When Tanzania’s national football hero Mbwana Ally Samatta signed with Aston Villa in 2020 this was far more than just another move of an African player to the top of the global game.
He was the first Tanzanian to feature in the English Premier League and his transfer sparked enthusiasm and pride in the East African football community.
It was widely hoped that Samatta would place Tanzania – a notoriously poor performer in international football – on the game’s global map. Unlike West and North Africa, the region hasn’t produced many players who perform consistently at high levels in Europe.
We wanted to know why. Our research turned up a number of structural, historical and cultural factors at play both inside and outside sports. These include colonial legacies and the absence of a functioning, vibrant youth football system. Another factor is that “making it” overseas seems less important to East African players than to their counterparts from the continent’s west and north.