Football and Politics in Africa: A Not-To-Be-Missed BBC Radio Documentary

By | January 11th, 2017 | No Comments

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“Beyond the Pitch” is a riveting BBC World Service radio documentary that explores the close links between the “beautiful game” of football and the “dirty game” of politics in multiple African countries.

Produced by Farayi Mungazi and Penny Dale, the 50-minute feature aired on the eve of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon, which marks the 60th anniversary of the continent’s most prestigious sporting event.

The documentary opens with Nigeria’s boycott of AFCON 1996 in South Africa. The last-minute withdrawal of the Super Eagles came in retaliation for President Nelson Mandela’s scathing criticism of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s regime, which in November 1995 had executed author Ken Saro Wiwa and eight more Ogoni environmental activists in a sham trial.

The next segment is captivating and among the most historically significant. It tells the story of how football helped Algeria’s struggle for independence from France through mesmerizing interviews with Mohamed and Khadidja Maouche. He was a young professional footballer in France in the late 1950s, but the newlyweds were also members of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the main Algerian liberation movement. The couple reveals how they secretly worked together to facilitate an exodus of Algerian-born footballers from their French clubs to play for the FLN “national” team. “No-one knew I was married to Maouche,” Khadidja says. “They would just be told a FLN activist wanted to speak to them. I would talk to them individually to say: ‘It’s an order, that’s it,’ and they all agreed.” In 1960 Mohamed Maouche eventually joined the FLN team, which played matches in front of large crowds in North Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, and Eastern Europe. “We were the first ambassadors of the revolution and the Algerian people,” he recalls with profound emotion half a century later.

Burundi’s current President Pierre Nkurunziza, a qualified football coach and owner of Hallelujah FC, is mentioned as a bridge to a terrific interview with Dr. Hikabwa Chipande, an historian and Michigan State University alumnus (PhD, 2015). Now a lecturer in African history at the University of Zambia, Chipande brings the BBC reporter through the archives in Lusaka where he conducted doctoral research on the history of Zambian football. As they look at sources documenting former president Kenneth Kaunda’s passion for and involvement in the game, Chipande points to a 1974 photograph of Kaunda serving food to the national team—quite an endearing, populist image. Mungazi then travels to Luanshya, on the Copperbelt, to talk football and politics with Dickson Makwaza, one of the players served by Kaunda in 1974, and with 91-year-old Tom Mtine, a legendary football administrator.

In the second half of the documentary we leap ahead to AFCON 2010 in Angola. The Togo national team bus was targeted by armed separatists from the enclave of Cabinda at the border with the Republic of Congo: “probably the most dramatic moment ‘off the pitch’ in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations,” Mungazi says. The armed attack killed two men and wounded several others: “one of the worst experiences I’ve had in my life,” said Togolese striker and English Premier League veteran, Emmanuel Adebayor.

The last time Uganda qualified for AFCON was in 1978 when the infamous Idi Amin was still in power. A local academic and former national team players explain how Amin, a keen boxer himself, bankrolled sports during his dictatorship (1971-79) to boost nationalism and also as a weapon of mass distraction. But we also hear of the traumatic experiences of John Ntensibe and Mama Baker. The former was imprisoned and forced to load bodies onto trucks after scoring the winning goal for Express FC against the army team, Simba, while Baker, a devoted Express supporter, was arrested twice for little more than being Uganda’s biggest soccer fan.

Fast forward again to the 21st century: we hear about George Weah, Africa’s only World Player of the Year (1995), who launched a career in politics in Liberia after retiring from the game. Weah lost a presidential election in 2004 (to future Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Sirleaf Johnson), but recently won a Senate seat and may run again for his country’s highest office.

The final chapter in the story of the links between politics and football focuses on Ghana. There, top clubs Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko have long been entangled in party politics and presidential contests. Veteran Ghanaian reporter Kwabena Yeboah also describes the emergence of Real Republikans, a super club of the 1960s closely connected to President Kwame Nkrumah. Subsequent regimes in Ghana, it is noted, used the men’s national team, the Black Stars, to strengthen their popularity and “perpetuate their reign.”

