World Cup 2010 in South Africa: why this maybe the beginning of calling Africa’s bluff

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 23:25
Written by Joseph Deng Garang, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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One of 2010 World Cup stadiums in South Africa
(Omaha,Nebraska)--In March 2000 the London-based Economist magazine, which is known for its ridiculously wide global readership, declared Africa as ‘the hopeless continent’ on its cover page. At that time the only thing that was picturesque about Africa on the pages of The Economist was her map; the rest was about the continent in descent. But for me, the year 2000 was filled with hope. As a former child refugee preparing to graduate from high school, the thoughts and prospects of achieving such a milestone, and giving back to my community were exhilarating.

So one would ask why the label in year 2000?  Perhaps in its rendering of the editorial verdict, the magazine’s committee was looking at a continent that at the time was beset by close to 15 civil wars spanning its Sub Saharan region, unprecedented wave of millions of refugees, a scenario which now has been reduced to 3 wars: Congo, Sudan and Somalia.

Maybe to those impervious to African labels, the ‘hopeless’ label in 2000 was another additive to such labels as the ‘dark continent’, often depicted as ruled by ‘big men.’

Or as one African writer Ata Ama Aidoo once said: “The campaign to portray Africans and people of African descent everywhere as next to animals must surely have one objective: to demonstrate that Africans do not deserve to have Africa -- at least, not as much as others do.”

But what a difference a ten year can make!  From June 10-July 11 2010, in the wake of a serious global despair brought about by economic meltdown, the world will turn its eyes to Gauteng Province, South Africa -- the southern tip of the African continent to witness something refreshing and hopeful come out of it: the world cup games; the first one since this world’s greatest sporting event began in 1934.

It is mid June 2009, and already the confederations cup—usually played one year prior to official start of the world cups as a test of readiness—have started and any casual observers cannot help but be proud of the excitement that is filling the air as South Africans line streets and football stadiums. The BBC showed pictures the other day of people celebrating on streets in South African cities.

In show of African benevolence to the many European football fans who will be visiting South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, maybe this invitation by Mr. Ata Ama Aidoo would be fitting: “On a clear day, fly from Zurich across the Alps. Take note of those blindingly beautiful, perennially snow-capped European mountains. Look through the window as you cross the Mediterranean, the sea that separates Europe from Africa -- or connects Africa to Europe -- and around which so much has happened over the last 6,000 years. Then get prepared for the arid dazzle of the Sahara, the earth's largest desert. Keep looking, so that you do not lose sight of the sheer expanse of it or its many changing selves. Keep looking, as the plane flies over the charming promise of the Sahel, followed by the immense savannahs. Then prepare yourself for the awesome greens of the forests. Shortly you will be approaching the coast. The Atlantic welcomes you.”

For me as an African writing this opinion from afar, it warms my heart to see the World Cup played on our soil. But my interest this time will be a little different than it used to when World Cups were being played around the world. Usually the rituals for me and other diehard fans of football is to dwell on which team, strikers, mid-fielders and goalie are calling the best shots.

I think this particular time is a seminal moment for us to take pleasure in while seizing the chance to ask ourselves questions. And the first question that ought to carry the epigraph is, could this chance be the beginning of calling Africa’s bluff? The rhetorical equivalence of asking Africa to show the world what it has got.

Are we going to wrestle with hangovers of this first major international event or is it a harbinger for something better? And if so, how will Each African country try to be like South Africa?

Of course we now know that South Africa won the test to host the World cup not just as a handout like the usually talked about foreign aid to Africa but as a matter of merit and excellence; it met the key requirements by FIFA, the world governing body for world cup.

South Africa’s ten state-of-the-art stadiums, superb rail service, transportation links, airports, communication systems, and the Gauteng Province, sandwiched between Johannesburg and Pretoria, is known as the ‘economic powerhouse’ of south Africa and headquarters of FIFA 2010 are a simple testament to its infrastructural prowess. And a budget of 15billion dollars was met.

 We know it was few years ago that FIFA was pressed to change its principle to allow for rotation of World cup hosting among all the six continents.  When it was started with Africa, competition was still allowed among members and of course Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and South Africa all applied but the winner became obvious. That says a lot about the future of the continent because on the list of world emerging markets, Africa boasts its best three: South Africa, Egypt and Morocco.

 I strongly believe if we were to rise to the challenge to sustain momentum after this great event, much of it would be dependent on whether or not we evolve the already existing initiatives by the African Union: New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), all advocating sound economic development and issues of good governance and accountability. These belong in the realm of long term commitments toward continental integration and future investments.

There is no disputing it that this World Cup will be of particular interest to  many African youth whether in rural areas or in towns because of the way technology has been diffusing in recent years.

There is a wave of broadband revolution sweeping across Africa, where recent talk of fiber-optic cabling in East Africa may mean great future for our people, especially those that are relying on satellites for internet and mobile phones service. Maybe next year majority of populations will see the benefits of faster internet, and other services such as processing transactions online.

So it bears repeating that in as much as we have finally secured the opportunity of hosting a global event--the World Cup--Africa must not abdicate its competitiveness by ceding the century to some entity. It is about time leadership decisions are made that foster sound business models and immense investments for the good of the continent and its people.

And three African leaders said it best when talking about the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that:

"The 2010 Fifa World Cup provides South Africa and the region with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to showcase our land and our hospitality in a sporting festival that knows no bounds," said Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s former Finance Minister.

"The cities' co-operation and enthusiasm is unparalleled and signals the determination of the host cities to be wonderful hosts and deliver world class infrastructure with African sensation," said Danny Jordaan, chief executive of South Africa Local Organizing Committee (SALCO).

“Things like new stadiums, roads, transport systems and broadcasting developments will leave a lasting infrastructure legacy to the benefit of the country,” said Ivor Hoff, Chief Director of Sport in Gauteng province.

For a continent that has given us Nelson Mandela, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, John Garang, and many more visionaries, it will be disconcerting to not find this moment as a rallying point for a promising future.  

In the end, our maximizing and letting the innovative spirit of the 2010 World Cup ripple through all African countries in the form of attracting major development and investments is one sure way we can dispel further unleashing of a torrent of labeling by such publications as The Economist.

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