The fact that Namibia has pulled out of a joint bid with us for the 2027 edition makes a lot of economic sense. It just shows that once in a while, a government such as the Namibian one, in this case, can come to terms with the reality that there is a limit to spending other people’s money. It must have dawned on the Namibian government that there are no clear and demonstrable benefits to ordinary people in spending billions of their hard-earned money in hosting an expensive sporting tournament such as AFCON. In their case, they were to build or ensure that they have in place three internationally accredited stadiums. So it is possible that they looked at the experiences of other countries which hosted AFCON before but have nothing to show except white elephants and public debt and decided to retreat. What does Burkina Faso for example, have to show after hosting the 1998 tournament?
Even an economically dominant power such as the USA is coming to terms with the fact that you cannot keep on writing cheques. The Treasury Secretary indicated this week that the government could run out of money by June if the debt ceiling is not raised. In a letter to the Speaker of the House Congress, the US version of the Minister of Finance wrote in part “After reviewing recent federal tax receipts, our best estimate is that we will be unable to continue to satisfy all of the government’s obligations by early June and potentially as early as June 1, if the Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit before that time”.
In other words, she is asking Congress to allow her to borrow even more and regrettably go on a spending spree. At least in her case, she also has to commit to spending cuts. We too have to move in that direction and put the state on diet and it starts with putting an end to any notion of hosting AFCON. It is interesting that hosting AFCON is not something that anyone in government would do, were they to be asked to spend their own money. Worse still, it is not a proposal that they would not dare take to the bank for funding. That on its own shows that they know in their hearts that this is not a commercially viable project unless it is underwritten by the taxpayer. So it is no surprise that it is always other people’s money that they call on to finance these vanity projects.
Much is made of the supposed legacies of hosting sporting events such as the AFCON but the jury is still out for those that do so by building green field infrastructure. First and foremost you do not build infrastructure for a once-off event and call that investment. We understand that CAF requires the bidders to have six stadiums and in our case, we would need to squander billions of Pula only to end up with white elephants.
What Botswana needs to do is spend its scarce resources in the right places by attending dilapidated schools, hospitals, clinics, and medicines. There will be more value in that as we strive to become a high-income economy, a task which enjoins us to build a highly competent and internationally competitive workforce.
Botswana must do the honorable thing and pull out of this expensive flight of fancy. Namibia has offered us an exit strategy. We must grab it with both hands. Let us leave the AFCON business to those who already have the infrastructure because of the size of their economies. We are talking about South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Algeria.