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Africa welcomed home
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 06 - 2019

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, due to open in Cairo on Friday and to last until 19 July, is going to be Egypt's gift to the African continent that it belongs to, and to football fans all over the world. Thousands of African nationals are expected to be warmly welcomed in various Egyptian cities hosting the tournament, especially after the Africa Cup of Nations was expanded, for the first time, from 16 to 24 teams.
The preparations to host the tournament were achieved in record time, considering that Egypt volunteered to save the international, widely watched football competition only a few months ago after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) decided that Cameroon would not be able to meet the deadlines agreed as the original host.
As the current chair of the African Union (AU), and to confirm its belonging to the African continent, Egypt's government quickly offered to welcome the African championship, considering that it already has the infrastructure needed to host the tournament in terms of stadiums, airports, hotels and other facilities.
Being the host of the Africa Cup for Nations for the fifth time since the championship first started with three teams only in 1957 (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) clearly reflects Egypt's keenness to affirm its belonging to Africa. The fact that this is the first time that Egypt hosts this major African event since 2006 also comes after more than five years of intense efforts by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to rebuild Egypt's ties with Africa on many fronts — political, economic, social, and indeed sports.
Egyptian foreign policy gives much attention to the African continent, both to serve its own interests, being a Nile Basin country along with nine other African nations, and those of the African continent. The so-called “African circle” was among the main political circles in the mindset of the architects of the July 1952 revolution in Egypt, along with the Arab, Islamic and Mediterranean “circles”.
Soon after President Al-Sisi took office in June 2014, his first foreign visit was to Ethiopia, where he addressed the Ethiopian parliament to confirm Egypt's desire to resolve any differences over the ambitious project to build the “Resurrection Dam” through direct talks that would reflect brotherly historic and strategic ties with Addis Ababa. The fact that an Egyptian president visited Ethiopia was in itself a signal that Egypt opened a new chapter with Africa, considering that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak stopped visiting Addis Ababa after narrowly escaping an assassination attempt there in 1995, and he did not attend African summits.
Al-Sisi's open and sincere desire to reintegrate Egypt into Africa was among the main factors that allowed ending the brief suspension of Egypt's membership in the AU after the dramatic events Egypt witnessed in June 2013, with the people's uprising against the failed rule of the Muslim Brotherhood group. Most African countries understood the dilemma Egypt faced, and that it could not compromise the future of its people to terrorist organisations, or groups whose goal is to build a religious dictatorship, dividing the country and its people.
Soon after new elections were held, and Al-Sisi becoming president, Egypt's presence in the African continent was quickly seen and felt. The Egyptian president attended all African summits and meetings, and even carried out an unprecedented visit a few months ago to three Western African nations while on his way to Washington. Cairo and Aswan also hosted several African meetings not only aimed at officials and government figures, but towards African women, youth and the business community.
The current Egyptian president and government are fully convinced that the African continent has a lot of potential, and that its countries should take the lead in serving their own interests, instead of waiting for foreign aid to come in. By building new ports and a long highway linking Cairo to Cape Town, for example, together with trade agreements that provide customs exemptions, inter-African trade will increase, benefiting African countries and creating jobs.
African brains can develop small and medium enterprises that meet the needs of local communities and open new opportunities for Africans. AU leaders should not submerge their meetings with talking politics, but should concentrate on how to encourage investment in their own countries by fellow African nations, making use of proximity, understanding the needs of local markets and the availability of raw materials at relatively cheap prices.
It will remain absurd that African agricultural and industrial products go to Europe and the United States as raw materials, only to return to the continent as manufactured products that cost many times more, while inter-African investment can create many local industries that serve local communities by creating jobs and providing cheaper goods.
However, the best and most exciting part about hosting the coming Africa Cup of Nations in Cairo is that it is wonderful opportunity for people-to-people interactions. Cairo will warmly welcome fellow Africans from 24 countries, making them feel at home and assuring that they will leave with happy memories. More than 100 million Egyptians will also be looking to Egypt winning an eighth Africa Cup of Nations title, setting an unprecedented record in the history of the African championship.

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