Principle

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 17th 2015)

Banned

The latest edition of the African Cup of Nations starts today. It should have been hosted by Morocco, coached by one of the North-African nationʼs best ever players Zaki Badou. If Morocco had not declined to host at the the eleventh hour I would have been there covering the tournament – one that Empower-Sport supports and continues to back.

CIMG2326

Some believe that the governing body the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was caught between a rock and a hard place. Morocco refused to host the tournament citing fears over the outbreak of the Ebola Virus. Their concerns would have carried more weight, but for inconvenient facts. They happily hosted the World Club Championship despite Spain – home of European Champions Real Madrid having had a case of Ebola.

But the case of Guinea takes some explaining. It was one of three West-African countries at the source of the outbreak. But Guineaʼs football team was not only not banned from Morocco, they were welcomed. During the crisis Guinea did not host matches in the land Ahmed Sékou Touré led to independence. Instead, they played their qualifiers in you guessed it – Morocco. Guinea complied with Moroccoʼs conditions and not one case of Ebola was reported in Morocco.

The security conditions were plainly effective, but Morocco decided to forego hosting this edition of the African Cup of Nations. CAF President Issa Hayatou confirmed that CAF would seek the usual punishment in such circumstances. Morocco has been banned from the next two African Cup of Nations in 2017 and 2019. But Moroccoʼs withdrawal left scrambling to find a host at short notice. Their choice was appalling.

Blatter and Hayatou 1

Vicious

In 2012 Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the African Cup of Nations. We took a principled decision that we would not attend or cover matches in that country due to the appalling human rights record of its government, led by one of the longest-lasting dictators in the world Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

His grip on power has vice-like and brutal. Even before he seized power in a coup against his uncle, he was implicated in the crimes of that regime, running the notorious Black Beach Prison. Obiang seized power from his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema – Macias was tried and executed. Obiangʼs role in the crimes of Macias was discretely glossed over.

It was a big decision for us not to go – we had never chosen to do that before, but we believed that Obiangʼs dictatorship could not and should not be legitimised. We also believed that Obiang would ensure that journalists were shown a sanitised version of the country. The country should be prosperous – oil was discovered there, but its resources prop up a vicious kleptocracy.

The decision to go to Gabon alone in 2012 was a difficult one, but the right one – principle is not for sale. It was hard from a football point of view as I had a feeling about the eventual winners again – I chose Egypt in 2008 when many experts did not.

CIMG1041

In 2012 the team I backed to win from an early stage – Zambiaʼs Chipolopolo – was based in Equatorial Guinea. There was only one match that would take place in Gabon – the final. It was fitting that Zambia won that tournament in Zambia, but that was the only match that I saw the champions to be play.

Crimes and Misdemeanours

The crimes of Obiangʼs dictatorship remain unpunished – unacknowledged in many instances. But CAF does not exist in a vacuum and nor does football. As long as Obiang clings to power his regime should be shunned. The people of Equatorial Guinea do not need the African Cup of Nations. They need freedom and justice.

For that alone, we cannot support this edition of the African Cup of Nations, but there is another reason. Equatorial Guinea was thrown out of qualifiers for breaching the rules – fielding ineligible players.

The country was not eligible to qualify on the pitch. How could an ineligible nation be allowed to host the tournament. It devalues a great tournament that we look forward ton supporting and covering again. But some things are too important to compromise.

Advertisements

Coaching Legacy (Part Two) – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 27th 2010)

Retaining

When Charles Kumi Gyamfi took his young team to Tunisia expectations were high in Ghana, but not elsewhere in Africa. The young coach had won the tournament on home soil in 1963. So what? Now he had to take his rebuilt team to North Africa and deliver again. Gyamfi proved himself an exceptionally good coach – an African legend – during that tournament.

The Black Stars retained the trophy, but the African team of the decade never got to keep an African Cup of Nations trophy. They threw away the best chance they had through petty political interference that involved the disgraceful treatment of a football icon, but that was in the near future. Ghana’s Football Revolution was ready to be exported to the rest of Africa after the Black Stars success in 1965.

We win the cup in Tunisia and we wanted to stay here and celebrate, but Dr Kwame [Nkrumah] tells us that we had to go to Kenya”, Gyamfi told us. “He wanted us to play there – show the Kenyans – what went on in Tunisia, so we went to play there. We played against the Kenyan national team. In fact, before we left we were not happy about it, but once Kwame Nkrumah had said it, we went there”.

