Category Archives: Africa

A Piece of Our Journey in Sports & Peacebuilding

The Georgetown University and Generations For Peace Summer Research Fellows have all returned to DC after three months in the field. As we begin to digest our research and experiences, we wanted to share a piece of our journey with you.

What was the most surprising thing you found?

From Amanda Munroe: 

Connection! I was surprised (and encouraged!) to find out how well the organizations and the academics I was interviewing were connected to one another. Whether it is because the field of sport and peacebuilding is relatively small or because the community is so supportive and open to sharing information, a real, effective, and supportive network for information and practice sharing exists – at least within Germany and to the extent that I experienced it, also within the EU.

From Sarah Moran:

Sport and development is a huge field in South Africa – everybody has a friend that is involved in the field of, either directly or indirectly. Whether in casual conversation or in official interviews, I would leave with more people to contact or organizations to “check out” than I ever imagined. In the Western Cape of South Africa alone, I counted over 50 organizations that were directly or indirectly using sport for development ends – and that was not including government initiatives. (This is not necessarily a good indicator – it is, insofar as it is exciting that people have begun to recognize the power of sport as a facilitator of positive social change; it is worrying because I fear that sport and development is a fad that will fatigue or be diluted by overexposure.)

 From Meeghan Zahorsky:

DIVERSITY – The diversity of programs even within the same umbrella organization was unexpected. PeacePlayers International (PPI) in Belfast was distinctly different from PPI in Israel or Cyprus. Generations For Peace pioneers, delegates and trainees from Lebanon and Palestine had a broad diversity of interests, backgrounds and outcomes with the programs they implemented. This was a powerful reminder of the importance of being context-sensitive and showed the ultimate range of sports as a peacebuilding tool.

 The most important thing? 


Consciousness. To think long and hard about your program’s aim, its location, and theory of change. To realize that investment in peace is a long-term process that requires participation on macro, meso, and micro levels. To know that dealing with conflict requires talking about things others may wish to ignore. And that your job as a coach is to encourage that consciousness – by modeling it yourself and asking it of your players. 


The most important lesson I learned is to retain the integrity of “sport” in “sport and peacebuilding” lest it lose its relevance or efficacy. Sport doesn’t have to be the most important thing in a program, but nor can it be the least. Compromising sport – or believing that sport is all you need to run a successful program – is dangerous. A lot of organizations seem to believe that by including “sport” in their titles (or “soccer”, more commonly) they will attract participants, coaches and donors more easily. In actuality, including sport superficially in your program is not a sustainable solution, nor is it goo for the field.


PEOPLE – At every research site I visited, it was individuals who inspired, motivated and determined the success of the sports and peace program. The successful leaders and/or coaches had the right blend of local respect, passion for the game, compassion for the community, energy, and determination. They had some sort of intangible quality that made them the fuel for the program’s mission, and without them, there is no such thing as sports and peacebuilding.

The most inspiring moment?


Hearing stories. It was fun to watch kids enjoy sport and play, but inspiring to hear their stories — about how they grew up within the organization (s), or the personal account of one kid becoming more self-confident, self-aware, and aware of others. It was inspiring to converse with practitioners, to learn what led them to the work that they do and to hear them share humbly of their investment in and knowledge of the local community.


Generally, I was inspired to see how much can be done with so little. I visited an organization that was running soccer camps for girls and boys ages 6-16 in Khayelitsha, one of the most populated and impoverished townships outside of Cape Town. For the entire duration of my visit, the kids used a soccer ball only once – their resources were limited and there were not enough balls to go around. Instead, the coaches came up with teambuilding games and lessons that did not require equipment.


LOVE OF THE GAME – I had the opportunity to watch and join in a PPI leadership development session and basketball practice for a group of Palestinian girls. They were the first generation of female athletes in their communities, and they were exceptional. Their heart, their hustle, their teamwork, was what I had always aspired to as a young athlete. Having the chance to play with them (and believe me, they made me sweat), made me realize how familiar the game was, even thousands of miles from my home gym, even speaking a different language.

What would you recommend for someone interested in sports and peacebuilding?


Focus. If you are interested in using sport as a tool for peace, think about what you want to do and where you want to do it. It’s important to decide how important sport is for you – is your goal to raise interest for a sport, to encourage peace through sport, to increase health through physical fitness or to increase skill in a certain sport? How connected are you within the community where you are practicing, and what is your vision for your program’s role within that community? Keep focus on your goal. A precise understanding of what you are doing will help you decide how to do it, where to do it, with whom you’ll do it and how you’ll fund it.


