15 February 2013

Africa: Political Football in South Africa


On November 10th, 2012 President Pedro Pires, a short stocky genial old man who ruled Cape Verde with such administrative and intellectual virtue that it made him a Mo Ibrahim Foundation saint, was my target. The location was Dakar, Senegal's capital. I asked him to write a paper for Kilimanjaro Magazine on the matter of celebrating 50 years since his national hero, Amilcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, was assassinated by the Portuguese secret police while he plotted and led the fall of Portugal's rule in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique.

A voice from Addis Ababa whispered to the former president to invite me to the commemoration his "Cabral Foundation" was planning for early 2013. When Cape Verde announced to Africa their warrior ancestry by defeating the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun in the race to African Nations Cup in South Africa, it rang a bell. They told Cameroonians that their boastful name had drowned in the Atlantic coast around their chain of islands; and that Africa's political history was stalking AFCON 2013.

Cabral's shadow stood like an ocean mountain waving messages that footballers would kick and splash across Africa. His first message had been to throw cold water into Karl Marx's face for calling Africa's villagers "idiots" who cared only about feeding their wives and children and not feeding and changing world history. He said Africa's peasants question everything and everyone. If you pick a hoe and join them side by side in digging the soil and planting and harvesting crops, they will hug you enthusiastically. If you arrange to sell things at cheaper prices than colonial traders, they will hail you. If you start roving clinics that will treat villagers and revolutionary fighters, they will send their sons and daughters to join the revolutionary army

It is not surprising that women of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde wear his face on medals. He it was who insisted that if a woman soldier has better judgement as a leader of a platoon; she must not be pushed aside by small-minded male chauvinists. A male commander who raped female combatants was severely punished, including being shot till totally dead. He insisted that male chauvinism or claims by elders to a monopoly of wisdom must not be allowed to lead fighters into slaughter by walking stupidly into ambushes by Portuguese colonial troops. He was a revolutionary gender hero. When Cape Verde's football team played a historic draw with South Africa's Bafana Bafana under Nelson Mandela's watch, one had a sneaky feeling that the old man's secret wishes had triumphed. Legacies of fighters for freedom must share football's moment of justice.

The Blue Sharks of Cape Verde defeated the Antelopes of Angola. We must wonder if Augustinho Neto, the founder- president of Angola, had not turned to Cabral, in After-Africa, and asked if he had been sincere when in 1956 he joined them in forming the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola, MPLA, to fight for Angola's independence.

Thomas Sankara is the other leader much celebrated by his country's women. He abolished polygamy and declared that girls stay in school even if they get pregnant. He insisted that his people must wear clothes woven by Burkinabe's women for them to earn more money and be less dependent on their husbands' income. He vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles. He abolished men and women doing compulsory labour for chiefs, and planted ten million trees for firewood and to stop the advance of the Sahara. He told their men to shape their country according their self-reliance and not by slavishly obeying France, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

When the French conspired with chiefs to get Sankara assassinated on October 15, 1987, it came one week after he told his people these words of wisdom and farewell:"While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas". When Burkina Faso's team beat Togo by one goal to a very big zero, Professor Mbye Cham at Howard University sent me a text on his mobile phone with the simple words:" I know Sankara is smiling".

And there was that game between Nigeria's Super Eagles and the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire. The elephants carried the gigantic shadow of Felix Houphuet Boigny - a name a Ghanaian diplomat in Abuja claimed was a ploy to hide his Ashanti name Kofi Boahene. He was a man of pragmatism. When he wanted the same price for his cocoa with that paid to French planters in Ivory Coast, he allied with the Communist Party in French politics. When in 1950 the Communists left the French government and joined the opposition, he left them and joined the government. In 1958 it was clear to him that President Charles DeGaule hated the idea of African independence. He vigorously campaigned against a federation of independent West African countries. To please France he "employed thousands of French technical and managerial personal" including tailors, shopkeepers and petrol attendants.

Houphouet-Boigny's 'pragmatism' incited rage and contempt from Africa when he argued that Africa must not support the liberation war by the African National Congress against the "crimes against humanity" being committed under apartheid rule. He argued for "dialogue" with the white racists. When his team trotted and huffed against Nigeria's predatory birds, it was hard to assume that Nelson Mandela did not turn his wrinkles to urge Steve Biko to hiss softly. Winnie Mandela had told the 2010 Daily Trust's "DIALOGUE" audience in Abuja that, as far back as 1960, Nigeria's first and only federal Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, had given the ANC a huge sum of two thousand pounds Sterling to fight for freedom in Southern Africa. It is a memory she had long shared with Madiba.

Houphouet-Boigny could well have retorted that a Chinese mafia had used Didier Drogba to throw dollars at his teammates to break their tusks.

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