Football is part and parcel of African culture. From the barefoot pickup games by the village kids using balls made from banana stalk to the boda boda riders huddled over a radio on the street corner in the middle of Kampala to hear the latest premier league match.
While this edition of the World Cup is being held on African soil, it is a hard question to put into context whether or not this is Africa’s Cup. There’s a perceptual difference between South Africa and the rest of Africa.
Much the same way that there’s a noticeable difference between Northern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The Africa in-between is the Africa that the world has relegated to basket case status and therefore not worthy of mention except as news filler for when there is a famine, genocide, or some other African crisis.
The assumption that this is Africa’s cup is at best half of the whole truth. Yes, geographically, it is being held on the African continent and within the sovereign borders of one of Africa’s 53 nation states.
Then again, what other African nation really had the governance, rule of law, security, energy & transportation infrastructures or broadcast technical know-how to host this event? Answer: mmm, none.
There’s also the admission of committing a fallacy of assumption that Africa is one country. If something big happens in one African country, then it is automatically credited to and/or blame is passed against the whole continent.
If the 2012 Olympics fail in London, will that be Great Britain’s fault or Europe’s fault? Perhaps this is South Africa’s opportunity to stand alone, without the weight of negativity that inevitably accompanies mention of the continent.
Nonetheless, we will celebrate the game, not for its politics or geographic windfall, but for the beauty and celebration of the one sports tournament that unifies the world every few years. We will celebrate in Uganda by buying radios and televisions.
We will stock up on car batteries, all manner of solar chargers, backup generators and reserve fuel. All in effort to be prepared as to not miss a single header, corner kick, red card, or the millionth Coca-Cola commercial with K’naan’s world cup battle cry.
Those able will capitalize on the football thirst by building bars and restaurants, crude watching establishments with their plastic chairs serving cheap waragi, chips and rolexes.
Long-dormant DSTV satellite subscriptions will be temporarily renewed. A small tick in hyper-local economic activity will register as the bustle boils to a fever pitch before the first whistle. Just as quickly, it will fade the minute the winner hoists the trophy.
“Africa” will merely be a footnote to “South.” The sceptics will exalt their prowess in punditry with, “yeah, but…” this and “yeah, but…” that.
For those of us in the Diaspora, we look upon South Africa with great hope (perhaps a little bit of jealousy if we happen to be from one of the other 52 nations) and promise. Perhaps this is an indicator that yes, some parts of this continent are ready to play on the world stage.
In the periphery of the global football conversation, happy that the world’s attention will be—however briefly—focused on some part of this continent. We will look to see if South Africa stands up to the challenge of showing the world what it is made of.
In “Little Kampala” aka Boston, Massachusetts, Uganda’s Apolo Nbyahika hopes for the best: “As you noted it’s the ‘World Cup’ and not ‘Africa’s World Cup’. In spite of this Africa will receive much more attention in the media this week leading up to the World Cup. So it’s up to us African’s to make the best use of this month long spotlight on Africa. How will we use this opportunity in a positive way?
We cannot leave it up to the bazungu to tell our story. So let’s step up and do out part to make Africa shine!
The highlights will be replayed for weeks to come, but eventually the conversation will move on. Little will be said about South Africa’s ability to host a global event, lest it be disastrous – in which case the echoes of “I told you so, Africa wasn’t ready” will echo for decades to come.
As if 52 other countries were complicit in the failure. Singular in glory, collective in failure.
Commentary by TMS Ruge, TMS Ruge is the founder of Project Diaspora.