To think long and hard about what inspires you about sport and how that can be translated effectively into either a development or peacebuilding goal. It’s not automatic, nor is it always appropriate – I saw many examples of sport used badly to promote reconciliation, peacebuilding, and/or development.


INTENTION AND CONTEXT – During Dr. Sarah Hillyer’s course on Sports & Peacebuilding at Georgetown, she repeatedly reminded us of the importance of intentionality in using sport. Sport, after all is not a solution in itself, but a tool. It can be a powerful tool at that, but when we set out to use it, we should have clear intentions and an understanding that it needs to fit organically into the context. Also, connect with others who know the field and know the context. The more we can collaborate in this field, the greater the impact we will have.

As the summer draws to a close, we want to thank everyone who has supported this research, read and commented on our blog, participated in our discussion, challenged us to think differently, and participated in our field research. We want to extend a special thanks to Generations For Peace for their support, Professors Craig Zelizer and Sarah Hillyer for their guidance and encouragement throughout this journey.

For more information on Generations For Peace visit

For Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program visit


Oh the places we will go!


I had the most remarkable encounter last week at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Their Interdisciplinary Centre of Excellence for Sport Science and Development (a mouthful, but worth every syllable!) was hosting a two-day leadership conference for young women who were leaders and sportswomen. I was graciously invited to attend as an observer by Dr. Marion Keim, director of the Centre. Dr. Keim is an important partner in the Western Cape Sport for Development Network which includes leaders of 41 NGOs and community initiatives from around the greater Cape Town area and beyond. Young women from these organizations were invited to UWC to take part in two days of lectures, trainings, workshops and a soccer tournament during their school holidays. I couldn’t say for sure, but it seemed that nearly 300 young girls participated in the days’ events.

A bit of background, before I continue. When I first moved to Cape Town in 2007, I coached soccer and basketball at the American International School where I taught. Through my involvement with the sports programs there, I began to meet coaches from throughout the city, one of whom also coached a women’s club team in the Landsdowne community quite close to my house. When he found out that I played soccer, he invited me to try out for his development team.

The club was FC Santos, known as “the people’s team”, member of the Premier Soccer League and a middleweight contender for major national tournaments. On the men’s side, at least, FC Santos had a well integrated and hierarchical development program that drew from boys and young men from the age of 6+ to play club soccer. Every age group had at least one if not two teams, and multiple coaches devoted to the players’ technical development. Their under-18 and under-20 teams would often travel overseas or to different parts of the country for clinics. Again, it was only the men’s side that had that structure.

The women’s side was very different. Though Santos was consistently at the top of the log in terms of national play, they really only had two teams: a development team, or second-tier team, on which young women with potential and older women too old to play professionally were mashed together and competed in local leagues; and the elite side, sponsored by SASOL, which was a feeder team for Banyana Banyana. Because of limited space and resources, the two teams played and practiced together, and through the time that I played with Santos I got to know several women that were “called up” to train and try out for Banyana.

Now, mind you, there is a huge skill gap between what I was used to seeing in elite soccer in the States versus what I did see in this “elite” side in South Africa. Women’s sport here is massively underdeveloped, and the girls that do succeed often do so because they grew up playing with boys. There is next to no grassroot, consecutive, age-specific training for young girls. On this particular team, the young players were the target; we older players were there as mules; good enough to practice against, and strong enough to put up a fight. Among the older generation the girls smoked, drank; many of them had kids and played just for fun. Some had seen their day in the limelight and were either too old or too unfit to be considered serious contenders for a national team spot.

It was a bit unusual for a white, blonde, (relatively) tall foreigner to play for FC Santos. In fact, had I not brought my Canadian colleague and co-coach along with me to try-outs, I would have been the only one. It was trial by fire for me to even get acknowledgment at practice. I was viewed – understandably, I see now – with suspicion and a bit of disdain. The girls mocked my accent, my height, my build; they made jokes I didn’t understand in Afrikaans; they tried to teach me choice phrases which I was to employ on the field when there was a foul or a bad call. For the first two practices I was the outsider – the girls had played together before, having come from the same “Cape Coloured” community – and I just did the fitness drills we were instructed to do without complaint. Finally the day arrived when we had access to a pitch and had our first scrimmage. The coach put me in midfield, and by halftime I had two assists and a goal. All of a sudden, I was no longer an outsider. The girls jeered me all the same, but not in the derisive way they had before – I was legit, they could see; I built street cred and was now part of a team.

