African viewpoint: Continental passion?

Fans of Ghana's football squad cheer as they watch the 2010 World Cup match Ghana v Australia in Yeoville, a suburb of Johannesburg, on 19 June 2010

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In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian Elizabeth Ohene wonders why she should back African teams at the World Cup.

It is a subject that has been discussed endlessly: Africa is a continent of more than 50 countries and should not be treated as one country.

It has nothing to do really with whether you subscribe to the pan-African doctrine or not.

Algeria's coach talks with his players during a training session on 20 June 2010 Do the Desert Foxes consider themselves an African team?

If you are a Kenyan and you find yourself being asked in New York by an anxious mother if you have met her son who is serving as a Peace Corps in Mali, you get irritated by the ignorance of Americans.

If you are a Ghanaian minister of trade trying to coax some would be investors to do business in Ghana and they tell you they are anxious about the rioting in Jos, which happens to be in Nigeria, you can only despair.

This is a subject that deserves a full treatment and we will doubtless do that at the appropriate time.

For the moment and for the duration of the World Cup, it seems we on this continent are agreed that there is a team competing in this tournament called "the African team".

We had no choice really. The outside world was determined right from the beginning to judge the tournament as an African and not a South African one.

Back in January in Angola, an attack on the Togo national team coach in Cabinda during the African Nations Cup became a reason to worry about safety of the World Cup to be staged in South Africa.

'Insufferable Nigerians'

And yet just think how hard it is to love each other. Why should I love the Desert Foxes of Algeria for example?

I remember arriving at the airport in Algiers and the immigration officer asking me what it was like in Africa.

Didier Drogba

Start Quote

Ivory Coast are so much easier to love though, what with Didier Drogba breaking an arm and all”

End Quote Elizabeth Ohene

Algeria, I kept being told, and Algerians were not African.

And then I heard Egyptian fans say they would be supporting Algeria because they were the only Arab team in the tournament! And this after the two of them almost went to war over the qualification match.

Or take the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Does anybody remember that when Ghana staged the African Nations Cup in 2008, it was this Cameroonian team that knocked us out at the semi-final stage and robbed us of winning?

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.

Boot camp

The Ivorians, I keep worrying about them, I recall the year 2000 when they failed to deliver at a competition.

Start Quote

You know these smarmy Ghanaians, they are very hard to love, with their incessant claim to being the first in everything”

End Quote Elizabeth Ohene

When they got home, the then-military ruler, Robert Guei, sent the whole team to a military camp to be taught a lesson.

They are so much easier to love though, what with Didier Drogba breaking an arm and all, but really it is not fair that one team should have so much talent.

The South Africans, why do they give everybody so much heartache?

We forgive them for feeling superior and thinking everybody north of them wants to live in their country.

They are staging a great tournament and the rest of the continent can bask in the reflected glory.

But one of these African teams has got to make it out of the group stages at the very least.

I had hoped Ghana's Black Stars would put us all out of our miseries by beating the Australians.

You know these smarmy Ghanaians, they are very hard to love, with their incessant claim to being the first in everything.

And yet come to think of it, much as I find it difficult to love all my neighbours and cousins around the continent, can you imagine just how intolerable it will be if none of us makes it into the knock-out stages?

For the duration at least it seems we have no choice but to love each other.

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

Very good article Elizabeth. As an avid African soccer fan from Trinidad, I would root for any African team that reaches the World Cup final every four years. Whether the team is Ghanian, Jamaican, Nigerian or Brazilian I always rally around them. African teams on the continent and abroad have to start developing their local talent to become coaches. They cannot expect to go to the WC and be successful with Euro coaches. I really think that this issue speaks to a larger underdevelopment of the African mindset. Take a page from the American team. Very good article Liz.

Terrence Tom, Brooklyn, NY, USA

Even though the Al-Shabab banned us from watching the World Cup here in Somalia am supporting my African brothers 100%. gooooo ghanaaaaaaaaaaaaaa wooooooow the black stars.

Jama, Mogadishu, Somalia

There will be no doubt that most Africans will support Ghana now and we wish them good luck. If Ghana has an opportunity to win the World Cup, it will be a pride to Africa.

