By Gabriel DeBarros
Angola Country Director
The first FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil has begun and people from across the world have put aside their differences to focus on the continent for a brief period of 30 days, united in the sheer joy and excitement of watching “the king of sports”. Our hope is that FIFA 2010 will benefit not only South Africa and the game of soccer, but will also bring goodwill among nations and make the world a better place to live in.
In the euphoria of the “vuvuzela” event, we must not forget the challenges facing our continent — poverty and hunger, conflict and violence, HIV and AIDS, corruption, and the violation of basic human rights. As African Human Rights and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) campaigners, we need to seize this World Cup opportunity to inspire our fellow Africans, to learn from each other and to confront the increasing challenges that face Africa and our people.
More importantly, we need to confront Africa’s leaders about their failure to lead the continent in meeting the MDG targets by 2015. We need to hold them accountable for the corruption and misrule that have made our continent and its people miserable and poor. Violent power struggles, anarchy, lawlessness, and the disintegration of state structures are largely the outcome of the complete failure of political leadership.
It is fitting that the World Cup takes place in Africa this year because 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of independence of many nations on the continent. Fifty years is a long time to get things right, but Africa has a multitude of problems. All Africans, particularly the leaders, need to introspect and consider where we have gone wrong. Some of the continent’s problems are related to leaders refusing to surrender power — José Eduardo dos Santos (1979), Robert Mugabe (1980), and Yoweri Museveni (1986), for example, have been hanging on to power for more than 30 years. If anyone had suggested more than two decades ago that these leaders would still be in office today, they would have been considered insane. There was little to suggest back then that they had any ambitions beyond restoring security, establishing the rule of law, and breathing life into the economies of their countries. However, three decades later, they are still in power and planning to seek re-election. The African problem as such is one of a lack of fair play by leaders who overstay their welcome by changing Constitutions to allow them to remain in power for life.
Yes, these leaders have contributed to the washout of the past 50 years, but if we learn from our past failures all will not be lost. If we do not, the MDGs will not be realised in 2015, the future of our continent will go to the ruins of history, and the World Cup will never come back to African soil.
Many may argue about what the 2010 World Cup actually means for Africa’s renaissance, or even that the host nation is South Africa and so what does it have to do with the rest of Africa anyway?
Well, South Africa will not win the World Cup – the team may not even advance from the group stage, given their 3-0 defeat by Uruguay last Wednesday – and, politically, the legacy of President Jacob Zuma may be hard to predict, but the country is a beam of hope for the rest of Africa. The headship of Nelson Mandela — from fighting apartheid to leading the peaceful transition to a democratic and stable “rainbow nation” — should inspire African leaders to join the path of peace and development and step down when they have made their contributions. Also, South Africa’s positive political, economic and MDG records contributed to its success in joining a distinguished list of countries to host such an event as the World Cup.
This should be a lesson to the rest of Africa to strengthen constitutional and democratic institutions, and educate its people about respecting the rule of law and becoming good citizens. The rest of Africa needs political stability, good governance and peaceful development — and the starting point is meeting MDG targets. South Africa is not the perfect model of a State and its MDG records are still far from the 2015 targets, but it has earned its rightful place in the global arena of nations. In South Africa we don’t see cases of $3-billion disappearing from state bank accounts – as happened in Angola — or well-known businessmen financing the state – like the case in Mozambique where President Guebuza received monies from a prominent businessman who was listed on the US State Department report for drug trafficking. Angola may have been successful in organising AFCON in January, but it still hasn’t paid the construction companies that built the soccer stadiums, and Mozambique was withdrawn from hosting a simple roller hockey world championship because it did not have the capacity to organise the event.
What the 2010 FIFA World Cup has shown is that South Africa is an African country on a different continent – and that if the rest of Africa hopes to host the event in the future, it needs to change for the better. The “rainbow nation” has paved the way for the rest of Africa to say “ke nako” (it’s time), now it’s our responsibility to keep that legacy alive!