By COLLEN LESOLE
AFCON 2017 in Gabon: delirium for football lovers. Pure ecstasy for the journalist with the free pass to the matches, the front seat to Africa’s greatest football spectacle. Carnival atmosphere: the constant battle of the Francophone and Anglophone countries for the soul of African football and a thousand miles away a shady colonial master wishing success or ill luck on any country. The hungry agent looking for the next superstar and the player hoping to land a bumper contract to renovate Mama’s two roomed house or send his siblings to school.
And in the narrative, the government patiently waiting on the side for its fair share of glory. In this story a good run fir the national team could spell another term in office for the ruling party who are ‘the government’. Mister President with his shiny suits and a thousand titles to his name will pull out all the stops in reminding Africa and the world how great his people are. His government might even secure some loans to upgrade the stadiums or make the necessary renovations: bills running in excess of millions.
The Minister of Energy or Power will keep the power running for the whole month during the duration of this tournament. Hell he would even sleep and wake up at the power stations and pray to God to withhold the rain for those four weeks. The farmer who barely has power in his tin hut and could do with rain suddenly has to let his private interests give way to common purpose. He must be a patriot. A starving patriot that is. He might not even make love to his wife because he might commit a crime by forgetting that January and February are all about football. On Valentine’s day the wife will eat football. It is her patriotic duty to forget for a while her romantic notions of roses and idyllic walks on the beach. No! There is a more pressing duty.
In Parliament Mister President and his band of merry brothers will be on a go slow, except for reminding the citizens that they must go support the local boys. ‘ El Presidente’, feeling charitable like Santa Claus will buy a thousand tickets every time the national team plays- the price of each ticket equals a small bag of maize in some households. In the countryside it has been flooding quite steadily: the rains have been torrential and the colonial old tarred road has given up on its patriotic duty. Unlike man, it has no conscience to hold on, to keep fighting a little bit longer.
The state media is unable to cover this tragedy because they have keep their eye on the ball- literally. Everyone is gripped by the football fever in the members of the Opposition who less than a few weeks ago accused the government of squandering money on stadia that will not benefit the people in the long run. Today they are quiet, perhaps a bit afraid too to upset the football mad nation by telling them that the duty of the government is to the people first. So they keep quiet and for once together with the President can be seen in one regalia- the national team jersey
Now Mister President has many visitors from abroad. World class dignitaries from first world countries. Gianni Infantino will definitely be there. A Pele or Michel Platini might turn up at the behest of the President, to see the best of African football. The problem is that the local cuisine might upset their stomachs because they are not used to it. And they do not imbibe Black Label or some cheap wine. Consequently the Presidential jet might fly to France for the champagne, bottled water and a first rate chef- all at a hefty price but our man has a blank cheque and must keep up appearances.
And now to the common folks. Pity the brother with the beautiful girl. The pretty girl will be usher to the bigwigs; she will be the face of the country and you poor brother will rue the day football ever came to town. Why your girlfriend? Next to the suave, smooth and multilingual brothers suited in Tom Fords you know you stand little chance and you know it too. She comes home late, happier than you have ever known her.
Hell, you didn’t even know she can be this jovial or even take a bit of alcohol. Wasn’t she reading to you from the Old Testament last week about drunkenness? Well, today it is a New Testament and whatever that goes into a man’ s mouth does not defile him. Last night she didn’t come home. Your neighbour us happy that the national team has progressed to the next round and for that a little wine and the billy goat will soothe your stomachs tonight. You know it us his last goat but like the girlfriend he has an obligation towards the national team. Yes, happiness is a patriotic duty especially when there are strangers who might write bad things about ‘El Presidente’ on your account of a sombre mood.
Quarter finals. The host country meets Ghana and the dream comes crashing down to earth. It is all over. Mister President puts a brave face and praises the boys for making the country proud. Privately he admonishes the players and the coach as well for making late substitutions. What do they pay him for if he fails to read a game?
A week later it is over a d the everybody has forgotten because like all things to be forgotten, it had to fade into memory. There are more pressing matters. The wife wants a new dress; there are school fees to be paid and the beggars who had been conveniently his suddenly appear. Nothing ever changes here. What legacy of the AFCON? This is Africa my brother and everyday we feed on optimism. It is our only meal on most days.
And then the hungry child who was mesmerized by the likes of Sadio Mane and Riyadh Mahrez calls out to his mates. Time to play. Time to forget awhile. Time to soar and dream. In that moment he is whoever he wants to be, he is everything. And who knows, maybe one day you will see him on your televisions, far away in Europe inspiring a million more, a generation.
NB: These story is purely fictional and the figment of my imagination but if it bears any resemblance to any current or past events, I am not responsible for making such comparisons.