With next year’s presidential elections on the horizon, Senegal is gripped by political and economic unrest. The recent killing of a student by a police officer during university protests over unpaid bursaries is just one tragic indicator of the upheaval, discontent and uncertainty which characterises the current climate.
Amid the turmoil, the Senegalese football team’s forthcoming participation at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia presents a beacon of hope. Street vendors have begun to sell replica shirts in the national team’s white and green, and a mood of cautious optimism is unfolding.
In a country where the passion for sport is ubiquitous, a successful performance by the Lions de la Teranga at the world’s most prestigious tournament has the potential to bring momentary joy to a beleaguered population. This is precisely what happened during Senegal’s previous, and to date only, appearance at the World Cup finals in 2002.
Entering the tournament as rank outsiders, a team of relative unknowns proceeded to sensationally beat the reigning champions and overwhelming favourites France in the opening match. They then managed to advance to the quarter finals – as one of only three African teams to do so in the history of the competition.
Many of the stars of the 2002 generation went on to become household names in European club football. The likes of El Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Papa Bouba Diop forged successful careers in England. The events of 2002 – and in particular the hugely symbolic victory over their former colonisers – announced Senegal’s arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the global game.
Wrestling has overtaken football
However, over the next decade and a half, Senegalese football stagnated somewhat. The national team failed to qualify for any of the subsequent three World Cups, and their performance at the African Cup of Nations was largely dismal.
Meanwhile, there is widespread agreement that the hugely popular sport of traditional wrestling has overtaken football as the nation’s favoured pastime. Combats between wrestling superstars sell out vast arenas and saturate the media. The Génération 2002, as they would enter into lore, became a mythical emblem of past glories rather than the beginning of a new era of dominance.
It is only now, after several false starts, that the team – coached by the 2002 captain Aliou Cissé – promise to recapture the glory of that famous outing in Japan and Korea. In contrast to the 2002 squad, most of whom played for lesser teams in the French championship, the current crop are far from unknown.
Led by the mercurial talents of Liverpool winger Sadio Mané, the 2018 Lions boast a wealth of elite players from Europe’s leading football clubs. Kalidou Koulibaly of SSC Napoli is one of the game’s most in-demand defenders and Keita Baldé Diao is a star of the future at AS Monaco.
Midfielders Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Badou Ndiaye are all established at English Premier League clubs. There is a genuine sense that this team can achieve something special at the World Cup, perhaps even emulating their illustrious predecessors.
Opiate of the masses
It’s often suggested, misquoting Karl Marx, that sport (and football in particular) has replaced religion as the “opiate of the masses”. It provides illusory moments of happiness while distracting from problems or hardships. Indeed, it is often proposed that sporting success can be translated into political capital, allowing a regime to appear in a positive light, or glossing over its failings.
Following this logic, it is indeed possible that a successful World Cup in Russia might be welcomed by the incumbent president Macky Sall, currently facing much opposition in his bid for reelection. Seen from a different angle, however, sports can also expose a society’s fissures and tensions.
When Cissé announced the 23 players who would form the squad in Russia, he was not only listing the names of the elite athletes who would represent the country – he was revealing much about the relationship between football and Senegalese society.
It is striking to note, for instance, that not one single member of the squad plays his club football in Senegal. Among the 32 nations participating at this year’s tournament, only Sweden are in the same position of having their entire squad playing abroad.
The squads of the other African qualifiers – Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia – each include at least some players from their respective domestic leagues. Certainly, this points towards the relative weakness of the Senegalese league. It is chronically underfunded, does not usually attract large numbers of supporters and pays low wages.
Football conveyor belts
A flourishing domestic championship does not appear to be the primary aim of professional football in Senegal. It is perhaps no coincidence that two of the more successful teams in recent years have been the 2013 champions Diambars, and Génération Foot, victorious in 2017.
These clubs, set up with external assistance from sportswear giant Adidas and French club, FC Metz respectively, are academies dedicated to producing a conveyor belt of footballing talent for export to European leagues, while also pursuing educational and developmental goals.
Cissé’s selection includes a combined total of seven players who moved to Europe from these two academies, including the superstar Mané. With the increasing globalisation of football, the development and sale of talent has emerged as a lucrative industry – albeit one which has yet to contribute significantly to the development of Senegalese football at a domestic level.
