover which had come loose. This cause extensive damage to the car and the session had to be stopped. Other teams, including Ferrari, had their practice time limited as a result and this may have contributed to their Sunday pace.

During the weekend, we did the pit-walk to view cars up close in the garages. Many F1 races now put on huge musical concerts to entertain fans from across the world who have come to attend, and this year Baku had American rap star Cardi B performing on Sunday night, after the race.

Odd Points: You can exchange foreign currency with no questions asked and no need to show any identification (ID) in Baku.

A guest post by @asemutwa who travelled to watch the Formula 1 Socar Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2019 race in Baku.

Also see this other race trip report.- Guide to Abu Dhabi.

Guide to Kinshasa

A guest post by @Cathkemi on a visit to Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Getting There: I used Kenya Airways for Entebbe – Nairobi – Kinshasa; The cost was about $900-1,000 but booked at the last minute.

On arrival: Clearing was very easy at the new efficient airport. But leaving is a hassle. You have to pay $55 worth of taxes to leave, and there are endless checks.

Getting around: Public minibus taxis are popular in the city centre. Luckily I got around with the office car, rides from colleagues, and taxis. Walking around is generally secure depending on where you are. But at night need to be extra careful. You can’t just stroll around, and you need to be extra careful about which taxis you get into.

Staying in touch: I used my Ugandan line and it was very expensive. Both local and international calls are all expensive.

Where to stay: Not sure, as I haven’t stayed in a hotel. Most tourists stay in the up class neighbourhood of Gombe. Or near the UN mission HQ. It has nice restaurants and bars etc. though is expensive. Electricity is not very reliable; our office is in an upper-class neighbourhood but power can cut out several times a week. You need a generator there.

Out & About: The main dishes are fufu with meat, fish, vegetables etc. It’s basic but can be tasty depending on who makes it. Beers are easy to get. Not sure how much but should be around $3-5 and Tembo is the most popular one.

You need some level of French to get around. Not a lot of people speak English. Politics are a major discussion point as the  DRC is in a political crisis, with the President not stepping down after his two terms in office running out.

Shopping & Sightseeing: The nightlife would be the main sightseeing. Lol. Also going to restaurants, hotels etc. by the Congo River. Most people will tell you Goma in the East is the main tourist destination, and many people buy African print material as gifts to take back.

Dollars are the easiest currency to use. They are accepted everywhere – even for phone credit.

Biggest surprise in the country: Houses are very small – housing is cramped my guess is because the city is overcrowded. There is not a lot of outdoor space.

But in richer neighbourhoods, the opulence is astounding. Also, national buildings are extremely big, as are their avenues. Bigger than anything else I’ve seen on the continent. My friends tell me it’s because DRC is a big country so it’s translated into national buildings – which makes sense, and this gives you an idea of how big the country is even if you don’t travel out of Kinshasa.

Also, see a guide to Bukavu, which is on the other end of the vast DRC. 

Guide to Lome, Togo

A guest post about a visit to Lome, the capital of Togo in West Africa. 

Getting There: Took Virgin/Ethiopian, San Francisco to Newark, then a direct flight from Newark to Lome (it then goes on to Addis). The cost was between $950-$1,000.

On arrival: This was an easy experience, that took about 10-15 minutes. I paid for a 7-day Togo tourist visa on arrival. They take your passport and do the visas one by one – you can go collect your luggage then come back for your passport or just wait around if you carried on. It was about $8 to take one of the airport taxis to my destination, but I was staying very close to the airport, not in downtown.

Getting Around: I didn’t do much moving around town, but motorbikes are definitely the most popular form of transport. They were everywhere. Buses are not very plentiful, though they do have a fleet of donated buses that are used as city buses. No mini-buses that I saw. People also walk a lot and there are taxis around, but most people use motorbike taxis.

I didn’t walk around, but Lome is pretty safe. Not sure that it is recommended to walk around at night though. I wasn’t able to use a credit card anywhere I went, but I bet fancier hotels would accept them. Togo uses the CFA Franc, same as other French-speaking countries in West Africa.

