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In anticipation of the Africa Cup of Nations starting soon, the spotlight turns to the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, where the opening match between Guinea Bissau and hosts Ivory Coast will unfold. The state-of-the-art venue is one of six stadiums commissioned for the tournament, and its construction, initiated in 2016, had notable Chinese involvement.

Designed by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and constructed by the Beijing Construction Engineering Group, both Chinese state entities, the Alassane Ouattara Stadium exemplifies China’s long-term strategy of “stadium diplomacy” across Africa. As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has consistently gifted stadiums to African nations or financed their construction through affordable loans.

This diplomatic approach extends beyond Ivory Coast, with China’s involvement in building tournament venues in other African nations such as Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, and Cameroon. The motive, officially presented as mutually beneficial, has raised questions about the economic and political consequences for recipient nations in terms of control and exploitation.

China’s investment in Ivory Coast, reaching $1.5 billion by 2020, has resulted in a substantial increase in exports, primarily of crude petroleum and manganese, from $100 million in 2016 to $700 million. While recipient nations enjoy new sports infrastructure, investment, and export deals, concerns persist about potential imbalances and exploitation.

Notably, Saudi Arabia has entered the arena of football diplomacy, seeking to position itself as an “Afro-Eurasian” hub for international football. With ambitious plans and significant investments, Saudi Arabia aims to compete with China in leveraging football as a tool for economic and diplomatic influence.

As Saudi Arabia emerges as a significant sponsor of the African Football League and collaborates with the Mauritanian Football Association, it introduces a new player in the football diplomacy landscape. The competition for influence in Africa becomes evident, with wealthy nations like Qatar also establishing templates for engagement, underscoring the increasing importance of Africa in global geopolitics. The Africa Cup of Nations, with its diplomatic implications, stands as a testament to the strategic interests and investments of powerful nations vying for influence across the continent.

Categories: ChinAfrica

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