The Africa Report - - CONTENTS -

Ready or not, here we come

With the 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions just months away, hosts, Cameroon, face pres­sure to en­sure a suc­cess­ful tour­na­ment on and off the pitch

The cir­cu­lar-shaped Paul Biya Sta­dium is vis­i­ble the mo­ment you drive into the moder­ately pop­u­lated Olembe neigh­bour­hood in Yaoundé via the Yaoundé-obala high­way. Though the lone road lead­ing to the site was re­cently tarred, it is of­ten dusty or some­times cov­ered in mud from the hun­dreds of trucks fer­ry­ing equip­ment and ma­te­ri­als to and fro the con­struc­tion site. The sta­dium looms over a block of newly erected low-cost houses. Their in­hab­i­tants live with the noise of the heavy ma­chin­ery that toils day and night to com­plete the arena for the open­ing and fi­nal games of the 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions (AFCON). With less than eight months to the com­pe­ti­tion there are real con­cerns that Cameroon will not be able to pull it off. It i s not e nt i r e l y t he f a i l i ng o f the Cen­tral African na­tion though. Three years into its prepa­ra­tions, the Con­fed­er­a­tion of African Foot­ball (CAF) de­cided, in a meet­ing in Morocco, to adopt the res­o­lu­tions of the first-ever African Foot­ball Sym­po­sium and in­crease the num­ber of par­tic­i­pat­ing teams at the AFCON from 16 to 24. While these changes are not nec­es­sar­ily mis­guided, the time frame pro­vided lit­tle wig­gle room for the hosts, who had to com­mit, on the fly, to two more sta­di­ums – not to men­tion more ho­tels – with less than two years’ no­tice. Be­ing re­quired to pro­duce more bricks with the same amount of straw has raised the ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion of what the point of it all is. Host­ing ma­jor tour­na­ments has al­ways been a dou­ble-edged sword; the tourism po­ten­tial seems a very minis­cule gain com­pared to the huge losses in­curred, es­pe­cially in terms of fi­nance and in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment. Very few African na­tions have a year­round de­mand for mul­ti­ple sta­di­ums. Neigh­bour­ing na­tions Equa­to­rial Guinea and Gabon have, be­tween them, hosted three of the past four tour­na­ments, build­ing six new sta­di­ums in the process, two of which have since been com­pletely aban­doned. In the con­text of the eco­nomic and socio-po­lit­i­cal is­sues

cur­rently af­flict­ing the Cen­tral African na­tion, can the sim­i­lar waste of mil­lions of dol­lars really be jus­ti­fied? In the past year Cameroon has been gripped by vi­o­lence af­ter civil­ian protests in the coun­try’s An­glo­phone mi­nor­ity re­gion were met with mil­i­tary re­tal­i­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA), be­tween 160,000 and 200,000 peo­ple have fled their homes in the volatile South-west and North-west re­gions to other parts of the coun­try since late last year, in ad­di­tion to at least 21,000 who have fled into Nige­ria. The un­rest en­com­passes Buea and Limbe, two cities that will host teams and games for the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment, and that has cre­ated its own con­cerns. “We are un­der fire and siege, yet the rest of the world keeps ig­nor­ing us,” says school teacher *Pa­trick Puleru who lives in Muea, a neigh­bour­hood in Buea. “Gun­shots ev­ery­where and you’re talk­ing about a mean­ing­less foot­ball event. No one here is in­ter­ested. You can never put foot­ball be­fore lives in the An­glo­phone area.” The gen­eral sense of dan­ger and ap­a­thy is com­pounded by the fact that, with months to kick off, there are ma­jor wor­ries in Cameroon about the fa­cil­i­ties, es­pe­cially the 60,000-seater Paul Biya Sta­dium. The readi­ness of the 50,000-seater Japoma sta­dium in Douala and the Stade Roumdé Ad­jia in Garoua is also up in the air.


In spite of this, and the slow pace of work, the lead­er­ship of the CAF has – out­wardly, at least – re­mained stead­fast in its in­sis­tence on Cameroon, as has the tour­na­ment’s or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee. “The de­bate on the with­drawal or not of this com­pe­ti­tion does not con­cern the lo­cal or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee,” says Jean Bap­tiste Bi­aye, a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee. “Cameroon is de­ter­mined to host the tour­na­ment in its new for­mat and to fully com­ply with the terms of ref­er­ence of CAF.” Crit­ics sug­gest that this de­ter­mi­na­tion is reinforced by the de­sire of Cameroon’s pres­i­dent, Paul Biya, to laun­der his bat­tered image. It would not be the first time: Equa­to­rial Guinea’s leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mba­soga did the same in 2015, step­ping in to host the AFCON af­ter Morocco de­manded post­pone­ment be­cause of the Ebola virus in West Africa. Then, in 2017, Gabon stepped in to re­place war-torn Libya as host. “He [Pres­i­dent Biya] is a dic­ta­tor who wants to ex­tend his 36-year rule but can­not pro­vide safety, ed­u­ca­tion, hos­pi­tals and jobs for his peo­ple,” says Puleru. There have been sanc­tions in the past for prospec­tive hosts pulling out at the last mo­ment – most re­cently Morocco in 2015 – which would cause a dis­as­trous blow to na­tional pride as the In­domitable Lions are in line to de­fend their AFCON crown, fol­low­ing their tri­umph in 2017. How­ever, all is not as rosy on the footballing side of things as that vic­tory 18 months ago might sug­gest. The Cameroon Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (FECAFOOT) is presently be­ing over­seen by a FIFA Nor­mal­i­sa­tion Com­mit­tee, the sec­ond such in­ter­ven­tion in a four-year span, af­ter the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport an­nulled the 2015 elec­tion of Tombi Sidiki as pres­i­dent of FECAFOOT. This sense of cri­sis and may­hem is re­flected some­what in the de­ci­sion to ap­point Clarence See­dorf as coach of the na­tional side with­out re­course to an in­ter­view (see box). For *Am­bers Gre­gory, a foot­ball fan in Mbingo in the North-west re­gion, the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion gives host­ing the AFCON a bit­ter taste. He pre­dicts it will grant the coun­try’s pres­i­dent Paul Biya the in­ter­na­tional PR he craves: “He’s or­der­ing our si­lence and op­press­ing us on a daily ba­sis,” said Gre­gory. “The gov­ern­ment wants to play foot­ball with our lives; stay­ing alive is not a game.” Oluwashina Okeleji in Yaoundé

Equa­to­rial Guinea and Gabon built six new sta­di­ums, two of which have since been aban­doned

The $29bn Paul Biya Sta­dium pho­tographed on 6 Septem­ber

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