Building a Sustainable Football Ecosystem in Africa

Toi Market

 

After almost ten years working as an Information Technology professional in Geneva, Brian Wesaala, a Kenyan football enthusiast in his 30s, returned to Nairobi to set up The Football Foundation for Africa. His goal: to promote the creation of a sustainable amateur football ecosystem for Africa.

“I never had the ambition to move to Europe. I was born in Kenya, where I grew up and studied. Like many football-loving teenagers, I dreamed of one day playing for my favourite club, AFC Leopards. During my professional accounting (ACCA) studies at Strathmore University, I realised that I would never be a professional footballer, even though I continued to play at a reasonably competitive level.

“After studying computer science at the University of Nairobi, I found a job at the African regional office of the World Scout Bureau in Nairobi. Ray Saunders, my supervisor, soon offered me a two-year contract at the NGO’s Swiss headquarters. It was never my intention to move abroad; the opportunity just presented itself. So, in the summer of 2009, I left my country, flying for the first time.

In Geneva, I immediately looked for a place to play football, and Ray Saunders directed me to the US Carouge, active in the 4th league. I quickly integrated, I loved my life in Switzerland, and I decided to extend my stay. To do this, I found work at the UN, the best option when you have an African passport in Geneva. Initially, I juggled contracts, but I was content with having a job and different training opportunities and contacts within various organisations. And I finally gained a fixed position in July 2015.

“Paradoxically, it was also at that time that I questioned my career in IT. At 30 years old, I was not entirely satisfied, both professionally and personally. I had to find a more rewarding activity. And I wanted to get closer to my lifelong passion, football.

FBA Graduation

Graduation Day with FBA CEO, Dorian Esterer.

“I started to learn a lot about this sport, its industry, and I even started a blog on the subject. As the Football Business Academy had just been created in Geneva, I decided to enrol for a professional master’s degree.

These studies confirmed an impression that had formed in the corner of my mind since my beginnings at the US Carouge: it would be extremely beneficial to set up in Kenya, and more generally in Africa, the playing infrastructure found all over Switzerland, especially at the amateur level.”

Starting from the base

“In January 2016, I took advantage of my vacation to organise my first tournament in Nairobi, the “Obama Cup”. I saw the enormous potential to strengthen football and bring it as close as possible to the population. In Africa, I find that we underestimate this sport’s social and economic importance in the community. We have invested a lot of resources in football on the continent, yet very few people can make a living in this environment. And that’s what I’d like to change by investing in education to explain how this industry works.

We must not just train a handful of players for the European market. We must also look at the majority who remain on the continent by creating a better environment. We don’t need luxurious infrastructure. We need simple, functional structures. This kind of ecosystem can be realised in Africa by offering investors a platform to inject resources at the base level, in addition to FIFA’s top-down system.

Little by little, the idea came to me to launch a structure to embody these ideas: The Football Foundation for Africa. I officially inaugurated this in 2018 during a tournament in Moroka Village, Botswana, to express my ambition to reach the whole continent. In 2019, I moved back to Nairobi to devote myself full time to this project.

“Building such a structure in Africa, on the fringes of powerful international federations, is not easy. At first, I had a hard time generating interest in Kenya. I even imagined basing the foundation in Geneva, close to FIFA, UEFA or the IOC. But in choosing Nairobi, I created a truly African organisation that can gain global recognition. Of course, I maintain a network and contacts in Geneva, which remains a strategic place to be present.

“On a personal level, the transition was also difficult: changing careers, leaving Geneva after ten years. When you explain that you are giving up a job at the UN to get into the world of football in Nairobi, you get little encouragement. I have also invested my savings in it, a challenging financial decision. However, I find fulfilment in doing what I love and having a purposeful career. And more and more people are telling me that this initiative has the potential to change the mindset that surrounds this sport.”

Obama Cup 2020

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This article was originally published in the Swiss newspaper Le Temps as part of series featuring Africans who have relocated back to the continent from Switzerland.

Feature Photo: Tobin Jones

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