So, back to the original story. I arrived at UWC on the first morning of the conference and walked upstairs to where the girls and their coaches were having breakfast. I took one look at the group and immediately spotted three young women that I spent two years playing with nearly two years before. I immediately walked over to them and said hello. I could see they didn’t recognize me at first, but eventually they came around and I sat down to catch up on what was happening with the club. They’d changed coaches since I was there, and a few of the former elite players had moved back down to the development team. One of the girl there was coaching full time at a local primary school, as well as playing on the elite squad. The other two were young – technically maybe too young to even be considered for the elite team – but excellent players and up-and-coming stars for Santos. They explained that our former captain and manager had fallen pregnant again and would probably not be coming back next season. They’d once again captured the title at the biggest national tournament the previous year and were heavy favorites going into the next bout.

Perhaps the best part of our conversation was when the youngest girl, whom I played midfield with, said, “Hey, you know? I just got back from America.”

“Really?” I asked, wondering how on earth she would have made or afforded that type of trip. “What for?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, chewing gum and smiling wryly, “I was there for two weeks. New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC! We even had a tour of the White House!”

Clink. Things falling into place. “The White House? How did you organize that?”

“Yeah, we were there with the State Department… um, you know, Sports United or something like that. Yeah, I even got to meet Hillary Clinton! I mean, I didn’t know who she was at first, but then when we were walking through the White House I saw a huge painting of her on the wall and figured out she must be important.”

Um, yeah, just a bit. As it happens, my former teammate was sitting in the room when Hillary Clinton announced the Women’s World Cup initiative in early June. I was astounded, but excited beyond belief, that she had that opportunity, and that it was soccer that brought her there.

I wanted to retell this story because I think it demonstrates everything I have come to appreciate about sport in a real way. Through sport I have gained confidence, become fitter, faster, stronger, mentally and physically. I have crossed cultural divides. I have learned to stand up to men, to break gender barriers, changing perceptions about what women can do, what women’s soccer is all about. I have made friends and built networks, something that’s nearly as important in South Africa as it is in DC. Sport is a language that transcends other social structures. I am only grateful for having been exposed to it at an early age, and I am thankful that the women I met at UWC have had that exposure as well. I only hope that they are able to hold on to this opportunity and make the most of it; they won’t all be Banyana stars, but I’m sure they will be stronger women and better leaders for it.

[As an aside, as part of our membership in the Santos club we were expected to attend biweekly life skill sessions at the clubhouse. We constantly bunked and would come up with any excuse imaginable to get out of it. Ironic, I think, considering the nature of my research this summer.]

As always, many thanks to Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution program and Generations For Peace for their continued support.

And I can’t end this post without saying a huge CONGRATULATIONS to the US Women for their remarkable consecutive defeats over Brazil and France. They are an inspiration to women and soccer players around the world!

Bridging the Gap between Sport for Development and Sport Development in South Africa

There is a significant gap between youth-centered programming in sport for development and sport development in South Africa. This gap can be seen in various sectors – in the corporate world of sponsorship, in government departments of sport and recreation, and at universities. Matt Streng* put it best when he described the difference as being “sport +” – meaning sport first, social change second – or “+sport” – where the primary outcome is development-related. There are benefits and challenges to both approaches, but more importantly there is significant opportunity to make positive social change in the gap in between.

“+ Sport”: Sport FOR Development
In this model, sport is used as a tool for broader development goals, including education, health, empowerment, awareness, professional development, and conflict resolution. This is the model followed by many NGOs that want to harness the power of sport for greater social change: Grassroot Soccer, PeacePlayers International, Girls and Football SA, to name a few that I have seen in the course of my research. In these organizations, “coaches” may not be coaches at all – in the words of one facilitator, a coach can be any caring adult who plays a positive role in a child’s life.

There are many benefits to this model:
1. Children do not need to be good at sport to benefit from its power as a mechanism for social change.
2. Coaches and facilitators do not need to be super stars – they just have to be positive role models. They train as facilitators, not athletes, so there is a bigger pool to choose from.
3. These organizations receive funding from both development-oriented sponsors and potentially sport sponsors. An example would be the partnership Grassroot Soccer has cultivated with USAID and Nike. In a sense, this broadens the funding pool.
4. Curricula are not sport-dependent. What works for an organization that uses basketball to teach kids about HIV might work just as well for a group that uses soccer to do the same thing. This increases the benefits of sharing.

There are also potential fallbacks to this model.
1. Outcomes are measured not in terms of sporting success but through indicators that reflect changes in perceptions, behaviors, and abilities. In other words, these organizations have the challenge of demonstrating qualitative gains through quantitative methods.
2. Local-buy in might be harder to achieve, making programs less sustainable.
3. Government buy-in, either at the provincial or municipal level, is often necessary to build or sustain infrastructure that would benefit the communities if NGOs leave.