As a scholar who has been writing about African football history, culture, and politics for a long time, I found Farayi Mungazi and Penny Dale’s “Beyond the Pitch” documentary to be finely researched and evocatively presented through African voices. The producers did well to carefully bring out the game’s contradictory capacity to be a force for empowerment and disempowerment. What a great way to get ready for the upcoming 2017 AFCON in Gabon. And what a wonderful resource for teaching and research.

Click here to listen and download the podcast version of the documentary.

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African Footballers in Sweden: A Review

By | March 10th, 2016 | No Comments

Cross-posted from Idrottsforum

 

Highly original, meticulously researched, profoundly empathetic

Ghana State Funeral for CK Gyamfi

By | December 18th, 2015 | No Comments



Ghanaian football legend Charles Kumi Gyamfi, who passed away in September at the age of 85, was honored on Friday, December 18th, with an official state burial in Accra.

Gyamfi began his top-level playing career at Cape Coast Ebusua Dwarfs in 1948-49. After one season, he joined Kumasi’s Asante Kotoko, staying until 1954 and then transferring to the Porcupines’ archenemies: Accra Hearts of Oak. In 1960, Gyamfi became the first Ghanaian to play in Germany, with Fortuna Dusseldorf.

After hanging up his boots, Gyamfi returned to Ghana and coached the national team, the Black Stars, winning three African Nations Cup titles (1963, 1965, 1982).

The video above honors the life of one of Africa’s greatest players. RIP CK.

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Tale of Two Cities, Tale of Two Halves: USA vs Ghana

By | June 17th, 2014 | No Comments

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June 17, 2014
By Tom McCabe*


The text message came through as “URGENT.” Sylvers Owusu, a former student and player, wrote yesterday: “We just received a city permit to block off Ghanaian Way in Newark for today’s GHA vs. USA match. Please join us for a watch party! DJ Albert will provide music to entertain the crowd. Let’s go Ghana!”

The plan was now hatched: first half in Newark, and the second half a few miles away in what has been called “the cradle of American soccer.” I watched several games at the Scots American Club in Kearny in 2010, including the Algeria match punctuated by Donovan’s last-ditch winner. (I also watched Ghana knock the USA out there).

Back at the Scots Club there was a much more joyous celebration to Dempsey’s early strike [click here for video.]

Ten minutes later the Ghanaian congregation began singing a song, unrecognizable to my ears. Sylvers whispered to me: “It’s a gospel song. We need God now.” Ghana grabbed control of the game, but the USA threatened on several occasions to double the lead. It was an intense, physical start to a must-win match.

At the half-time whistle we headed outside and took in the street scenes. DJ Albert had the place jumping and after some dancing and chanting we got back into the car and headed for the Passaic River. Kearny, home to American stars (John Harkes, Tab Ramos, and Tony Meola), the Scots Club, and the second half beckoned.

We arrived ten minutes into the second half as parking was scarce around the Scots Club, but the USA still had that slim one-goal lead. The bar-end of the social club formed in 1932 was packed with people in red, white and blue. “USA” chants rang out as well as repeated frustration about how the Stars and Stripes couldn’t hold on to possession.

After Ghana leveled the score in the 82nd minute it seemed that they would go on to find the winner, but against the flow of the second half John Brooks powered home a precisely-placed Graham Zusi corner. Understandably, there was bedlam inside the Scots Club once again. Hugs, high-fives, chants, and more hugs. It was a major victory in “The Group of Death” that sets up an epic battle against Portugal on Sunday.

*Tom McCabe is an historian at Rutgers University-Newark where he teaches surveys in U.S. History, History of Newark, and History of Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccabe5. This post was originally published on his new blog Soccer Brains.

World Cup Music: “Afri Can”

By | June 9th, 2014 | No Comments



An antidote to Shakira and Pitbull!

“Afri Can” is a charity single by Replay GH, a Ghana-based group featuring Zed Ay Kay (Replay GH), Fuji, Farid, and Gustav. It brings together influence from the five African countries that have qualified for the Brazil 2014 World Cup: Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, and Ivory Coast.

