Last week, South Africa serenaded the world with the beauty of its culture, it taught the world the value of statesmanship (read Mandela), and showcased the products of hard work, the reward for perseverance and above all, the unquantifiable prize of faith in possibilities as they welcomed the world to the FIFA 2010 World Cup.
Unarguably, whether the rest of the world acknowledges it or not, the build-up to the 2010 World Cup has been the most glamorous and the one that has many lessons for the rest of the world. What with the political history of the host, South Africa? Bearing the flag for the rest of Africa, South Africa has a nexus with the great Obama story.
Skeptics reveling in the past racist sentiments had argued that being plagued by conflicts, diseases, hunger and bad leadership, Africa would be unable to host the world's biggest and most glamorous soccer fiesta in the 21st century. They had continually harped on the security problems of South Africa. They reasoned that given their political history, the infrastructural development needed to host the world would not be ready.
Luckily, thanks to the man who has been bestowed with the highest South African honour for none indigenes as a member of the Order of Companions of O'Thambo by the South African government few days ago, the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, a lover of Africa who believes in the ability of the human spirit for possibilities, Africa was given a chance to prove a point-Africa is able.
Make no mistake about it; South Africa was not unaware of the enormity of the work involved. It was aware of the burden of shouldering the responsibility of the whole of Africa and it has responsibly carried off the burden. It has through the entire pre event publicity shown an amazing degree of pan Africanism. It has seen the winning of the hosting right as a challenge to the whole of Africa and men, has it been amazing?
The FIFA rule to nations is that national politics must never be allowed to interfere with the administration of the beautiful game as football is meant to be a purely global social event that can be used to advance the cohesiveness expected of all humanity. Many nations that have defied this FIFA golden rule had had the indignity of being shown the exit door till there is an unambiguous compliance.
However, whereas there seems to be a delineation of football from core politics, they are still inseparable. The stability of any nation's political environment determines how much they can be active participants in the 'politics' of the game. Given the politically charged situations in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, DRC etc., the administrators of the beautiful game might not rush into granting them the hosting rights of their global championships just yet.
During the apartheid regime in South Africa, the country was banned from virtually all globally competitive sports as a way of forcing the government to respect the dignity of the human person. Their sporting involvement therefore blossomed since the death of the obnoxious government.
The winning of the 2010 hosting rights by the country cannot still be divorced from politics. Recognising the justice in full continental involvement in the game, the FIFA team knows that having abolished apartheid, granting South Africa the 2010 hosting rights was a good way of welcoming the country back into the king of global competitive sports.
With the role of the legendary African icon, Nelson Mandela in the campaign for the hosting rights, FIFA subtly tried to pay back the icon of world political struggle that was personally at the venue of the announcement. It is not for nothing that his life odyssey is recounted by almost by every speaker at every forum concerning the hosting preparations before now.
The role of the iconic Mandela in getting Africa to be given the hosting right should be a lesson to all Africans especially Nigeria. If all things were equal, given the history of Nigeria and the game and given the resources at our disposal, Nigeria ought to have been the first African country to host the senior World Cup. However, South Africa has through political responsibility earned the honour of taking the role for Africa at this moment.
The world was thankful that the great man of honour, an epitome of sacrificial political leadership, Nelson Mandela was healthy enough to watch (even if on TV) the opening ceremonies of the 2010 FIFA World Cup that his sacrifices and personality in no small way helped to bring to the continent of Africa.
Having been honoured with the Presidency of a free South Africa, Mandela in his usual way of defining service laid a solid foundation for the blossoming of democracy in South Africa. Unlike his peers, like Zimbabwean Mugabe, Kenyan Arap Moi, Cameroun's Paul Biya and other sit tight African rulers (not leaders) Mandela showed class and finesse in leadership.
A Mandela could have decided to be a life President if he so wished and would equally have gotten majority support but like a true leader, he paved the path for democratic development and left when ovation was loudest. Leaders like him are rare in this continent but he has won honours beyond his dreams.
At this moment of history in World football and the African continent, it can be enriching for Nigeria, ironically the most populous African nation and equally the country that has given the continent more than eighty percent of world class professionals that have played and are still playing in the most popular clubs all over the world would be watching as South Africa writes her name in gold on the world football history books.
As we celebrate the arrival of other participants in our continent, it would be worthwhile to reflect on the reasons we would be visitors in our own house literarily. In 50 years of independence, with both military and civilian leadership that we have had, which one has so built a legacy both for the country and himself as to earn us the honour South Africa is enjoying at the moment?
Whether we admit it or not, we have been suffering from monumental delusions. We always revel in the mirage of being giants of the continent but in real terms we have nothing to show for it. Ghana, our next door neighbor celebrated their 50th anniversary and had much to thank their past leaders for top of which is the political stability in the recent years.
Our politics is so undeveloped that the collateral damage to all other sectors of our national life is monumental. We still play politics of individuals rather than the country. We still have people without vision or mission trying to colonise the political space with their myopic views of developmental strategies and workable policy issues.
We might be deceiving ourselves about uninterrupted 11 years of civilian democracy but certain political figures in the country are bent on dragging us back to where we ought to have left since independence. The real value of democracy should be measured by the positive impact on the larger society not on individuals, regions or on our most recent political cliché, some cabals.
South Africa has been able to leverage on the political stability the foundation of which had been laid by people like Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Mbeki Snr., and his son, the former President Thabo Mbeki. Political stability is the bedrock of global participation in all spheres from politics, economy to social growth and stability.
We are almost months away from the 2011 general elections and all we hear is which zone ought to produce the President and in the states it is not any different. We can only grow when we copy the right models and realise that beyond the lip service to electoral reforms, each and every one of us must acknowledge the value of participatory democracy.
Only individuals with the right leadership skills and vision can attract global attention which in turn engenders the leveraging elements that enhance development. South Africa is a good model. Strong and politically strong system is a sine qua non to development.