East Africa's most successful football club, judged by continental honours is Kenya's Gor Mahia Football Club (Winners of Africa Cup Winners Nelson Mandela Cup 1987) while the region's most successful national team must surely be the Cranes of Uganda. The Cranes have come closest to winning a continental title coming second best in the Africa Cup of Nations in 1978.
Simba & Yanga despite their massive following, have yet to win a continental diadem, sadly so. Yet East Africa rules the roost in the World, ironically not in football, but athletics where the Rift Valley brigade from the legendary Kipchoge Keino set the standards in late 1960s, a trail that subsequent young men and women have blazed with flying colours.
And these heights were reached by two Tanzanians, Suleiman Nyambui and Filbert Bayi. Athletics is much an individual sport. With a population of 150m, East Africa remains just that, high potential when it comes to ruling the roost in football because of one major failing-leadership.
The potential of East Africa producing the future Messi of the footballing World cannot be underated considering that we already have players in the Major League Soccer in the US, Canada, the Scottish Premier League, La Liga, French Ligue One and the Belgian Leagues among others.
The unfortunate bit is that all the players from East Africa who have managed to get to the major leagues of the World have done so by their own personal initiative, effort and sacrifice. Our TFF (TZ), FFK (Kenya), FUFA (UG)'s have largely been waiting to issue what is called an international transfer certificate no objection letter. Just imagine if Simba, Yanga, KMKM and Azam were all to have Under 23, Under-17 and Junior development sides, with stadia, staff, coaches, medics and cooks.
Around the country the sport would generate two million jobs. The trouble has always been that these secretariats are dominated by politics of Kumalizana (finishing off each other). Every four years or five they hold elections but the campaign never ends. It is very much like our politics. The guys on the outside keep pissing on the inside enough to cause a bad smell that keeps away the sponsors. And football needs the money.
The guys on the inside consider their options and decide to spend every living hour plotting how to misallocate (need I say politely, dip their fingers into the till) Fifa development funds within the timelines such that when they get kicked out, bank accounts shall be empty and there shall be no single youth project, office, store with kit, data bank and library, schools programme, development project or even a revolving fund of some sort on going.
Now sport and football in particular is today big business around the World except in East Africa with a little exception for Rwanda. Footballers like Samuel Eto'o attract in the region of Euro 300,000 (660m/-) per week in personal emoluments, to play the beautiful game. With these kind of salaries, TV endorsements, sponsorships, appearance and match fees, broadcast rights, agencies, marketing and sports equipment sales, my, this is a business empire waiting to explode.
With the sort of potential and a youth population of over 65% of East Africa's population being youth under 25, is it not time Governments in East Africa with overt participation of the Federations pursued a deliberate policy of sports development that would provide direct employment to an estimated 15% of the eligible youth? It is amazing that we have not seen the need to do this considering the problems of unemployment that are threatening to balloon into a crisis that is facing our region today.
The investment will well be worth it considering the numbers. The basic framework exists but policy and financing has been a missing critical plank to this poverty alleviation measure. To see the Chinese training Tanzanian acrobats is like to export jobs to China.
Africa and the World will from next week (January 21) be focused on the Africa Club Championships being played in Gabon and Guinea Bissau, East Africans, however, shall be paying bar owners to watch this show-case minus us plus teams like Libya among others exhibit their talent while our Mrisho Ngassas will once again be watching from some bar in Kinondoni! Yet we claim to be the haven of peace.
Libya qualified amidst war. Uganda was at war in 1978 when they were near champions. May be we need a small war around here to qualify. Journalist Nicholas Musonye has done well at the CECAFA secretariat. Another Journalist Angetile Osiah is finishing year one as General Secretary of TFF. These are the former critiques of the business as usual management styles of these secretariats.
They know the failings and it must hurt to see a whole region waiting to cheer our nearest qualifier Zambia's Chipolopolo in this year's Africa Cup of Nations. This is a wake up call to grab the bull by the horns and get East African Youths the support structures they need to become Pele, Fuscas, Maradona, Platini even Messi. But it will only be done, if we stop doing business as usual.
This column also appears on http//itineranteastafrican.blogspot.com. Oyoo.firstname.lastname@example.org