African viewpoint: A year of great leaps forward?

 
Zambia's Nathan Sinkala leaps to head the ball during a national team training session in Equatorial Guinea on 6 February 2012 The story of Zambia's Chipolopolo has been inspiring

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo asks what kind of continent awaits the soon-to-be-crowned new Africa Cup of Nations champions.

It is February. With its leap year and extra day and a year to the day when this and that happened up north and the other thing happened further south and seasons change to the tune of the familiar.

South Sudan gives us more cause for concern, bodies are buried in northern Nigeria and the African Union meets in a brand-new Chinese gift of a building - where the leaders discuss how utterly bereft they have become as leaders and of leadership.

We should be thankful that we have other distractions.

African gladiators

Those of us stuck in the northern hemisphere have been watching the Africa Cup of Nations in the freezing climate of an Arctic winter that has been claiming the lives of the vulnerable.

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To those of us steeped in spiritual realism, the proximity of the tragedy and those 30 men to this year's Gabon championship raises supernatural hopes”

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And while my friends claim I often read too much into the meaning of sporting events, I have been beaming with the rest of southern Africa at the emergence of Zambia as a fully fledged African gladiator on the football field.

The Zambians beat the Sudanese to progress to the semi finals - the only southern African team left in the tournament, following Botswana's hammering at the hands of Guinea by six goals to one.

Anyone aware of how far the Chipolopolo - the Copper Bullets - have travelled to be at the Africa Cup of Nations yet again would understand the excitement.

This April will mark 19 years since Zambia's brilliant young team was lost to the sea off the coast of Libreville in one of Africa's worst sporting accidents.

A Zambia Air Force plane crashed on take-off and 30 people perished.

Yet - within less than a year of that disaster - Zambia fielded a new team that faced Nigeria in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations Final - and lost by just 2-1.

Such a history no doubt inspires the romantics from Lusaka to Libreville, and the sermon that says "in the shadow of tragedy walks great opportunity for those who dare to believe" is played out.

And to those of us steeped in spiritual realism, the proximity of the tragedy and those 30 men to this year's Gabon championship raises supernatural hopes.

A masked Egyptian protester is seen during clashes with riot police near the interior ministry in the capital Cairo on 6 February 2012, as one protester was killed in the wake of deadly football violence and amid calls by activists for civil disobedience in Egypt. Egyptians are back out on the streets in the wake of deadly football violence

Meanwhile, Egypt - one of the African Cup of Nations' biggest winners - missed out on the tournament this time around.

The country is yet to emerge from an endless cycle of violence - which has in recent days engulfed football fans.

Egypt's worst-ever football violence left over 70 people dead after a match in Port Said.

Toothless bulldog?

But is this identification with north, south, east and west a vanity of sorts?

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Mugabe warned the gathered Africans yet again that 'the West are after our resources'”

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Would southern Africans have switched allegiances had the final pitted Ivory Coast with Tunisia?

What of a Zambia vs Mali final? Would that split the African audience along colonial allegiances?

Did South Sudan support their neighbour Sudan even as border disputes simmer between the old and new nations?

Has the year that has gone by seen the north take strident steps towards a new identity - that of being more Arab than African?

Is it the Arab League more than the African Union that now holds sway over our northern neighbours?

The events in sunny Gabon and rain-soaked Equatorial Guinea these past weeks did not answer these questions - and while the footballers took our attention, the politicians were meeting in a brand new headquarters in Ethiopia's capital for an ordinary session of the African Union.

The new African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa The talking point of the recent AU meeting

These headquarters had been built by our new friends, the Chinese - who splashed out an intriguing $200m (£127m) on a building for an African Union at a time when such a union has never looked less likely.

It was left to the likes of President Robert Mugabe to call the African Union a "toothless bulldog" that had done nothing to prevent the murder of civilians in Libya and the killing of his friend Muammar Gaddafi - and to warn the gathered Africans yet again that "the West are after our resources".

It is said the recognition of Libya's National Transitional Council by the African Union had irked the veteran leader into this combative position.

The Chinese building in Addis Ababa, however, was the star of this ordinary meeting of African leadership.

It spoke plainly that while talk is of safeguarding resources, Gabon, Angola and Zimbabwe will already have been offering their oil and minerals to the new global power that builds buildings, erects cities and football stadia - all in the name of business and nothing else.

The revolutions will linger and allegiances change and by the time the final is played and won in the coming days, Africa's champions may well be reigning over a very different union of African nations - one seeking a new purpose, direction and a new set of teeth.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Every year or so, there's hopes expressed that finally Sub Saharan Africa will finally end the corruption that keeps it backward. But every other year, there's a realistion that Africa will never change. Stop all aid, & ban all NGO's & let 'Africa' sort itself out. If that means a 'Black Napoleon' conquering all & creating a new empire, then so be it, if that meant corruption was banished.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Zambia 1 - Ghana 0... ! What a well-timed, prescient articke.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Truly inspiring to see Zambia flourish after the terrible tragedy that befell their great predecessors.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Man dies the day he stops to hope. One cannot, but hope that Africa's better days are ahead. Even, it seems like, for every step forward, it takes 2-3 backward. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country after 3 decades of military rule is now threatened by insurgencies from Boko Haram and MEND in her nascent democray. Most Nigerians live in abject poverty in oil & human resources rich country

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    A year of great leaps forward?
    No, not unless Africa can unite in a way that will prevent foreign stripping of resources, destruction of environment, & implement respect for African traditions. This is what Gaddafi foresaw: A United States of Africa, where liike the US, you couldn't just come in & decide to search for uranium, or whatever. Africa must unite to protect its soverign countries.

 

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