Marco A Wek, Boston, USA

Wow! It's so cool to read so much drama here. To be quite frank, I see some sense in what Elizabeth has written. In my opinion, her words may have to some extent been influenced by her stereotypes and sentiments, however lets not forget the key point in her article which is... we suck - big time! I am Nigerian and yes - in some sense we are insufferable. Many of us (Mind you Elizabeth, I said "many" not "all") are loud and annoying! We see ourselves as "giants of Africa"... when in actual fact, we are just midgets (except for our population). That does not leave Ghana out, good some of you may not be as loud as Nigerians but I don't see any reason why U always try to be better than us - it's simple, we are different, culturally, economically and socially. Using Nigeria as a benchmark will not solve your own internal problems (vice versa, Nigerians). U don't have to be Nigeria - be Ghana! And to South Africa(ns), to be honest, I don't know where to start. God has blessed you. You don't know how lucky you are to have what you have now. The effort people like Mandela and the freedom fighter made has put you in a lucky spot. Don't blow it with racial fights and unnecessary arguments about how much better you are than the others - to be honest, if you don't learn from them... I see SA turning out to be just like many of the other African countries... sucking! Big time suckers! And for BBC, this is just what they want - drama. Fortunately, Africans are full of drama. And that's a news worthy element.

MacDonald, Helsinki, Finland

I did not realise how "Africanist" I was until the world cup started. I simply can not help but support any African team and my worst day was yesterday when Nigeria missed all those goals. I was actually talking to myself all the way home and I asked my self "what is wrong with you? you are not even Nigerian!" But, no, I am African and Nigeria is in Africa. So its a natural reaction to love our African brothers. Wish this feeling of nationalism and africanism will mitigate the conflicts on our continent. if the world cup will do that briefly lets all enjoy it!!!!!

Patricia Fynn, Sudan

Oh pulees people, where's your sense of humour? Great article Elizabeth...And no I'm Nigerian!

Ola, London

It is very sad when people take an article written by someone expressing his/her opinion so personal. It should not be so. An individual has his own right to decide which team he should support. When Ghana won against Serbia, most Nigerians were not happy. We accepted it so. Did I hear someone saying Ghana cannot compare itself to Nigeria in anyway. This comment is below the belt. I have one answer for you: Pray as much as you can to get a generation that has the likes of Kofi Annan, Ave Klutse, Busia only to mention a few. Whether you like it or not Ghana is the country situated in Centre of God's created earth period! We are the pacesetters: the first to get independence from sub-saharan Africa.

Ebenezer Frimpong, Ternopil, Ukraine

Hello Dela from Africa! No need to panic. Neither I nor anyone I know has been or is currently in The Hague facing trial for an assortment of criminal activities! Ghanaians tend to have this impression of Nigerians, which is unfortunate. I hope you can see past your prejudice and rise above such nationalistic jibes. Anyways, good luck against Germany.

Obiatuegwu IfeanyiChukwu Eze, The Hague, The Netherlands

Elizabeth, maybe naively, wanted us to laugh at ourselves. If anything she is well positioned to do so being black... Nigerians (those that are whining loudly) please grow up, stop taking yorselves seriously. Wealth, power (and oil) do not equate to sophistication... anyway just so there is no doubt in your minds generally speaking Nigerians you areas LOUD as the vuvuzela haha.... So there... Elizabeth you rock.

Angela Kativu, Johannesburg, South Africa

We must just stop using juju in our sports , it won't get us anywhere.

Bla Bento, Harare

As a Berber Moroccan, I don't understand why sub-saharan Africans would think that N.Africans don't consider themselves as Africans. Many Arab/North Africans are black or berber (which are the native north African people), so i don't believe that N.Africans think they're not Africans. I know that Algeria still speaks mainly French and probably consider themselves more closely related to France, but in Morocco at least, we are proud to be African, Berber, and also Arab. I would say Egyptians are the most closely related to arabs, but most would still consider themselves as Africans. I'm rooting for Algeria and every other African nation in the world cup because I do believe we are all united. Just like South American countries would support each other in the world cup, i think Africans should too.

