This Small-Minded Notion… Amuse Yourselves, Please

Permit me to – before someone else does it on my behalf– say that I occasionally get caught up in the wave of new ideas such that my behavior could easily bother on that of an obsessed, simple-minded nit-wit. I can sometimes be terribly guilty of buying into certain ideas especially of intellectual nature when such ideas originate from one of the people I really like – celebrity or civilian – without having the patience or guts to critique the idea enough before embracing it. You can call that naivety, call it intellectual laziness or follow follow in Nigerianese.

So, here I am writing yet another article based on an issue raised by acclaimed Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is again about the “single story” as inspired by the brilliant “The Danger of the Single Story,” a speech delivered by Adichie in the UK last year. The FIFA World Cup is of course the most dominant event on the airwaves at the moment, particularly in Africa where the tournament is being staged for the first time. I like the fact that Africans have greeted the tournament with great fervor, but I‘ve also got a few issues with the extent to which people, especially other Africans, see the event as an African affair as opposed being merely a South-Africa-hosted tournament.

Maybe it’s something to do with my being chronically incapable of thinking optimistically or less cynically about issues such as this, but I don’t exactly see why SA hosting the world cup can be construed as Africa’s party. Yes, a few countries, notably, some of South Africa’s neighbours in Southern Africa may benefit from the tourism throwback that come with SA being host, but isn’t that where it all ends as far as the event being an African affair goes? The tournament may be coming to the continent for the first time ever, but in my opinion, the way people across the continent seem to ‘hug’ the whole thing as a triumph for Africa smacks of a poverty of ambition and a disguised reminder of just why the continent remains underdeveloped, with or without the effects of colonialism. Considering the fact that it required some form of rotational principle for an African nation to secure the hosting right for the tournament in the first place, all the “Africa” talk about the world cup seems to hint at our tacit agreement with the continent’s place in world issues is perceived to be. It seems that somehow, we acknowledge that very little is due the continent or that Africa does not deserve so much from the rest of the world in whatever sphere. Therefore, we are eagerly ready to lap up what little crumbs and pieces we can get occasionally. Ever heard of Europe’s World Cup, North America’s World Cup, etc?

Even in 2002 when the same event was hosted for the first time on Asian soil (Japan and South Korea) who recalls the media or political angle tagging it in any form as an Asian extravaganza? Perhaps, the rest of Asia (especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Malaysia, China, the UAE) were (unlike Nigeria for instance, with its hundreds of politicians going to SA to “celebrate with our brother”) more preoccupied with thinking of how to ensure that one of them would be the next Asian host of the tournament. But ironically, using the current state of affairs as a vista, even if the World Cup or perhaps the Olympics was to be ceded to Africa in 10 or 15 years, how many countries on the continent apart from SA – and with the possible(?) inclusion of Egypt or Tunisia – seem to have the football structures (administration, well-run football leagues et al) and the national economies to host it?

Severally, I have heard people in Nigeria say that the reason SA is doing better economically and in terms of infrastructure than most other African countries is the presence of the white (European) population in the country. This, some argue, made it possible for SA to win the hosting rights in 2004. I don’t know what the thinking is across the rest of Africa. But sadly, this argument is in itself worrying because in the final analysis, it is a tacit admission of the inferiority of the black man to the white man mainly based on the colour of the skin and all that comes with it. It must be pointed out that there is nothing wrong in being second best. But there is certainly something wrong with being second best to whoever by miles. Unfortunately, this is what the African continent seems to always labour to be (distant second best) to the rest of the world, in ideology, technology and what have you in spite of the well-documented achievements of pan-African and anti-colonial activities on the continent. To take a leaf from Adichie, that is just a case of ‘make others think of you as small over and over again, and they will believe you are small.’ Otherwise put, ‘think petty all the time and you become petty.’

As a Nigerian, it is for the same reason that I am disturbed that Ghana rather than Nigeria has reached the quarterfinals of this year’s tournament. And for that I refuse to revel in the Black Stars’ achievements so far not because I am a spoilsport or bad belle as they say in Nigeria. I simply do not see the all-for-one-and-one-for-all scenario in the whole thing. The Black Stars’ stellar display is a Ghana thing so Ghanaians, not Nigerians, should shout their voices coarse in the name of patriotism. Nigerians would be better off picking a few lessons from South Africa as hosts and the Ghana national team. Same goes for the rest of the continent.

So even if all six African teams participating at this year’s World Cup had failed to make it past the first round of the tournament it would have been an indictment on those nations’ footballing principles and structures – just as it still is that only Ghana managed to make it beyond that stage. And however Ghana’s participation at the world cup ends this year, make no mistakes about it, history will record the name ‘Ghana’ and not ‘Africa’, ‘West Africa’ or ‘Nigeria’s neighbour’. As they say, “Let every man learn to answer to his own surname.”

Written by
Jibril Sado
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