The African Nations Cup  AFCON2024 tournament in Cote D’Ivoire is already billed as one of the best ever, and it’s just in the round of 16 with more matches to play.

The storylines from #AFCON2024 have been diverse; Cinderella stories, fall of the mighty, unexpected comebacks, dismissal of coaches, and many others. What is untold from AFCON2024 is the story of excellence, opportunity, and motivation driven by deliberate transformational leadership. The adage we are what we repeatedly do, excellence then becomes a habit rather than an act that holds true for many of the countries in the AFCON tournament.

Excellence breeds excellence that trickles down to all levels and disciplines of any given society. Mediocrity has the opposite effect in a given society yielding retrogression, despair, and failed states.

Senegal: epitomizes excellence breeds excellence that trickles down across all sectors of society. Senegalese excellence transcends the game of football into science, medicine, arts and culture, and governance. Senegal has the highest number of Veterinarians in the continent and is one of few countries with a GMP facility for vaccine production in the continent.

Cabo Verde,; a small tiny resource-constrained island in West Africa has displayed what opportunity, motivation, excellence along deliberate transformational leadership can produce in any given society. Cabo Verde’s excellence also goes beyond football to its universities, science, music, innovation, and democratic progress. The Cabo Verde excellence is matched by a Cabo Verde spirit that embodies the Amilcar Cabral ideals and cultural philosophy.

Cabo Verde, Gambia, Mauritania, and Guinea Bissau were football underdogs to Sierra Leone in Zone 2 (Amilcar Cabral) tournaments in the 80’s. Why have they progressed so much in the last 30 years than Sierra Leone? What happened to Sierra Leonean excellence in the last 30 years?

Let us examine the cases of Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea for some answers and parallels. Gambia, up until recent years relied on Sierra Leone for its university education. A small tiny country, resource constrained with only peanut and tourism as its major economic goods. Gambia’s journey of excellence has started from an unlikely source President Yayah Jammeh, and can now boast of a top-notch university, researchers, and excellence. Mauritania and Guinea Bissau; have also overcome deep structural and political challenges through leadership and governance to produce excellence, opportunity, and motivation. Guinea Bissau, once dubbed a narco-state has made huge strides in its political economy, while Mauritania has overcome environmental strife (drought and desert conditions), Islamic militancy, and political violence to create opportunity and excellence through good leadership.

Let us take the case of Equatorial Guinea; a country with tremendous oil wealth that wasn’t realized by the average Equatorial Guinean. That in the past led many Equatorial Guineans to seek odd jobs in countries like Gabon and Spain. Deep structural changes and reforms in Equatorial Guinea are now producing a lot of opportunities and motivation for Equatorial Guineans. Hence, many are now choosing to return to Equatorial Guinea, which invariably deepens competition locally, that produces excellence.

As in Senegal, Mali and Guinea represent two countries with deep historical legacies of excellence that were not sustained. Sekou Toure of Guinea and Modibo Keita of Mali, two of the founding fathers of African Panafricanism built a sense of patriotism, cultural empowerment, self-reliance, and authenticity among their people. Remember Sekou Toure’s authenticity in Guinea produced Bembeya Jazz, one of the best bands, if not the best band that has grazed our planet. Guinea and Mali are yet to live up to their full potential as great nations; their path towards regaining excellence has been hampered by leadership deficits, that Mamadu Doumbuya (Guinea) and Assimi Goita (Mali) are looking to correct with a strong sense of Panafricanism.

Angola, Namibia, South Africa; represent the southern axis of excellence, while Morocco and Egypt; are the Maghreb countries with well developed technical excellence. Namibia and South Africa, known for cricket and rugby are beginning to catch up with the rest of the continent. These countries in the south and north have well-developed infrastructure and opportunities that could see them go further in football.

So in essence, what #AFCON2024 exemplifies is that transformational leadership provides the opportunity and environment for excellence to thrive in society. What Senegal, Cabo Verde, and others are showing is that excellence has to be holistic and integrated across sectors for their synergy. When there is a culture of excellence in a society, everyone feels it, breathes it and is motivated towards greater heights by it, leading to social advancement. *When mediocrity is normalized in a society, it breeds division, a false sense of success, chaos, and despair, and advances structural violence, which ultimately results in state failure