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Opinions of Monday, 11 February 2008

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Our Common Socioeconomic Plight Must Unite Us, Not Soccer!

While the near-religious fervor with which continental Africans relish sports, particularly soccer, or Association Football, cannot be gainsaid, nevertheless, the appropriation of sporting events as a rallying pivot for the unification of Africans, as was recently suggested by a well-known American-based Ghanaian academic, is rather tenuous, to speak less of the outright flimsy.

For starters, the humongous problems besieging Africans and their continent, as aptly, depressingly and elaborately documented by Professor George Ayittey, founder of an organization called the Free Africa Foundation (FAF), cannot be resolved through the largely seasonal avenue and vehicle of soccer tourneys. Rather, our relatively unique and immense handicaps call for dedicated leadership, creative and systematic thinking and long-term planning.

At best, what the admittedly momentous occasion of the African Cup of Nations fiesta can facilitate is to serve as a purposeful assemblage of people with diverse talents and cultures oriented towards the creation of a progressive pool of technocrats with an agenda sharply focused on the immediate and collective development of the African continent.

Thus, it is not quite clear exactly what the longtime political science professor of the Washington, D.C.-based American University means by his rather exuberant remark that ?Ghana 2008 [offers] an arena to bring African footballers together to showcase their prowess and capabilities in soccer,? and also that ?This fiesta is meant to unite and build bridges of friendship? (Daily Graphic 1/23/08).

Needless to say, if four decades of the African Cup of Nations tourneys have not already fostered a continent-wide spirit of camaraderie, then chances are that CAN 2008, as the tournament currently taking place in Ghana has been popularly dubbed, would not do much to enhance both the history of the tournament as well as boost cross-continental interconnections among African peoples.

But, perhaps, the obvious fact that ought to be pointed out herein, nonetheless, is that the sporting prowess or gamesmanship of the African species of humanity has never been in doubt. From Pele to Muhammad Ali, Baba Yara to Robert Mensah, Carl Louis to Tiger Woods, and Joe Louis before all the preceding, African people have dominated global sporting activities. Indeed, calling for Africans to unify themselves around soccer is no less pedestrian than asking the same subjects to consciously and conscientiously forge cultural links around our music.

About the only point on which one may unreservedly agree with Professor Ayittey, is the latter?s exhortation to the competing nations of CAN 2008 ?to display friendship, high standard of sportsmanship, love, respect and decency throughout the tournament.?

Needless to say, too many incidents of hostility, rancor and downright nihilism have occurred in the wake of soccer matches among otherwise neighborly African nations, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d?Ivoire in the not-too-distant past, involving vehicular arson and homicide.

Ultimately, though, the joy of sports can best be savored when African leaders have been able to help their people to eke a decent quality of life. As it stands now, cross-continental tournaments like CAN 2008 can only be savored as proverbial opiates (or opium), in Marxian parlance; as a temporary relief from the grinding pressures of avoidable poverty and destitution. And it may well be this sorry situation that in the past prompted many an unruly aficionado ? or sports fan ? to criminally resort to violence and mayhem, notwithstanding the fact of Africans not being peculiarly vulnerable and/or susceptible to sport-associated violence.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of ?Sounds of Sirens: Essays in African Politics and Culture? (iUniverse.com, 2004). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@aol.com.

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