An unlikely form of foreign aid to Côte d’Ivoire is on the rise: donated sports stadiums from China. However, these gifts do not come free.
Côte d’Ivoire’s Olympic-Sized Gift From China
In an act of foreign aid to Côte d’Ivoire, China gifted a massive 130 million euro stadium in Ebimpé. Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara boasts an impressive 60,000 person capacity. It is the biggest stadium in Côte d’Ivoire and the ninth-largest in all of Africa. The new Olympic level venue will host the African Cup of Nations finals in 2023, a major soccer tournament.
For decades, China donated massive new sports stadiums to numerous African countries in an act of goodwill and self-interest. Stadium diplomacy, the term for this new political strategy, offers China and the other country a unique deal. The receiving nation sees a boost to its economy through the revenue these stadiums generate. Additionally, China gets numerous benefits in return.
In the last 50 years, China constructed more than 100 sports stadiums all over the continent of Africa. This guaranteed itself access to natural resources, privileged trading contracts, strengthened relations, access to political leaders and supporters in the United Nations. China is now the biggest trading partner of all of Africa. Stadium diplomacy falls under the category of soft power, a type of diplomacy that uses attraction, negotiation and cooperation rather than force.
How Can Stadiums Fight Poverty?
While Côte d’Ivoire boasts one of West Africa’s most robust economies, 39.4% of its population still lives in poverty. Furthermore, the economy experienced a recent downturn since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The services and manufacturing sectors, both involved in constructing and running a stadium, are among those people expected to bring the nation’s economy back on track.
The stadium will bring an influx of people and infrastructure to the region. It will also bolster the economy, fueling the service and manufacturing sectors and provide jobs, all as a result of foreign aid to Côte d’Ivoire. Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara will also help develop the nearby Anyama region, which is building its first metro line in preparation for the crowd.
Criticism of the Stadiums
However, stadium diplomacy has its critics, with many Africans desiring more direct help. While Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara praised the stadium as “one of the most beautiful things our country has accomplished in the field of sports,” other nations have expressed concern and even anger.
Gabon, a nation that lies along the western coast of Central Africa, faced a major backlash among its citizens for participating in stadium diplomacy. Engong Stadium, located in Oyem, had a quick and dramatic turnaround from construction to abandonment. The lavish complex sports has three basketball courts, a tennis court and an international standard track-and-field. However, it is now empty and unused. Locals were angry about what they saw as a misuse of resources and money. “We cannot eat your stadiums” they chanted, adorned in combat uniforms. At the same time, groups stormed the overgrown field and burned down the presidential box.
Whether Côte d’Ivoire’s new stadium will turn its economy around will become more clear in the future. However, one thing is certain: stadium diplomacy in Côte d’Ivoire offers an extremely innovative and very plausible way to alleviate regional poverty.
– Caroline Bersch