02/07/2010 04:50:26
Football and democracy in Africa
Cameroon and Nigeria’s shoddy performance at the World Cup was painful to watch.
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Most people would rather forget the sorry exhibition of mediocrity for more important things. But pathologists still conduct autopsies, knowing that it will not bring the dead back to life. So a few observations would not be out of order.

A key issue is the amount of money the ill-fated campaign cost Nigeria.

The federal government released one billion naira to the country’s football authorities to facilitate our participation in the World Cup. They returned the favour with a grand total of one point. That sum probably does not include the salary of the coach, monies spent by the Presidential Task Force and other miscellaneous expenses.

Apart from the one billion naira set aside, Nigeria spent huge sums on the plethora of public officials who basically went sightseeing in South Africa.

The President Goodluck Jonathan was there. Senate President David Mark was there. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole was there. Not less than 62 Senators (travelling in the same aircraft) also went.

Several ministers, governors, and many ‘high ranking’ government officials not even remotely connected to sports all went.

However, it is not the profligacy of public officials, but the uncanny relationship between the performances of African teams at the World Cup and their democratic credentials that is worth a second look. There seems to be a correlation between democracy and the performance of all six African teams.

The worst African performance at the tournament was Cameroun, which lost all three games and returned with zero points to record their worst performance ever on the world stage. Is there any connection between the fact that Cameroun’s President Paul Biya has crushed all opposition and has dominated power for nearly 30 years and how easily the Lions were dominated?

Algeria managed a single point after losing two games against Slovenia and the United States and drawing with England. Is this poor performance also connected to the fact that since 1992 when free and fair elections were annulled (that word again), the country has been on the verge of anarchy, with terrorist attacks, loss of lives, crackdown on the opposition and other political problems? The relative stability of recent does not obfuscate underlying political tensions. Is there a connection between weak democracy and the manner in which the Desert Foxes were outfoxed?

In Nigeria, the assumption of office of Goodluck Jonathan as President may have stabilised the country, but our democratic credentials do not meet even the most basic standards. Unless the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Professor Attahiru Jega is able to work a miracle, the PDP behemoth (and all other parties) will continue to rig all elections then cry foul when out-rigged. The primordial cries for zoning and rotation of what ordinarily should go to the most capable shows how far Nigeria still is from true democracy. Was that why the Eagles couldn’t fly?

Ivory Coast performed better than Nigeria by losing two matches and winning its last one to give fans something to cheer about. The democratic credentials of Ivory Coast are hardly better than Nigeria’s, though. Since the death of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the country has had little political stability. Ethnic and religious strife have left this formerly stable and prosperous African country on the verge of disintegration. The most unifying thing the country has is its football team, which failed to live up to expectations. Is there a link between the political turmoil and the Elephants poor foraging?

South Africa is the most prosperous country in Africa, and also one of the most inherently democratic. It is possible that only in South Africa would a politician oust a sitting president from outside the corridors of power, then go on to become president as happened between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

Though hosts, not many people gave the Bafana Bafana much chance, but it went on to draw its first game against Mexico, lost to Uruguay and beat France to bow out in style.

And of course Ghana. It certainly has the best democratic credentials in Africa because power seems to be rotating between opposition parties in free and fair elections. Is there any connection between this fact, and the shining performance of the Black Stars?

There probably isn’t much in it, but it would be a good thing to hold free and fair elections before venturing out to the next Africa Cup of Nations in two years or the next World Cup in 2014.

Salisu Suleiman

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