The heat is on as Gabon hosts Africa’s big football party
IWILL probably have sweated off a few kilos by the time I come back from Gabon. The humidity here hangs in the air like a bad odour, stubborn and menacing.
Moving from a place with an air conditioner to the outside feels like going through the seasons. I had buckets of sweat streaming down my body without doing anything but punch the keyboard of my laptop.
I am not complaining, though.
Covering my first Africa Cup of Nations outside South Africa is a dream come true.
Having had brief travels on the continent last year – where I went to Ghana, Zambia, Egypt and Cameroon – I arrived in Libreville expecting the worst in terms of organisation.
My pessimism helps me to be calm when things aren’t going well. Surprisingly everything has been smooth.
It took me less than five minutes to get my accreditation. The media centre, with a cool air conditioner, was a breeze and the internet worked a charm.
The Gabonese are so proud of their high speed internet that there was a story about it in the newspaper Esprit d’equipe (Team Spirit).
It was when I was at the media stand at Stade de l’Amitie that the menacing heat did as it pleased. It attacks you from all fronts, even though we were lucky because Saturday was overcast and there were a few drops of rain, which meant it wasn’t that hot by the locals’ standards.
It is after-all technically winter in the northern hemisphere. But that word, winter, doesn’t exist here.
The view from where I sat showed the contrast of this city. On the right, I could see a booming metropolis with its high-rising buildings. On the left was an under-developed side of Libreville.
Those two faces of this city, and country – rich and poor – were set to clash at the opening match of the Afcon.
There were planned protests to boycott the tournament in protest of the money spent to build stadiums while the government issued cutbacks on health and education.
There was also the anger that stemmed from the August elections that President Ali Bongo Ondimba claimed to have won but the opposition, led by former AU head Jean Ping, disputes that.
There were no such protests in the stadium’s precinct because of the large security and military presence.
It felt like Gabon the country, not their national team the Panthers, was going to war because of the military trucks that circled the stadium. Those securities protected Stade de l’Amitie, which ironically translates to the Friendship Stadium, like the Guinea-Bissau defenders protected their box to pull off a massive surprise, getting a point from the hosts.
The locals are pessimistic about their team.
When I asked our translator, Loris, if he thinks they can win the Afcon, he laughed and said, “let’s be realistic”.
Even though this is Gabon’s party, it feels like it’s Cameroon’s party with Gabon playing host. The Indomitable Lions fans were louder at the stadium and more popular on the streets.
There is even a (Samuel) Eto’o Fils Bar on the road to the stadium. Perhaps I’ll pass there to beat this heat one of these days. But I won’t be drinking their local beer Regab. It tastes terrible, like someone decided let’s throw sugar in there perhaps it’ll make it better.
That’s what this event feels like, the President deciding, let’s throw them a party in the form of the Afcon, perhaps they’ll stop being restless.