Instead, there has been a proliferation of football schools and academies determined to cash in on the boom. With it, a wave of young men desperate to forge careers in European football.
While conducting a year’s fieldwork on sport aspirations in Dakar, I met countless young men who professed dreams of playing in Europe. In some cases, their families were counting on their success to lift them out of poverty, and enlisted the support of dubious agents to engineer trials and transfers. These often turned out to be scams.
This is a common story in African football – yet it reflects the economic situation within which the sport is embedded. Youth unemployment is at consistently high levels and irregular work in the informal economy often the only realistic prospect. Therefore becoming a well-paid footballer or a wrestler can seem like a worthwhile pursuit to thousands of young Senegalese men.
Many Senegalese migrate to Europe – by acquiring a visa, or by risky Mediterranean crossings. Indeed, Senegal’s long history of migration is reflected in the World Cup squad, with 10 squad members having been born in Europe, mostly in France.
Football, then, can be viewed as a prism through which to understand social phenomena. In the case of Senegal, even the announcement of the World Cup squad allows us to reflect about historical migration patterns, youth unemployment, and risks and inequalities in the global sports industries.
However, football can also bring about cohesion and togetherness. When the Lions de la Teranga face Poland in their first match in Russia, the whole Senegalese nation will be united in roaring them on to victory – and perhaps the beginning of another magical World Cup.
This article is based on research conducted as part of the GLOBALSPORT project based at the University of Amsterdam and funded by the European Research Council.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit, to be held in Beijing in September, will focus on five goals, a senior Chinese official said.
Dai Bing, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Department of African Affairs, said the summit will seek to take the time-honored friendship between China and Africa to a higher level.
It will strengthen the strategic consensus between the two sides to maintain their friendship, consolidate the political foundation for their unity and cooperation, and inject a strong impetus into the development of the bilateral ties in the new era.
The event will also chart the course for developing future relations. To build a stronger community of shared future between China and African countries and achieve win-win cooperation and common development, it will aim to synergize the Belt and Road Initiative, the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union's Agenda 2063, and the development strategies of individual African countries.
It will seek to enhance national and global support and understanding of China-Africa friendship and cooperation, and to encourage the international society to see the development of China-Africa relations from a more objective and just perspective.
The summit's goals also include promoting economic and trade cooperation, taking longer-term benefits into account as well.
More targeted and effective measures are expected to align Africa's natural resources, population dividends and market potential with China's investment, equipment and technology, so that their cooperation will be market-oriented instead of government-led, expand to production capacity from commodity trading, and with more investments than contracted projects.
The leaders are also expected to discuss a coordinated and balanced development of China-Africa cooperation. To further build the China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership, the two sides will seek greater headway in existing areas such as infrastructure, trade, financing, health and human resources development. They will also seek new growth points in fields ranging from poverty reduction, living standards improvement and people-to-people exchanges, to peace and security and environmental protection.
More than a dozen sub-forums and events on the sidelines of the summit will address topics concerning the youth, local and non-governmental efforts, think tanks, media outlets, as well as cooperation in defense security and health.
The summit will promote South-South cooperation, seeking new cooperation between developing countries and securing stronger international support for their efforts.
Domestic and cross-border Initial Public Offering (IPO) capital raising by African issuers in H1 2018 increased by 33% year-on-year to USD 396 million, while volume grew by 25% to 5 IPOs. This is according to Baker McKenzie’s Cross-Border Index for H1, released on Friday.
However, the Index also shows that when compared to the same period in previous years, IPO activity in H1 2018 is low: compared with H1 2016, capital raising is lower by 35%; compared with H1 2015 and H1 2014, value is down by around 70%.
Wildu du Plessis, Head of the Capital Markets Group at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg says that during the first half of 2018, the largest IPO deal in Africa was Libstar Holding Ltd's launch on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), raising USD 243.8 million in early May 2018.
“And one of the most anticipated IPOs in the region is MTN Group's Ghana offering, which could raise as much as USD 500 million when it closes by 31 July 2018,” he notes.
Du Plessis, notes that this year, one of most talked about IPOs, dual listed on the London Stock Exchange and the JSE, was Vivo Energy's floatation, which raised over USD 740 million in May. This was the largest listing of an Africa-focused business since 2005.