Soukayna, Toronto, Canada

Let us all please unite, east north south or west africans. We are all africans. I will be cheering fir Ghana, Algeria and Ivory Coast since these are the only teams still left to move on to the second round. When I was at texas A and M university we had a football team comprising north east and and west african. It was called Africa. Most of the players were north africans.Those Arabs who say they are not africans are stupid. This division is what is making us to be at the bottom. If we want the continent to be up there we must unite. I will be praying for all the three african teams still playing to move to the second round. Long Live Africa Viva Africa

Gibril O Fadika, Virginia, USA

Nice piece Elizabeth but please tell me you were embarrassed by referee Koman Coulibaly's rejection of a clean United States goal. If so, it is because though you are not from Mali, Mr Coulibaly's action reflected poorly on you African. I am from Sierra Leone but every time I watched that free-kick replay, I hung my head in shame.

Francis Deen, Dallas, Texas

if Elizabeth Ohene was so Ghanaian or (Ghananian/Omo gaana as we Nigerians call them) wonder like so many of her country men and women bares a European name. Talk about Nigerians we may be as louder than you've described us, but most of us carry our Nigerian names high, we openly flaunt our culture, our fashion, our music e.t.c throughout the world. Gosh!!! aren't we all too sick to sit back and listen to you omo gaanas attempt to compare yourselves to us Naijas.

Dele, London

well to everybody outside as long as you are black you are African, which sometimes I'm comfortable with, I mean in my country we call everybody white mzungu and in some areas this includes Chinese, Indian, Arabs and everybody else that is not black... so I don't blame anybody if they dump us together and let's be honest if the African teams performed we would all be mighty proud to be bundled together!! Thanks for airing this.

Dera, Uganda

It is no doubt that majority of Africans wished they were Nigerians. I won't be wrong if i say God is a Nigerian. Lookaround, i don't think any country in the world have or can undergo what Nigeria is going through and still be standing. It is pretty sad that we are in the mess we are today but am sure that once we get it right even the world's superpower will bow. Cheers Nigerians !!!!!

Isaiah, Lagos, Nigeria

It's funny how for one month every four years, Zimbabweans become Nigerians, Kenyans become Cameroonians etcetera etcetera... It's simply the politics of race on display. We unite in a stand against non-black nations and our skin colour unifies us but for a few days. A point further exacerbated by the fact we as Africans optimistically hope to achieve something on the world stage but continually seem to lag behind the rest of the world. Pele once stupidly said an African team would one day win the World Cup... what nonsense!!! However it is refreshing to see the former colonial masters are also minnows in 2010 :)

Simba, Gweru, Zimbabwe

I am so surprised to see this backlash from an article that in my opinion points out the obvious perceptions that we have of each other, some new and some old, but asks us to support each other on this wonderous occassions. To the Gentleman from the Hague, i PRAY you are not at the HAGUE, read between the lines my neighbour and brother ...............

Dela from Africa, London

hahahahahah, This is funny. I love my country and i support them fully, they broke my heart with their performance in the Australian match but i still root for them.

Esenam Allen, Accra, Ghana

Its true da Brodas are too many, every where and too loud! Through A senagalese REF: in 2008 qualifiers the Broda's cheated Uganda in Abeokuta. we will never forgive them nor forget! Thanks LIZ.

Chris, Kampala

@ Njoku, I am sorry you failed to appreciate the sarcasm in this piece especially the one about Nigeria. You made it sound as if Nigeria has been singled out in this particular piece for 'dressed down', which is not so, given that all the African countries participating in this year's World Cup were mentioned, Could you not see that Ms. Ohene was even self deprecating (as a Ghanaian), At the end of the piece, an objective reader may still not find the African country Ms. Ohene support. You have unfortunately mentioned conflict in Ghana to show that it is not limited to Nigeria, but the mentioning of conflict is in reference to what some ignorant people ask Africans in Europe and America, because they think that Africa is very homogeneous, what is your comment mentioning of conflict in Angola? Me, I support any african country playing a cup at the world cup, this is SPORTS and nothing to do with his/ her country does not like my country. Cheer up my African compatriot.

Ridwan Amin, New York

There is no love or hate in Football, it is simply identification with a team, incidently, Ghana have been lucky to play and win 10- man squad while Nigeria have played and lost with 10-man squad: Africa in general have done badly because they could not fight. I wonder how Ghana will look like when the German fighting panzas roll tomorrow. Ghanians should be adviced to fight like Shaka the Zulu.