Exporting the Revolution and African Unity

The trip showed the importance of the revolution. Celebration could come later, but first the revolution had to be exported. “Really we are going there to enjoy ourselves”, said Gyamfi. “We had to go there to court opinion and play against Kenya, so that we get their friendship”. It was far more than just a match, although the Black Stars put on an exhibition of football, which was not what Nkrumah had intended.

When we got to Kenya we played in front of the Kenyan people”, Gyamfi said. “Jomo Kenyatta himself was waving to us and totally happy. We beat them 13-0 – 13-0”.

There can’t be many times when such a result earned the winners displeasure, but Nkrumah was not happy. In fact, he was very displeased and demanded that the Black Stars understand the importance of their mission to Kenya – to help build African unity.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah told us that he didn’t tell us to go and dismantle Kenyan football and therefore we knew that Kenya was not finished for us”, said Gyamfi. “We played a second match against Kenya and give them a chance to play, so we drew with them in the second match. He didn’t ask us to go and destroy Kenya. It was a friendly, just to bring all of us together. All of these things were important”.

Robbed

Ghana would soon be robbed of the fruits of the Football Revolution. A CIA inspired coup d’état in February 1966 overthrew Nkrumah, outlawed his Convention People’s Party, and set about reversing his policies.

A statue of Nkrumah was dismembered in the violence that accompanied his overthrow and ushered in a cycle of coups, counter-coups, weak governments and yet more coups. It now stands to the left of his mausoleum – a permanent reminder of the violence and cost to Ghana of the coup.

Nkrumah dreamed of returning to power, but that never happened. His health began to fail rapidly after a kidnap attempt in the Guinean capital Conakry failed to capture him, Guinean President Ahmed Sékou Touré and the gifted liberation struggle leader of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands, Amílcar Cabral. It had been organised by the Portuguese dictatorship of Marcelo Caetano.

Knowing that he was dying Nkrumah asked military dictator General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong to be allowed to return to die. His request was refused and Nkrumah died in exile in April 1972, just months after Acheampong seized power in a coup.

Following assurances given by Acheampong, Nkrumah’s remains were returned to Nkroful – the village of his birth and buried there – until the Nkrumah Mausoleum was completed in Accra.

Nkrumah’s Football Legacy

Nkrumah’s legacy is a complex one, especially in Ghana, but it is acknowledged and celebrated throughout Africa and even in his country now. The Football Revolution that Nkrumah helped to initiate is also appreciated now. As Gyamfi acknowledges it played a very important role in developing and fostering African unity.

It played a very, very big part in Ghana at this time, because football is something that you have to keep enjoying when playing”, said Gyamfi. “In Kenya we enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed it; my colleagues enjoy it too. Those who are spectators also enjoyed it”. But it couldn’t last. “A lot of things went wrong after he [Nkrumah] was overthrown”, said Gyamfi. “I went away. They wanted to play for money and things went wrong”.

Ghana – the sole African survivor in the 2010 World Cup – has been adopted by all of Africa. The vuvuselas now hail the Black Stars as Africa’s team. This World Cup is seen by Africans as their tournament. The support Ghana receives in South Africa is a legacy of the Football Revolution. “It brings us all together”, said Gyamfi, “and it was by getting all these things that we bring Africa together. We put a lot of effort and strength and devotion into it”.

The Betrayal

Nevertheless, coaches including Gyamfi would soon feel the brunt of the counter-revolution. Nkrumah’s blueprint was shamefully thrown away and African achievements were denigrated once more. Coaches and administrators were not trained abroad or within the country and gradually their skills were lost as they were not passed on to the next generation.

Dependency on foreign coaches crept back into Ghanaian football and the strong national team and league that Ohene Djan built was frittered away. The Ghanaian FA was held to ransom by foreign coaches, who did not understand Ghana or its football culture. Ghanaian coaching and administrative skills would have to be learned again from scratch. It was a recipe for failure and the counter-revolution delivered that with gusto, but first the revolution had to be destroyed.

The roots of the revolution were so strong that it took years to totally dismantle. A chronic lack of investment in football, coaches and human resources sent Ghanaian football to a decade-long slumber. But despite the lack of investment and disastrous short-sightedness, the Black Stars were too good to bring instant failure – that took time.

Ghana reached an unprecedented four consecutive finals of the African Cup of Nations between 1963 and 1970. It is no coincidence that shorn of the full influence of the greatest coach the country ever produced they lost the two finals they contested after the revolution was betrayed.