According to the artists, “the different influences, and styles are seamlessly woven together to produce a modern Afro Beats song for the enjoyment of all football and music fans.” To find out more about Afri Can, visit: http://www.outofafricacampaign.com/afri-can/

Resuscitating Football on the Zambian Copperbelt

By | June 21st, 2012 | 1 Comment



Guest Post by *Hikabwa Chipande

NDOLA — Zambia’s victory in the 2012 African Nations Cup has spawned a new fashion on the Copperbelt — the country’s industrial and football heartland — where people now wear Chipolopolo (Copper-bullets) replica jerseys as well as chitenge (women’s waist wraps) in the national colors. Selling Chipolopolo regalia has also become big business in street markets and makeshift stores. Clearly, the African champions have re-energized the mood of the nation and revitalized support for football among ordinary citizens, politicians, and business people.

The stability of copper prices, increases in copper production, an improving economy, and the pride of being African football champions, have led ZCCM Investments Holdings, formerly Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines, to reconsider supporting the sport. For instance, private companies such as Mopani Copper Mines and Copperbelt Energy have resumed their funding of Kitwe’s famous Nkana Red Devils and Power Dynamos.

“Winning the African Cup changed things,” says Red Devils head coach Linos Makwaza. “People have started coming back to football. At Nkana [Football Club] Mopani [Copper Mines] is now involved and has taken over which is good,” Makwaza says. The relationship between mining companies and football is not a new one. It has shaped the history of the game in Zambia. As far back as the 1920s, when copper mining started on the Copperbelt under British colonial rule, and into the independence era up to the privatization of the ZCCM mining company in 1991, government-controlled mining companies provided football grounds, financial resources, coaches, players, and stimulated a deeply rooted fan culture.

Zambia’s Nations Cup success has inspired politicians such as Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili to encourage new owners of copper mining companies to sponsor Mighty Mufulira Wanderers, Nchanga Rangers, Nkonkola Blades, Roan United, Kalulushi Modern Stars and other important, but struggling, clubs in the mining province. Abraham Nkole, currently Mighty Mufulira Wanderers manager and a former player in the 1960s and 1970s, sees this shift as an opportunity to resuscitate the “lost glories” of Copperbelt football.

The opening of a modern stadium in the mining town of Ndola has also injected new life in Copperbelt football. I was in attendance on June 9, 2012, for the inauguration of the Chinese-built 40,000 capacity Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, which hosted a Zambia vs. Ghana 2014 World Cup group D qualifying match (see photo). Thousands of fans clad in green and orange Chipolopolo replica jerseys besieged Ndola. With Vice President Dr. Guy Scott in the stands, Chipolopolo beat the Black Stars 1-0 in the packed stadium, thus renewing their hopes for qualifying to Brazil 2014 after being thumped by Sudan 2-0 in Khartoum a week earlier.

Practitioners and fans I spoke to on the Copperbelt are encouraged by recent developments and hope the mining province will soon reclaim its dominant position in Zambian football after two decades of decline. The political and financial investment that is fueling the game’s resuscitation owes much to Chipolopolo’s international success. The question is whether such support will continue should the national team perform badly at next year’s African Nations Cup in South Africa.

*Hikabwa Chipande is a PhD candidate in African history at Michigan State University. His dissertation research is on the social and cultural history of football in 20th-century Zambia. He can be contacted at chipande [at] msu [dot] edu.

Bafana 1, BaGhana 0: Phambili!

By | August 12th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Mphela courtesy of http://images.teamtalk.com/10/06/496x259/mphela_2460847.jpg


Bafana Bafana returned to action after the 2010 World Cup Wednesday night with a deserved 1-0 win against The Black Stars on a cold night at half-full Soccer City. Katlego Mphela (in photo) scored the winner in the 42nd minute.

Pitso Mosimane, Bafana’s new ‘local-is-lekker’ head coach, said: ‘Mphela was frustrating me by missing two good chances early on. That was why I called Mphela over to the touchline in the first half and told him what I wanted and he produced the winner.’ No need for Madiba magic, now we have Pitso magic.

Speaking of spiritual forces, Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac (sort of) joked that Soccer City may be cursed: ‘This was the third match we played here and we have lost all three’ (to Germany, Uruguay and now SA).

Overall, a useful friendly for Mosimane’s debut at the helm of South Africa as they begin 2012 African Nations Cup qualifiers at home next month against Niger. Phambili!

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