Monday, July 03, 2006

World United...

In 1969, during the Nigerian Civil War in Nigeria, the secessionist Biafra and the Nigerian government sides signed a temporary ceasefire so that people could watch the legendary Brazilian, Pelé, as he toured with his club side Cosmos. Today in 2006, football still has the ability to mend bridges, bring peace to warring factions, and unite divided nations. Despite their first round exits, the Ivory Coast and Angola are two nations who will be offering thanks to the gods for their unlikely qualification for this year’s competition.

As Ivory Coast won admirers for their tenacity and attacking verve, Angola have now become a byword for the never-say-die attitude characterised by the lesser teams in Germany. While the rest of Africa watched in solidarity with their continent’s representatives, the Ivorians and Angolans watched as one nation, a feat which has eluded both nations in the recent past.

Ivory Coast, formerly the proverbial light on a hill in West Africa, descended into a civil war which cut the country in half. South fought against north, indigenes pitted against so-called étrangers. The civil war was fuelled by the matter of identity and the concept of Ivoirité, i.e. who is a true Ivorian. It was sparked when the electoral authorities barred Alassane Outtara - who had previously served as Prime Minister – from running for president, on account of him being a “foreigner”.

Fans here in Germany all had much the same thing to say, “there isn’t a single Ivorian without foreign blood”. The football team is made up of Christians, Muslims, animists, northern, southern, indigenous, and of Malian, Burkinabe, and Guinean immigrant stock. Les Éléphants (as the team is known) represent a true quilt patchwork of what Ivory Coast is, and their unity on the pitch is the ultimate aspiration of Ivorians as they try to mend their country.

Angola on the other hand, has only just emerged from a 27-year civil war. The war, which was fuelled by Cold War allegiances, ended in 2002, more than ten years after the rest of the world parked their mutual destruction weapons. Their first round match with Portugal should have been a chance to give a black eye to their former colonial masters, but Angolans were more preoccupied with their being part of a “lusophone brotherhood” at the World Cup, along with Portugal and Brazil.

“Ten years ago, we were in the middle of a civil war, and now we’re at the World Cup. We are very proud, this is a good enough for us”, noted an Angolan woman who lives in Portugal. Part of the legacy of the civil war is anti-personnel landmines, a cause which became popular after the late Princess Diana visited Angola in 1997 (see picture): there are estimated to be between half a million and one million landmines in Angola. As de-miners risk their lives by day, and watch the Palancas Negras (Black Impalas) by night, they can take succour from knowing that the Black Impalas will soon be able to gallop free on the savannahs of Angola, just as they do on the verdant football pitches of Germany.

2 comments:

Kush said...

Both Ivory Coast, Angola, Tunisia and particularly Ghana conducted themselves well at the World Cup. Togo was the only embarassment to the continent. I'll be suprised if FIFA don't seek some kind of penalty to the averted embarrassment that they almost inflicted on the tournament.

Mara said...

but who would they penalize, exactly? i hope you mean that france might look into the way it supports dictators who don't pay even thier football teams. . .togo may have been an embarassment, but it is always embarassing to call attention to larger issues when it would be more polite to shut up and pretend that politics don't exist on the football pitch. while it is lovely to think of football, music and cuisine as places where money and violence don't exist, I am personally proud of the togolese team for taking a stand on a world stage and embarassing themselves. . .