Sunny Ekwenugo, Berlin, Germany

Is it that bad to be lumped together into a hypothetical superstate called "Africa?" My take: No. We, the masses, should start thinking big - China has 1.2 billion, India 1 billion, America, 0.3 billion, Europe 0.7 billion, Nigeria 0.15 billion, Africa 1 billion. Our collective bargaining position starts looking better when we take up the Africa tag.

Kibet, Oxford, UK

Ah, an almost nice article, except the anti-Nigeria bashing. You're right, that the whole world assumes that Africa is one big country + that we all speak Swahili. And N/Africans swear that N/Africa is not in the continent of Africa. And S/Africans swear that SA doesn't have immense poverty + outrageous crime. Which makes Africa beautiful!!!!! I support all African teams, except when they are playing against Nigeria, and then I revert back to being loud + obnoxious :D

Greg O, Boston, USA

I often laugh when I hear people from Ghana compare and contrast themselves to Nigerians. Ghana should understand that there is absolutely no comparison with Nigeria. Yes, Ghana is experiencing a stable democracy, and to an extent economy, than most countries in Africa. However, there is one salient point that our 'brothers' in Ghana overlook: with all of this stability, can they honestly say that the average Ghanaian is better off than his/her peers in Nigeria? Are they more educated? More dynamic? More successful in business? Smarter? Quicker? Industrious? Resilient? Hardworking than Nigerians??? The answer is a resounding NO! Despite the appalling social, economic and political climate of Nigeria...we are STILL the most successful Africans on that continent, despite the challenges. For that, people in Ghana, and the rest of Africa, despise us. Africa needs a super power to lift it out of the conundrum that it finds itself. People from Ghana are just too meek and mild to be cut out for such a task. They lack the drive and essence needed to stamp authority on the world stage. Nigerians, love them or loathe them, are the ONLY Africans with the ability to talk back to the west and more importantly beat them at their own game. Ghana people are cool, but I always say: Ghanaians are good people who follow the rules....Nigerians make the rules follow THEM!!

Obiatuegwu IfeanyiChukwu Eze, The Hague, Netherlands

Africa is only united in one thing which is corruption. There are 2 Africans, the Arab Africans and the Black Africans. The Arab Africans, the northern part of Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco think they are superior and don’t consider themselves Africans. I will not support the Algeria soccer team even if they made it to the finals of the World Cup, which I very much doubt. I am a Nigerian, and I will always support my brothers the Black Africans. I have friends in the United States, who still think that Africa is one big country. I kid you not! If it wasn't so sad it would be funny.

lagosboy, New Jersey, USA

I am sure Njoku's critique of Elizabeth Ohene on Nigeria is shared by most Nigerians who live outside the country. If only he lived in Nigeria and read 'This Day' newspaper, would be sad about the amount of anti-Ghanaian retoric in Nigeria. In any case enjoy the good nurtured humour of Mrs Ohene, after all from the Ghanaian point of view which country would we poke fun at apart from that big country of 36 states...after all Ghana is only one state and according to one Nigerian misnomer, Ghana is 1/36 of Nigeria. I think we need to go teach them about size and relativity. lol

Gideon, UK

I am a Somali living in Canada and I must say that I am very proud of all the African teams, Ghana and Ivory Coast included. I am impressed most with the class, modesty and patriotism of Didier Drogba and the Elephants. Their plea to Ivorians to end the fighting a few years ago has made me an instant fan of the Elephants for it showed that sport can, at crucial junctures, serve as a tool for peace and understanding.

Mohamed, Canada

Elizabeth and quite a few people can not stand the Nigerians for the same reason a lot of people globally can not stand Americans. They are wealthy, powerful, smart, educated, loud, and like to throw their weight around. Sorry Liz, get used to it. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy and powerful.

Eddie Ojukwu III, Boston, USA

Ahh...all of our divisions. Much of the entire world view Africa as a nation, i think it's about time we started treating each other as such, it'll make things a lot easier. I'm Nigerian but quite honestly i will support any African team that makes it out of the group stages, after all football is a glue that unites us Africans.