Staying in Touch: Local phone calls were reasonably priced, though I only made a few. International calls are very expensive, though. Also, 3G data is available in Lome but quite slow at times because bandwidth is very limited. I bought a local SIM, some airtime and 1 GB of data for $9. Wi-Fi is not very prevalent, but it’s available in some places.

Where to Stay: I was hosted by the organization I was visiting in Togo, so I didn’t spend time in a hotel or b&b. Electricity was pretty reliable. We had a generator where I was saying and it definitely kicked in at least once in the few days I was there.

Eating Out: There is a variety of different foods. Starches like fufu, one made of very fine maize flour, and rice. Also peanut sauce, a cow cheese similar to paneer, lots of spicy/fishy flavors. Common proteins were fish, chicken and guinea hen. A beer was easy to get, but I didn’t go to any bars. French and local languages are spoken, though French is most commonly used and I don’t speak French so I missed a lot of what happened around us.

More business travel tales at  This is Africa.

Britain Exits the EU: What Does this mean for Kenya?

Britain’s decision to exit the European Union (EU), as announced from the results of Thursday’s landmark “Brexit” referendum has been a hot topic around the world. 33.6 Million Britons flocked to the polling booths on Thursday with the ‘leave’ campaign marginally taking the victory with a 52%-48% vote. There is however a general consensus of uncertainty with what the UK’s (United Kingdom) decision holds for the future, with particular relevance to what it means for Kenya. Britain bus

Britain is a key ally, as well as Kenya’s third largest export market with the value of exports at Sh40 Billion in 2015. The Central Bank of Kenya has already stated that it is ready to intervene and minimize disruption in money markets. Kunal Ajmera, COO of Grant Thornton Kenya provides an insight into how Britain’s decision to leave affects trade decisions and tourism in Kenya:

  1. Britain was not just any member of the EU but also one of the largest contributors and it’s most prosperous. Depending on how things unfold in the coming years other members may also demand for a referendum and this would ultimately weaken the EU substantially.
  2. The EU spends about 100 million euros per year on development co-operation in Kenya. With uncertainties over Europe due to Brexit we may see a reduced funding in coming years. We could see funding in key projects start to be cut.
  3. Investors anywhere in the world hate uncertainty and anxiety. Brexit leaves many questions unanswered and it will can take more than a year to get some clarity. Until that happens global economy, money markets and stock exchange may go through volatility and general negativity as we are currently seeing happen.Britain sign
  4. It is highly likely that US Dollar($) will gain strength against major currencies in the world and GBP(£) will lose its value, the initial figures show that on the day of the results alone, the GBP slumped to a thirty year low, falling as much as 11% in the hours after the result. This therefore means that the Kenyan Shilling will be under increased pressure. It would be wise for businesses in Kenya to hedge against a future raise in dollar value.
  5. The UK is Kenya’s largest tourist source market. At its peak Kenya received 198,000 tourists from UK in 2013. The tourist arrival numbers from the UK have only just started to increase in last few months after years of travel advisory and terror threats. However with GBP weakening due to Brexit, it will cost the British tourists more to travel to Kenya and we may see reduced number of arrivals from UK in near future.
  6. Kenya exports a substantial number of products to the UK every year. The UK is the second largest export market for Kenya after Uganda. So far these exports were governed by EU trade laws. With UK exiting the EU, Kenya may need to re-negotiate the terms for export and this may take even a year resulting in to disruption and uncertainty.
  7. In the immediate short term, the UK is bound to have slower economic growth or even recession due to the Brexit referendum. This will also affect how it trades with other countries in the world. Since the UK is one of Kenya’s biggest trading partner, businesses in Kenya that export to the UK are bound to be nervous and must prepare for slump in business.

Britain look rightHowever, Kunal offers consolation by highlighting the potential in this decision. He states, “It’s not all doom and gloom. Brexit also presents new set of opportunities. EU laws on import and export are some of the most stringent in the world especially with agriculture, dairy, and meat items. The UK can now decide its own rules for import and export, new products may become eligible. It is worth noting that Kenya’s largest export to UK is agriculture/horticulture products.”

For further insight into the Brexit developments and its implications keep following Grant Thornton Kenya on twitter and Facebook.