“Sport +”: Sport Development
1. Monitoring and evaluation is comparatively easy – success is measured in wins and losses, not participation,
2. Universities (as feeder programs) and governmental departments have better infrastructure for dealing with sport development.
3. There is arguably more consistent money in sport development than in sport for development. Emirates will continue to sponsor Arsenal so long as Arsenal win. Arsenal will win so long as they have the money from their sponsors and fans to buy talent.
4. Kids are rewarded for being good at sport; they trained in physiology and nutritional, and will hopefully continue to live healthy lifestyles for longer than their peers might.
5. Competitive sport provides an outlet for kids who might otherwise channel their aggression or anger in destructive ways. This is particularly relevant in post-conflict or endemic conflict zones. Songo Fipaza of (pictured) is a great example of this benefit.

1. A very small part of the youth population would likely benefit directly from these programs, and this segment is much more likely to be MEN than WOMEN. There would likely be positive externalities (such as the provision of sports facilities) that might benefit the community at large.
2. Breadth is sacrificed for depth; the kids who participate in sport development programs are treated as individuals, but it is inherently exclusive of the majority of children with less athletic potential.
3. When it comes to conflict resolution in particular, competitive sport often heightens inter-group tensions and can lead to violence, even in non-conflict regions. (See pictures of Vancouver after the Stanley Cup if you don’t believe me!)

Bridging the gap
There seem to be several key actors and partnerships that must be engaged in order to bridge the gap between sport for development and sport for sport’s sake. There are models that see it work – FC Barcelona, for example, partners with Nike and UNICEF to sponsor a fabulous program called “Mes Que Futbol” which operates throughout South America and Africa to encourage kids to play. This success requires:
1. Public-private-NGO partnerships: government departments of sport and recreation must partner with corporate sponsors and implementing NGOs in ways that maximize sport development AND community development. This might mean providing 1-1 facilities for competitive sports leagues in addition to community centers and public sports grounds. Even as a brand-new organization, Girls and Football SA have done this well.
2. The role of universities: Universities serve both as centers of research and feeders to sports programs. They are a key connector between the social beneficiaries of sport – NGOs, researchers, funders – and the competitive beneficiaries.
3. Municipal-provincial-national-international: There are great disconnects between grassroots sport programs and national initiatives. These must be connected to ensure sustainability and maximize impact.

As always, this is a work in progress. We welcome your comments, questions and criticisms.

*Many thanks to Matt Streng for his unwitting contribution to this blog:

Egyptian turmoil carries onto the pitch

Broadcast locally in Xhosa, Sotho and English, Sunday’s 0-0 match between Bafana Bafana and Egypt demonstrated exactly how much times have changed for both countries. Egypt were playing for keeps, with a spot in the Africa Cup of Nations riding on the result. They are currently last in the group that has South Africa’s relatively inexperience team at the top of the log, and it is highly unlikely they will advance. South Africa must lose their next two matches against Niger and Sierra Leone in order for the Egyptian side to stand a chance of advancing.

The match itself was unremarkable, save for some aggressive tackling, shocking missed opportunities and a roaming Egyptian goalkeeper that appeared unhinged by his team’s performance. But the social context of last night’s game cannot go unnoticed. The match was relocated from Cairo International stadium to the Cairo Military Academy stadium after security concerns were voiced in the wake of March’s pitch invasion during a match between Tunisia and Egypt. It seems political upheaval did not end at the stadium gates. Cairo Military holds nearly 50,000 fewer supporters than its larger cousin, but perhaps the decision was for the best… the image of the head referee leaving the match surrounded by military security reinforces the sense that Egypt remains in turmoil.

The match also demonstrated exactly how far Bafana has come in recent years as a national side, and exactly how far they have still to go if they hope to compete with the greatest on the continent and the world. Their inspiring but ultimately disappointing performance in last year’s World Cup brought hope to many South Africans who saw in Siphiwe Tshabalala’s first goal of the tournament signs of a bright football future to come. Unfortunately the team still demonstrates an overwhelming immaturity on the pitch, a lack of structure and a flair for the dramatic. It will be interesting to see how they perform in the Africa Cup of Nations next year.