You can hate Nigeria for you want but don't throw out the bath tub, the baby, and water all together. Think of all the positive contributions that Nigeria made to Africa continent- support for African countries in their dark days including same South Africa in Apartheid days, Liberia War, Serial-Leon coup, ECOMOG & AU funding, and others. Think of all Nigerian professionals all around the world. Yes they're "too many of them" ! too many Doctors, Engineers, Professors, Economists, Accountants, Nurses, Teachers, Lawyers, and ofcourse some criminals just like any other big countries around the world. Yes Nigeria is ailing now but I have no doubt that this dry bone shall rise again.

J Emma, New York, US

Nnamdi you have completely missed the point of her comparison to Jos. She is *not* saying Ghana has no problems, she is saying that Nigeria's problems do not necessarily reflect Ghana's situtation (and vice versa). I think Africans can do whatever they please without facing analysis. Who cares that the Chinese may support South Korea? No-one. Who cares that Ghanaians may support Nigeria if Nigeria makes it and Ghana doesn't. The answer *should* be no-one.

Delali, London, UK

I agree with Nnamdi, your views about Nigeria are personal. Just as you claim the outside world sweeps Africa with one broom, YOU as an African have swept Nigeria with one Broom. Who told you that all Nigerian are loud? As long as you and people like you have such views of your own people we will continue being divided. My departing joke.... someone once asked me whether i spoke African???

Aliyu, USA

I am right with you on this. I cheer for every African Team. I have an order of who I want to do well. 1. African Team 2. USA, home away from home, and where African have just as much chance of succeeding as anyone else 3. France - They are the most accepting of Africans on their team 4. Brazil, if an African team will not win, why not a team with lots of people of African Descent. 5. Germany, because they accept Africans on their team too. Although, I really don't know who to cheer for between USA and Algeria, because the Algerians sometimes claim not to be Africans (claim it when it is to their benefit.)

Mpeti, Iowa City, IA/DRC

Yap! Well i don't have much to say about. I can suport any contries as for me, cos it's fun moment. I know that with prayer NIGERIA can still make it to the next round. Thanks and Peace be with you all.

Godspower Obaji, Lagos, Nigeria

Elizabeth, you are so funny. What more do Ghanians want? You beat Nigeria at ANC in Angola and are even doing better than Nigeria at the World Cup. Yet you cant stop worrying about Nigeria. Go on, admit it, you and many Ghanaians would like the opportunity to become Nigerians. But sorry, there are already enough Nigerians so no hope for you. In the mean time, make sure you are not eating a bony fish while watching Nigeria cos you may choke in anger if Nigeria does well.

Ed, London

"If you are a Ghanaian minister of trade trying to coax some would be investors to do business in Ghana and they tell you they are anxious about the rioting in Jos, which happens to be in Nigeria, you can only despair." Maybe you should have mentioned the killings in Bawku, northen Ghana. Are those different from Jos? Please, it is evident that Nigeria is a very popular and notorious country. Maybe people mistake Ghana for Guyana so I advise you to look for better examples of making your comparison. I have always known your article for its anti-Nigeria stance and I would have been surprised if you had not mention Nigeria. "They are loud, and there are frankly too many of them." Who cares? Maybe you need to look at the map to see how big Nigeria is when compared to Ghana. Maybe one day you would write something positive.

Nnamdi Njoku, Plymouth, UK

It breaks my heart to watch the African countries drop like flies at the world cup. Who would have thought that Greece would defite Nigeria, or so called flying eagles. Someone predicted that one day, an African country would win the World Cup, by the look of things I don't think it would happen in my life time. If they failed to do well in their own continent, God help us. Anyway, I have decided to support Brazil. Come on Brazil.

Uche Lebeanya, Oxford, England

Haha Elizabeth what an interesting read. I think that Africa should not allow the world to make us one team, one country can choose to support another - especially if the latter country is struggling in the tournament but western broadcasters make it almost a crime or unthinkable that a Ghanaian would not support Algeria or Nigeria, or that South Africans won't support CIV or Cameroon. Africa should get behind Ghana since they are the continent's best chance, but we must also remember that we are a continent, this support should be suggested not imposed. This is South Africa's World Cup and I hate when it is described as anything other than that.

Adjoa, UK

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