Football is just a game. However, because of the number of people involved in the sport it has become very much integrated with world affairs. Football impacts Political, Economic, Social and Technological (PEST) aspects of the world.
In this analysis I will look at these four areas using Kenya as a case study. Kenya is listed as a developing country with a population of about 48 million.1 Football is the most popular sport in the country. The Football Kenya Federation (FKF), is in charge of football with a registered company Kenya Premier League (KPL), entrusted with running the top league.
Politics. When it comes to politics, football in Kenya has been used as a soft power base by those wishing to gauge and or grow their influence with a view of venturing into national politics. This is especially the case with the two clubs with the richest history and commanding the biggest following in Kenya, Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards SC – the Barcelona and Real Madrid of Kenya. The two clubs are more or less run by members, a similar model to what we have at the two Spanish clubs. They are both community clubs with AFC predominantly Luhya and Gor Mahia getting its fan-base from the Luo community. Many elected officials and patrons of these two clubs have gone on to become members of the county assemblies (MCAs), members of parliament (MPs), senators a and governors, using their club positions as a spring board to national politics. Luhya and Luo communities also happen to provide 2 of the largest voting blocks in the country. Politicians are known to grace the derby matches involving the two clubs sometimes donning their party colours. They use football as a platform to access the masses and drive their political agendas.
“There is more politics in football than in politics.”- Sven Goran Eriksson
Another interesting trend is also playing out in the run-up to the 2017 elections with politicians aspiring for office using their sports development record as a campaign tool. This is evidenced by the development of sports infrastructure mainly by the incumbents who have gone on to point this as being part of their agenda for the youth – improving access to sports facilities. In the last 5 years we have seen the construction of Machakos stadium, Kinoru stadium, Uwanja wa Mbuzi (loosely translated goats’ field) and more recently Gikambura stadium in Kiambu…just in time for the elections. Also interesting is that part of the ruling party’s manifesto while campaigning in the last elections was the construction of 5 world class stadiums. In my view they were unable to fulfill this promise but at the same time I do not believe this was the right strategy. A more sustainable approach is required. This article on infrastrategy proposes one approach.
Economics. The picture can be negative, as the sport is not highly developed. There is a lack of professionalism and governance issues have proved to be stumbling block. However, owing to the number of people involved in the game, you cannot underestimate the potential impact of football on Kenya’s economy. Currently, with commercial media (Super Sport et al) getting into the sport, professionalism is trickling in at the top level making football an employer for the youth. Corporate sponsors such Safaricom, East African Breweries Ltd, are also getting involved, pumping money into the game providing the needed stimulus, while also marketing their products.
Social. Football is one game played by all. School going children in Kenya start playing at a very early age and this enables one to develop certain key social skills. Also, numerous projects have been launched with a view of helping youths develop socially and stay away from social ills. Mathare Youth Sports Association is one such initiative. Recently Ken Oliech, a former Kenya international and older brother to one of Kenya’s best exports Dennis Oliech (co-founder), launched the Ken Oliech Foundation. The aim of the foundation is to help youths to develop their football skills while providing them with mentors who include current and former players. These initiatives are good but it is not easy to measure their real impact apart from the few success stories such as Dennis Oliech who grew up in the slums of Nairobi but went on to play for clubs such as Nantes and Auxerre in France.
Football has also aided in social integration. Teams travel across the country for their matches in the process discovering cultures that they would otherwise not have encountered. While I was playing I was privileged to visit areas in my country that I would never have imagined. This provided me with a better understanding of my country’s people. I believe my teammates and the many others who travel both locally and internationally have the same experience. I remember visiting areas where children would stare at us in awe because we were ‘different’. It is with this that I can understand how certain social problems, such tribalism and nepotism, might have found there way into the Kenyan society – a lack of exposure. Football in Kenya has exposed many like me to their own country.
Technologically there is not much that can be said about the sport in Kenya as usually developments in this area come from the developed countries. The third platform comprising of mobile computing, social media, cloud computing and big data hold a lot of promise in this area. For example, social media has made it possible to follow live matches from practically anywhere around the globe. Recently around the world, we have also seen a push towards fan ownership of clubs, in order to preserve club heritage. Such initiatives can be supported through crowdfunding, a relatively new method of financing. Popular clubs like Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards could explore this kind technological innovation to support their activities while consolidating and growing their fan base.
Indeed football touches many if not all aspects of our society. This article, being a first, barely scratches the surface and it is my plan to delve deeper into the beautiful game in subsequent articles.
This post is dedicated to a good friend, a super teammate (Strathmore University FC) and a great fan of the game – Allan “Obama” Onyango or as some of us fondly referred to him, Babaa. Rest well Babaa.