Afcon 2023: ‘I came, saw, learnt and loved you; adieu, Abidjan!’

Jane Njeri Onyango. She served as vice president of the Confederation of African Football Disciplinary Panel at the just-concluded Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • Jane Njeri Onyango exemplifies the power of purposeful living.
  • She wears many hats and is no stranger to uncharted waters.
  • She has dared to dream and achieve what many, especially women, wouldn’t.

Jane Njeri Onyango exemplifies the power of purposeful living. She wears many hats and is no stranger to uncharted waters. She has dared to dream and achieve what many, especially women, wouldn’t.

As a history-maker, Njeri’s contributions on the gender equality journey can’t be naysaid. The storied alumna of the University of Nairobi has shattered glass ceilings over her distinguished 30-year legal career, breaking barriers as an advocate empowering athletes.

Her other roles attest to her passion for sports. She has defied gender stereotypes that limit women’s participation, especially in male sports.

Njeri is no doubt one of Kenya’s most influential women, given the key positions she has held. She recently served as vice president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) Disciplinary Panel at the just-concluded Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire.

Besides, she has chaired legal, constitutional and disciplinary committees in various sports federations. The consummate professional has gone beyond continental boundaries, having served in international disciplinary and legal tribunals such as the World Volleyball Federation and the World Swimming Federation.

Njeri Onyango (in red) with her law firm Njeri Onyango & Co Advocates’ football team at a Law Society of Kenya Seven aside tournament.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

In Kenya, she was a legal consultant for the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Culture and the Arts on the Kenya Anti-Doping Bill and Policy, which became the Kenya Anti-Doping Act, 2016. She has also acted as a legal consultant for the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya.

Njeri participated in constitution writing and reviews for Tennis Kenya and the Kenya Volleyball Federation. She is currently a board member of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and the Kenya Sports Disputes Tribunal.

The former Kenya international volleyball player is also a member of the Board of Directors at Kenya Commercial Bank. Her life journey motivates women to dream big.

During the recent Afcon, Njeri, whose legacy is one of breaking barriers, observed what went on in the West African country throughout her stay.

The lawyer takes us through her experience.

Afcon 2023 came to a close in Côte d’Ivoire last weekend and regulars billed it the “best Afcon ever.”

For me, a newbie, I have nothing to compare it to, so I will limit myself to what I have observed.

From arrival at the Felix-Houphouet-Boigny Airport, one was welcomed by friendly people, the large “Akwaba” (welcome) posters everywhere.

This was coupled with efficient visa processing for participants and transfers to places of accommodation.

This is regular, and perhaps one will say, expected. But then the true journey starts.

From the airport, there were clear signs of much effort expended on infrastructure improvement.

The roads to and out of the airport are spacious and welcoming. Signs of traffic build-up soon after were there, but nothing to kill for.

I had a chance to travel by road from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro, and it was impressive. A beautiful dual carriageway all the way, along tracks of fertile farmland.

The clincher for me, and big credit to Côte d’Ivoire, are the football facilities.

The country invested heavily in the stadia used for the championship. There are brand new facilities, in all the host cities, functional and spacious to allow for mass parking.

The stadium at Yamoussoukro has, in my estimation, at least 300 hectares around it, vacant and ready for development of other facilities with a well done road network around it.

In Abidjan, I took a jog around my hotel and came upon a team bus at a nearby school. So out of curiosity, I checked.

It was the Equatorial Guinea team at a training session in the grounds of that school. So I took a peek.

The school grounds had been so well upgraded that they served as training grounds for participating teams.

Upon inquiry, I established that a nearby university grounds had been similarly upgraded. The university grounds were, in fact, much better done. I was informed they held the first matches in September last year.

The condition is such that they can host national league matches. This position is replicated in other institutions across the country.

The net effect (legacy) is that the country now has a variety of grades of grounds that will clearly go into improving the standards of the game.

This speaks to clearly thought-out purposeful sports infrastructure developers. What a gift to a football-crazy country!

Traffic in Abidjan was crazy, especially on match days and worst on Fridays, prayer days for the Muslim community. It is also said many from the city travel to their countryside homes on Friday afternoon. So, the daily traffic build-up is doubled.

Great work has gone into the road network. With overpasses in many places, at least in the area from which I operated. Most roads are wide, dualled, and with good walkways.

However, the traffic situation was still a challenge. Imagine having to leave the hotel at 4pm or 5pm to make it for an 8pm match.

For the final, the bus left the hotel at 3pm (for the 8pm kick-off), under the escort of outriders. Yes, that early! The drivers are so familiar, especially the public service minibuses and the old yellow taxis.

