Africa United?

I’ll be honest. I love that Shakira song. It’s trite and filled with stereotypes from grass skirts to bumshaking dances – and I know I shouldn’t like it. For as Brendan O’Neill points out at Spiked Online it captures everything that is wrong and patronising about this “African” World Cup…

Ever since the opening ceremony, when Shakira did tribal dancing and sang ‘waka, waka Africa!’ (‘shine, shine Africa!’), we knew this World Cup would serve up a massive dollop of patronising guff about Africans.

And so it proved. When Ghana reached the quarter finals, they were no longer a national team – they were AFRICA. Never mind that the team has a long-standing rivalry with regional powerhouse Nigeria, or that Ghana’s supporters will long remember defeat by Cameroon in the 2008 Cup of Nations that deprived the Black Stars of reaching the final on home soil, African football fans are supposed to behave according to different norms.

Personally, I struggled last night to decide which team I hate more: Germany or Argentina. A lifetime of sporting disappointment (and cheating Argies) colours my judgment. I desperately want Spain and the Netherlands to fail so that the select group of winners – of which England is an increasingly aberrant member – is not enlarged. The notion that I might switch allegiance once my own team is knocked out, that I might put continental pride first, is bonkers. A host of occasionally bigoted factors comes into play. That’s what football fans do. Ultimately it’s tribal.

So why should it be different for Africans? As Elizabeth Ohene, a Ghanaian points out…

As for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, if they were simply the Super Eagles, they would be easy to love. But the Nigeria bit makes it so difficult to stomach; who on this continent doesn’t find the Nigerians insufferable? They are loud, and there are frankly too many of them.

If there is one thing that unites the people of Africa, it is a love of football. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that somehow Africans are different to the rest of us. Egyptian and Algerian fans almost started a regional war during their world cup qualifier. So too Chad and Sudan.

However, the alternative narrative – that the continent is filled by exotic tribes whose differences could be solved if only they could play a bit of footie together – is desperately appealing to a world that has no idea how to help in Somalia, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the rest. What an uplifting, idealistic and happy thought. It is the sort of thing that would make a nice Coca Cola commercial. And that’s probably whyI have set Waka Waka as the ringtone on my phone. Even though I know it’s sentimental bullshit that borders on racist.


One thought on “Africa United?

  1. Rob,

    Whereas i typically struggle with the sort of generalisations you describe here, i found that i too saw the Ghanaian team as an African team. I OWNED them, fiercely at that. As, in my view, did many Africans, leastways those on my twitter timeline and my facebook pages.

    It was not much a stereotype as an embrace. It has happened before too: I having a similar conversation at the world cup.

    It maybe a function of the fact that there’s still a glass ceiling that keeps African teams from climbing to the very top of world football. Maybe one day when three of the four nations competing at the semi finals are African, then our identities will become more regional, less pan African.

    But, this time round, when friends from the west commiserated with me about Ghana’s loss, I did not feel a sting. Quite to the contrary, I felt understood.

    I’m still mentally exploring what this means in the light of other opinions that I’ve held (and expressed) along the way. But in the meantime, it is what it is.

    Of Shakira and her grass skirt, i will make no comment.

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