Sad story of African football through ‘AU 2023’ writers’ eyes 

African Union 2023 official writers

African Union 2023 official writers from left: TJ Benson (Nigeria), Xaviere Tedji (Cameroun), Sue Nyathi (Zimbabwe), Nour Kamal (Egypt) and Kenya’s Tony Mochama.

Photo credit: Courtesy

In a week that ended in Doha with FIFA President Gianni Infantino declaring the 2022 Qatar World Cup the ‘best ever’ (in organisation) a day before what was undoubtedly the best-ever final (in the epic clash between 2018 champions France and the new champions, Argentina) – the week began on the opposite sour note in Kenya, as far as football is concerned.

Sports and Culture Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba, forced to present the Jamhuri Cup trophy to Sofapaka FC under darkness – because the floodlights of a supposedly renovated Nyayo Stadium hadn’t been installed – went on an understandable rampaging rage against officials and contractors who misappropriate billions meant for stadia renovation.

“I visited and gave Kinoru Stadium a red card as I couldn’t see where a billion shillings went to; and would have given Kipchoge Keino three red cards if it was possible,” the CS said, as he used the mixed literary analogy of Nyayo National Stadium as a “relic from the National Museum” and a “grazing field”.

The Moi International Sports Centre- Kasarani also has its challenges, in spite of the millions poured into its multiple renovations, and it is doubtful if, in its current state, it is fit to host the AFCON tournament in 2027 that Kenya is bidding for.

Consider the case of Qatar, which had eight World Class stadia hosting the 2022 soccer games – including Lusail where the final was played to the pedantically titled Education City to the environmentally epic Stadium 974, built out of 974 recyclable giant containers (+974 is also the Qatari dialling code, as many Kenyan immigrants there know); and being the first ever fully demountable stadium in the World Cup, points the visionary way for soccer stadia of the future.

If one were to drive from Doha for five-and-a-half days and nights, non-stop, at a steady 75 kph, through the Trans-Saharan highway, they may find themselves in Accra, which was where we were on the night that Cameroon beat then World Cup favourites Brazil 1-0, to the delight of the non-football-loving Xaviere Tedji, the African Union ‘2023’ anthology writer from Cameroon.

Xaviere is the AU writer representing Central Africa, but on the night that the Indomitable Lions beat Brazil at the Lusail Stadium in Doha, all of Africa was united behind Cameroon; as they would be behind Ghana before the latter lost 2-0 to Uruguay.

Nevertheless, Ghana managed to prevent the ‘loathed’ Luiz Suarez and his team from going on to the next round by not conceding a third goal, thus allowing the South Koreans to leapfrog the La Celeste (Sky Blue) into the round of sixteen.

Seth Avusugulo, the Administrative Manager of LOATAD (the Library of Africa and The African Diaspora) where the five writers chosen to represent the different African regions for their 20th-anniversary anthology were domiciled for part of the World Cup month – and visited by forward-looking officials like Ms Mendy and the literary-minded Faith Ochieng – summed up the Uruguayan defeat in a literary phrase (from Memoirs of Matilda by Sue Eugene, published in France in 1846):

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

In 2010, Uruguay denied Ghana the historic chance to reach the World Cup semi-finals through the ‘hand of Suarez’. Twelve years later, the Black Stars created a black hole for the ‘Sky Blue’ to fall through in this Event: the Horizon of soccer.

It could have been scripted from one of those diabolical Shakespeare plays like Hamlet, where vengeance is the main theme, and served cold as supermarket ham. In Nigeria, as T.J. Benson, the AU 2023 author representing West Africa says, sometimes the football games are scripted. For example, there was a notorious game on the last day of the Nigerian Premier League between Warri and Bayelsa, where the latter needed a draw to win their first-ever title.

With both teams being from the troubled Niger Delta, and also because corruption is rife in Nigerian life – with referees paid extra by clubs for favourable decisions or clubs paying others to throw games away – even SuperSport presenter Mozez Priaz knew the game would be a draw, saying: “You must consider the politics involved.”

In the 85th minute, with Warri up 2-1, the football floated in for a Bayelsa striker, the Warri defenders fled the box, and the striker duly slotted past the goalie to win the NPL title.

“It’s like a Nollywood script,” I tell T.J, who thinks the world is a stage, with (footballers) actors on it, waiting to exit either as GOATs a la Messi, or ‘complainants’ like the ever-aggrieved Cristiano Ronaldo.

Nour Kamal, the brilliant Egyptian feminist poet representing North Africa, is also not a big fan of the ‘toxic masculinity of the male writers of her nation’, or indeed the national team, the Pharaohs.

Although Egypt has some of the best-funded clubs in continental football like Al-Ahly and Zamalek and has produced world-class stars, the top of the pyramid being Mo Salah of Liverpool FC, political regimes like that of the deposed Hosni Mubarak used its national popularity as a foil. He would go to their training camps, attend continental championships, and greet them at the airport, like many an African politician – but the Pharaohs couldn’t save this long-reigning pharaoh from the Arab Spring, 11 long years ago.

Alienation

When the Muslim Brotherhood came to power after Mubarak and tried to limit soccer activities, it alienated large swathes of the Egyptian population and was part of the byzantine matrix of their own downfall to the al-Sisi-led military.

For the Zimbabwean writer Sue Nyathi, who moved to South Africa, like almost all of Zimbabwe’s better football players, Robert Mugabe was a “terrible fellow”.

His nephew, Leo Mugabe, ran ZIFA (Zimbabwe Football Association) from 1993 to 2003, with much the same disastrous results Kenya has enjoyed under the Nick Mwendwas of this world.

By 2002, The Warriors were as weak as the Zimbabwe dollar!

But even as every other part of Zimbabwean life continued to fall apart, forcing the Nyathis to become permanent SA residents, The Warriors lived up to their name to do battle and qualify for AFCON, with the Dynamo club team even reaching a semi-final of an African Champions League in 2008.

Fifteen years later, with hunger, inflation and doubt stalking Kenya as it did our southern neighbour then, it is hard to see the Harambee Stars rising to bring a measure of joy to wananchi in 2023.

But even if they don’t, we will rejoice in the achievements of the Atlas Lions, those marvellous men of the Maroc who had us over the moon in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, who shot past the le celeste skies of the quarter-finals, downing Portugal in the process – and almost shook hands with the final stars.

Mochama is an African [email protected] 20 author, representing the East Africa region in Accra and Addis. [email protected]

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