Internationally known and locally respected

Poverty….disease… gender inequity.. illiteracy… drug and alcohol abuse… unemployment… resource differentials…race conflict… religion… historical inequalities and legacies of oppression. When one thinks about the potential drivers of conflict in a country like South Africa, these are often the first issues that come to mind. But when I asked Dr. Marion Keim in a recent interview what she would say were the primary drivers of conflict, the idea of generalizing about the South African context seemed irrelevant. In fact, these issues are the primary drivers of conflict everywhere. At the community, provincial, national, and continental levels, conflict is generalizable only insofar as it is multidimensional. As Dr. Keim wisely suggested, perhaps it is more instructive to ask what brings people together than it is to determine what pulls them apart.

That is why Dr. Keim and other educators, coaches, entrepreneurs and NGOs have looked to sport as a tool for community development and peacebuilding. Whether its rugby, basketball, hiking, running, or the most ubiquitous sport in South Africa – soccer – community leaders have found great success in harnessing the inclusive power of sport for good. While the social context may very from city to city or province to province, sport works similarly as a adhesive across localities. This can be seen quite clearly in the case of South Africa, where sports programs in the Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal (KZN) operate similarly despite very different circumstances. KZN has the highest rate of HIV incidence and prevalence in the country, widespread poverty and illiteracy and a very different demographic profile than the Western Cape, by far the wealthiest but perhaps the most unequal of South Africa’s provinces. The Western Cape is the only province with a different government, run by the Democratic Alliance, where the rest of SA’s provinces are headed by the ANC (which also has a majority in national parliament). And yet, despite these differences, NGOs like PeacePlayers International , Girls and Football SA and Hoops4Hope have successfully employed sport as an entry point to build trust, develop communities and empower youth.

A final lesson from Dr. Marion is that locally-led and locally-developed organizations are the ones that have the best chance of creating sustainable change over long periods of time. People on the ground are the best source of information for what social ills exist that should be corrected. The social legacy of the World Cup included the proliferation of projects that used sport for social transformation and economic development. Unfortunately, some of those initiatives wore out as quickly as they were begun. Many organizations that work in South Africa do so as part of larger international networks: perhaps they were started by foreigners, or maybe their funding comes from overseas sources. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. But what seems to be a crucial ingredient for programmatic success is local ownership and local buy-in. Dr. Keim says it best… “to become a partner you have to be local, you have to be here working with us every day, or you can say you want to assist in a certain way but then ask first. What is it that is needed and how can we contribute?”

To the land of the vuvuzelas! (Sarah M’s prologue)

Cape Town city bowl

It’s been nine months since I left South Africa, still pulsing with the excitement of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In a matter of hours I’ll be on my way back to Cape Town, the Mother City, to start my summer research.

South Africans of all stripes love their sport, and they are good at it. Whether it is Bafana Bafana (soccer), the Springboks (rugby), or the Proteas (cricket), for the most part the country unites behind its national team. When I arrive on Monday, it won’t be soccer that’s being discussed in the local pub, but Super 15 rugby and the lead up to the Rugby World Cup which begins in September. Perhaps one of the best known stories of national reconciliation through sport was the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted in South Africa, merely a year after the first representative national elections. The story has been immortalized in the blockbuster Invictus, but if you want the low down on the real happenings behind the scene, pick up a copy of John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy. His account of Nelson Mandela’s political savvy and willingness to compromise is inspirational and instructive.

Another important lesson to learn about South Africa, besides the fact that it is a country of sports fanatics, is that flexibility is the key to any well-laid plan. I have scheduled meetings with representatives from various organizations that are using sport for health education, empowerment, and conflict resolution. The websites can be found below. But I fully expect that after a round or two of interviews, plans will evolve and doors will open. In conducting my research I am anticipating that the grassroot network of NGOs and practitioners is broader and deeper than one can see from 10,000 miles away.

It’s been over 15 years since the first democratic elections in South Africa, an event celebrated only last week with national and municipal elections. The ANC (African National Congress), formerly categorized as a rebel group, is the dominant and imperfect political party in South Africa. It managed to retain a sweeping majority in most provinces, save the Western Cape, but has recently seen its hegemony eroded by the Democratic Alliance (DA), arguably the most powerful opposition force in South Africa. Immigration, job creation, economic growth, and service delivery are always on the top of the political agenda. In this vibrant, optimistic, but still developing country, civil society plays an invaluable role in filling the gap that the government is unable or unwilling to bridge. In many parts of the country, low-level violence is endemic, and conflict continues to swell between people of different racial, linguistic and tribal backgrounds. I’m hoping to find that sport continues to play a role in healing the nation, even while poverty and unemployment remain.

Planned Site Visits and Interviews:
PeacePlayers International:
Grassroot Soccer:
Girls and Football SA: