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By: Emile Dawisha

Awaking a Sleeping Giant: The Rise of Baseball and Softball in Africa

August 24, 2023
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Africa – a continent with over 800 million youth – has long been considered a sleeping giant for the sports of baseball and softball. But the challenges of developing these two sports are immense, hindered by a lack of facilities, funding, and familiarity. Oh, and the equipment – it’s expensive and must be imported.

These barriers haven’t stopped Kehinde Laniyan, who has dedicated the past 30 years to growing these sports in his home country of Nigeria. It’s an uphill climb, but baseball and softball are gradually making inroads among youth in the soccer-crazed nation.

“I think baseball has what I call magnetism, you know, especially with children,” Kehinde said. “Once they get involved, they don’t want to leave. That really fascinated me. I’ve seen that calling many, many times.”

Seeing kids fall in love with the sport, being part of a team, dreaming of playing outside of Nigeria one day – that’s what motivates Kehinde to continue outreaching to schools and organizing teams. He and a small group of baseball zealots have introduced the two sports to thousands of kids in Nigeria; but they still face fundamental challenges. Without proper facilities, most games still take place on soccer fields.

And while the talent level has improved over the years, African Little League teams face unique challenges to reaching the Little League World Series, which is currently taking place in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It’s not just a matter of competition; it’s also the cost of traveling to the ‘Europe-Africa’ regional qualifiers in Poland, and the “endless visa application interviews and documentation requests.”

Earlier this year, Kehinde – who is the Secretary General of the Nigerian Baseball & Softball Association – organized the first-ever West Africa Little League Baseball and Softball Tournament, with the winners advancing to the Europe-Africa regional qualifiers. The tournament’s baseball champion, Adekalu Bulls, was slated to participate in the qualifying tournament but ran into problems securing visas. Ultimately, the team was unable to make the trip to Poland.

The Adekalu Bulls won the inaugural West Africa Little League tournament this April. Source: Adekalu Bulls Facebook page.

“It’s my desire that one day Nigeria will produce a team that will get to Europe and get to Williamsport,” Kehinde said. “And I know we face this challenge that people don’t want to give us visa, even when they know we’re going for international competition … If we’re able to expand the sport, maybe in the nearest future, we can host an annual tournament, with the winner having straight entry into Williamsport.”


Across the continent, several countries have made significant progress in growing baseball and softball.

Uganda is the only African nation to compete in the Little League baseball World Series (see video below). Ugandan teams advanced to Williamsport three times, competing in 2012 and 2015 (the 2011 team was unable to compete due to visa issues).

South Africa has been playing the two sports for over 80 years. The only two African-borne players to make the major leagues are South African: Gift Ngoepe (debuted in 2017) and Tayler Scott (2019).

Baseball and softball academies are popping up across the continent – in Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and other countries.

“There’s a lot of potential,” Kehinda said. “Obviously, if Nigeria embraces it, that changes everything, because we’re a country with hundreds of millions of people.”


When asked how malaria has impacted her life, Mayowa – a 15-year old softball player from Ibadan, Nigeria – emphatically responded:

“Oh, negatively! Two years ago, I had malaria and I was supposed to go to my exams. I could not go!”

Malaria is a leading cause of absenteeism among children in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 200 million children are at risk of contracting the disease. Recovering from malaria or caring for a sick sibling can keep a child out of school and sports for days or even weeks. The mosquito-borne disease is estimated to cause between 5-8% of all absenteeism among African schoolchildren, which is equivalent to 50% of all preventable absenteeism.

When asked how he can prevent malaria, Tobiloba – a 14-year old baseball player from Ibadan – said, “Sweeping away the stagnant waters and cutting the grass around us.”

Mayowa added: “Fumigating, keeping a clean environment.”

Kehinde, who is 62 years old, knows all too well the impact that malaria can have young people.

“I was constantly sick with malaria. I was in and out of hospitals all the time when I was young,” Kehinde said. “It was common for me to be out of school maybe two times a month because I was in the hospital or at home with malaria. And that continued for many, many years. … And I’ve seen so many children miss school, miss practice, because of malaria.”

Nigeria is home to 27% (~67 million in 2021) of all malaria cases and 31% (~191,000 in 2021) of all malaria deaths worldwide. Nevertheless, Kehinde is encouraged by the increased awareness among Nigerians about malaria.

“There’s more consciousness that people must avoid mosquito bites. You know, people should use their mosquito nets, you know. And when you’re sick, quickly go to see the doctor and get treatment.”

With increased awareness, young Africans have more optimism that they can be the generation to eradicate this ancient disease.

“That would be the best!” Tabiloba said. “The pressure would be reduced, because going to hospitals, and treating ourselves again and again, that would be gone. Everybody would be healthy.”

Source: Little League Nigeria Facebook page

According to the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, “New research finds that 9 in 10 African youth want to take personal action in the fight against malaria, with almost two-thirds (61%) believing the disease can be eliminated in their lifetimes.”

If you’d like to take action against malaria, visit or text “CHAMPION” to 30644.

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