The small taxis are new, though most of them are not well maintained. There is “Yango”, the cab-hailing app. I did not try this out, though.

But the euphoria, the sheer craze within the population (and fans from the participating countries) for the sport was refreshing.

The replica football jersey sellers for the orange and white Ivorian national jerseys must have made a killing. And they came in many varieties, making the streets and stadia huge flowers of deep orange and white.

Even at the hotel, the staff nicely wore their jerseys and other items, like shirts and jackets, in national colours.

It’s good the Ivorian team made it to the final—and won. Because the alternative would have robbed the championship of its euphoria. Security is an essential component of such a championship.

There was tight security at all levels. Huge presence of various arms of state security machinery was visible, especially at the stadia.

Cote d’Ivoire captain Max Gradel lifts the trophy as he celebrates with teammates after winning the Afcon 2023 on February 12, 2024. They were joined by President Alassane Ouattara and First Lady Dominique Claudine Ouattara.

Photo credit: Photo I Reuters

The downside was perhaps complaints from fans about ticketing, and at the start of the championship entry or access to the stadia had hitches.

On some occasions, fans would get in as late as 20 minutes after game start, but I guess such hiccups can be expected at events of such magnitude. And there was fair improvement on this over time.

The spirit of volunteerism was evident. There were plenty of volunteers. Morocco, the next hosts, did send in a good number of personnel as well.

It’s a good thing for the next host to have persons with a feel for organising and running the event.

Management and organisation of Afcon calls for high-level abilities. Côte d’Ivoire got it right on many aspects. Transportation of participants was at a high level, the sufficiency and quality of vehicles was top-notch.

Generally, the people of Côte d’Ivoire were friendly. Everybody everywhere greets you at a minimum. But, of course, French is the language, and they hardly speak English. Without some knowledge of French, you are in trouble.

An Ivory Coast's supporter ahead of the group A football match between Ivory Coast and Nigeria at the Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan, on January 18, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo I AFP

One would ask: nothing wrong in this country? Well, like most of our African cities, I noted the problem of garbage collection. There were piles of uncollected waste in many parts.

This is compounded by the liberal use of plastic bags, many kiosks and roadside tea vendors using disposable cups. The users liberally toss them off without care.

Even drinking water variously comes in plastic sachets.

The country is blessed with greenery and large trees, the waste from maintenance of these also adds to the waste. The result is a flow into the drainage, which then get clogged. Not news to our African cities.

There was a clear presence and involvement of the government in the championship, and the collaboration with the host federation was seamless.

On the field of play, the standards and quality of the teams were amazing. Twenty-four teams were involved , and a total of 52 matches were played. And the notion of “small teams” is now dead and buried.

Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Namibia and Cape Verde have all now joined the league of big boys; what a show! I loved the surprises, though betting pundits must have suffered greatly.

DR Congo players celebrate their goal during a match with Guinea at Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium, Abidjan, on February 2, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo I Reuters

The officiating of the matches has attracted positive comments the world over. The VAR (video assistant referee) was well in use.

In my view, the standards were high, a clear indication of efforts towards merit in selection of officials, and continued training and upgrading of match officials.

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) had in place a disciplinary panel as well as the Appeals Board.

I served as Vice-President of the Disciplinary Panel in Cote d’Ivoire.

Like at all championships, incidents will arise.

My first-time experience and feel is that for a championship of this magnitude, the incidents were not many, and none was out of the ordinary.


Caf has done a wonderful job setting up judicial boards with experienced persons representing the face of Africa.

The Caf Statutes and Disciplinary Code are in place and the Caf legal team is also in place to assist the panel that is also very experienced. Any dispute and incidents at the championship were expeditiously settled such as to allow the flow of the matches.

My take is that there is much need to educate fans on the stringent rules in regard to their conduct. Clubs and national federations need to put time and funds into crowd conduct education, and how spectator conduct can affect their respective club teams and national teams.

A number of teams suffered financial penalties due to fan misconduct from actions that do not add value to the enjoyment of the game or the team’s performance.

Invasion of the field of play, lighting flares and similar actions call for penalties. But what do they add to the sport?

As Kenya, with its Pamoja partners Uganda and Tanzania, starts its road towards Afcon 2027 that will be hosted by the three East African countries, attention should immediately go towards facilities preparation.

I have no doubt in my mind, and experience tells me, Kenya has high level organisation and management capacity, good hotels to accommodate all levels of participants, and reasonable level of connectivity.

The clincher will be the upgrade of the facilities for the matches and public transportation, training of volunteers and other personnel. Of course, a huge amount of funding will be needed.

As we bid adieu to Abidjan, we, in the Pamoja fraternity, tell Africa: “Karibu 2027!”