“We have noted an increase in enquiries from our clients around listings and IPOS on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, as well as interest in listing in other jurisdictions in Africa. Cross border capital raising is seen as a good way for investors to raise money in Africa.
“In South Africa, the mood has been mostly positive since Cyril Ramaphosa took over as president in February. He is seen as business friendly and we are hoping that urgent issues regarding policy and regulatory uncertainty will be addressed soon. Recent negative economic news regarding first quarter contractions notwithstanding, South Africa is regarded as a very desirable destination for capital raising.
Du Plessis, who is also the Head of Africa at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, notes further that a number of African companies are planning to list in the near future.
“It looks like the coming years could be the best for capital raising in Africa since the global financial crisis,” he says.
He says that Lagos, Nigeria, in particular has been identified as a must watch market for 2018.
“More companies are lining up to list on the Lagos stock exchange, kick starting Nigeria’s IPO market after a long drought,” he explains
Sources familiar with the matter said two companies – Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) and Nigerian Reinsurance Corporation – were preparing for initial public offerings this year, while Singapore-owned Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Ltd planned a public float in Lagos next year.
“IPOs dried up in Nigeria after a 2008 crash, aggravated by the global financial crisis, wiped more than 60 percent off the stock market’s capitalization. The benchmark share index has since recovered, gaining 42 percent last year but IPOs have yet to resume, apart from oil company Seplat’s dual listing in Lagos and London in 2014,” du Plessis says.
“In general, investors are beginning to delve deeper into African markets than they have before, they are making sure they know and understand each specific target market. They are looking at a target country’s approach to governance and corruption; is there rule of law? They look at the GDP and how that impacts on population growth and economic growth and the interplay between them. They look at policy and regulation, location, infrastructure and pricing. They are aware that no two countries are the same in Africa, that each market is unique and that they have to be nimble and adaptable in their approach,” he adds.
Global IPO activity
Globally, political concerns and market volatility have dampened the IPO market in the first half of 2018, mainly as a result of lower capital raising in Asia Pacific and EMEA. A total of 676 listings have taken place so far in H1 2018, down 19% on the comparable period last year. The value of listings has also fallen 15% to USD 90 billion.
Worries around geopolitics – in particular US President Trump’s protectionist policies, as well as a lack of progress around Brexit negotiations and prolonged political uncertainty in Italy – weighed on investors’ minds and dented the headline numbers. Market volatility peaked early in the year to levels not seen in 2017, adding to the challenge of finding the right time to launch an IPO.
However, cross-border IPOs significantly outperformed. A surge in capital-raising in North America's deep capital markets led the charge, with foreign issuers seemingly perfectly happy to list in the US despite protectionist rhetoric and just under half of the billion-dollar IPOs successfully launched in the US.
Issuers raised more than USD 16.6 billion, an increase of around 15% on the same time last year. The number of cross-border deals also climbed, up 18% to 85, with three of the top ten cross-border IPOs debuting on North America exchanges. While the US proved attractive to 13 Chinese cross-border issuers, Hong Kong continues to be favoured with 18 deals. This resulted in Baker McKenzie's Cross-border Index value rising to 17.4 from 13.2 in H1 2017, just below the highest recorded of 18.7 in H1 2014.
"While domestic issuers are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach in light of various political issues, fears over globalisation going backwards and economic nationalism haven't reached the cross-border market," said Koen Vanhaerents, global head of capital markets at Baker McKenzie. "To see cross-border activity going up shows a good degree of health in global equity markets, despite quieter domestic markets."
The dip in Asia Pacific and EMEA is slightly offset by stronger cross-border capital raising in North America and higher domestic listings in Latin America. EMEA lost top spot for billion-dollar listings to North America, with only two recorded in the first half of the year. However, markets in EMEA remain active and the volume of cross-border deals remains consistent.
The number of withdrawn IPOs in the first half of the year also more than halved to 11 compared to 23 in H1 2017 as potential issuers and their advisers have become more skilled in navigating uncertainty.
Dealmakers will however be hoping for a less turbulent second half to get more deals away, as economic fundamentals remain reasonably strong with a decline in the global economy not forecast to impact until 2020.