Tag Archives: cabinda

The Mali model.

CNN, retreating from the imperiled-World-Cup hysteria I blogged about a few days ago, asks a more reasonable question in the wake of last week’s Cabinda attack: Was Angola ready to host the African Cup of Nations? The short answer: sort of. The long answer: I guess.

The tournament, says the report, traditionally acts as a catalyst for a developing nation’s growth.

“The African Cup of Nations does do a lot for its host country,” said journalist Ian Hawkey, an African football expert and author of “Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football.”

“In the last 15 years both Mali and Burkina Faso have hosted it, and now Angola. You would have said at one point, no way can these places organise a tournament. But they got stadiums out of it and Mali’s football has grown since 2002, Burkina Faso’s too.”

This affords one of those rare instances when you can say, “Look at Mali!” and mean it as a good thing.

In Angola, development ahead of the Cup of Nations had spurred an already frantic construction boom. According to CNN, “more than $1billion of the country’s vast oil wealth, according to the government, had been invested in stadiums, roads, hotels and hospitals.”

The construction boom in Luanda

A view of the port

As The Observer reported last month, Angola was looking at the tournament as “a vote of confidence in its stability and economic capabilities.”

It’s safe to say last week’s attack on the Togo bus won’t scare off the IMF or chase out any of the multi-nationals investing billions off Angola’s shores. (Except, maybe, the Chinese.) But what about the country’s image?

Angola has enjoyed a remarkable bit of rebranding since the end of the civil war. Gone was the image of Angola as a proxy battlefield for global superpowers during the Cold War. Instead of UNITA rebels using CIA-funded mortars to shell MPLA and Cuban troops in Soviet tanks (!), we have American oil execs, Russian telecom giants, Chinese manufacturers, and just about everyone else – even the French! – scrambling for a piece of the pie.

Angola then...

...and now. (Courtesy of Vanessa Vick, NYT.)

What a difference a few years can make.

With millions of barrels of oil pumping out of the country and billions of dollars pumping into it, Angola has begun to throw its weight around as a regional heavyweight.

“Angola sees itself as a regional superpower,” Alex Vines, of London-based Chatham House, told the AFP. “The expanding number of embassies opening in Luanda attest to its growing influence.”

Still, there are few illusions about just what sort of country Angola is becoming. Thanks to the growing strength of its ties with China – always a friend of human rights – Luanda hasn’t had to jump through the usual moral hoops to secure strings-attached financing from the international community.

Fear of China’s entry into Africa played directly into Angola’s hands after years of half-hearted reception from reform-pushing international lenders, said Nomfundo Ngwenya of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“China’s stepping into the scene was undoubtedly a game-changer. Angola suddenly found a seemingly infinite source of finance, without the stringency of externally-imposed political, social and economic reform,” she told AFP.

An offshore gas flare, courtesy of Vanessa Vick at The New York Times

So long as the oil is pumping and Chinese demand is skyrocketing, there’s a willing client happy to sign those checks, no questions asked. As a result, dos Santos and his cabal aren’t fretting over the concerns of the global community on corruption and human rights. Muito obrigado, Beijing!

Workers on an offshore oil rig, courtesy of Vanessa Vick at The New York Times

So despite the added prestige of hosting the Cup of Nations, the view from Luanda was already looking just fine, thank you very much. Even if last week’s attack put a dint in Angola’s coming-out party – “an opportunity to showcase Angola to the rest of the world,” according to Antonio Mangueira, executive director of the tournament’s local organizing committee – the country has already secured itself a place at the grown-ups’ table.

The shots heard ’round the world?

Yesterday, the African Cup of Nations kicked off in Angola – the dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup, if by “dress rehearsal” we mean “another tournament that just happens to be held on the same continent, in a country which bears almost exactly no cultural, economic, political or social resemblance to South Africa.” Never mind all that. After last week’s attack on the Togo team bus forced that country to prematurely pull out of the tournament, pundits were quickly weighing in on how this uniquely Angolan attack – caused by gun-wielding Cabinda separatists – was somehow a broader, African tragedy.

Togolese players after the attack

Rob Crilly over at South of West wondered out loud how long it would take the Western media to began foreseeing doom and gloom for SA 2010. (Answer: Not very.) Of the hysterical pack, the Mirror seemed to bray the loudest:

Bad for the Nations Cup and a disaster for the forthcoming first-ever World Cup in Africa.

The machine-gun attack on the Togo players may have taken place in northern Angola last night but the shots would have been heard around the world.

Never mind the fact that Greatest Show on Earth will be taking place in a different country. Never mind the fact that South Africa have already proven that they can host most sporting tournaments.

Shock waves from the brutal terrorist attack that left one dead and several others injured last night reverberated around planet football.

Reverberated, too, around the empty heads of the world’s pundits. Never mind the fact that Angola is only just emerging from a disastrous civil war that left most of the country in ruins; that its oil-fueled economy has created one of the largest income disparities on the planet; that its power-hungry president, after 30 years in charge, just can’t get around to calling for elections. Never mind that Angola is a strange and atypical basket case of a country, even by African standards.

Cabinda rebels

By extension, I’m not sure how the hosting of the World Cup by sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed nation is a referendum on the continent as a whole, as opposed to a comment on the very particular problems, fears and follies of a very particular place.

South Africa's grand folly?

Fortunately, not everyone has fallen prey to the Imperiled World Cup Theory. At Soccer Lens, a more sober assessment of what the attack means for the World Cup.

Many football writers, pundits and managers, such as Phil Brown, have suggested the Togo shooting raises questions for the World Cup. It doesn’t. It’s like suggesting Serie A, or even the Premier League, should have been suspended while the Balkans conflict was ongoing.

Goal.com, too, refused to get carried away. And the Montreal Gazette reminded sports lovers that, for most of the footballing world, there were other reasons to hate the biannual tournament.

European soccer authorities have long disdained the African Cup. After all, what’s to like from their point of view? It takes place every two years, not every four as in the case of the other major continental championships, and is held in the middle of the European season, meaning players miss a month of games.

Canadian Press, meanwhile, commenting on “three deaths that should and perhaps, with better security, could have been avoided,” added a new wrinkle to the story today.

Speaking from the safety of exile in Europe, one of the [Cabinda rebel] leaders told anyone who would listen that while they hadn’t meant to shoot the Togolese players, and were instead targeting their Angolan escorts, “all blows are permitted during war.”

Rodrigues Mingas claimed that his group had sent registered mail months ago to Issa Hayatou, African football’s most senior administrator, warning him of the risks of staging some African cup events in Cabinda.

“He didn’t want to take us seriously,” Mingas charged, speaking on French radio.

While threat-by-registered-mail is itself worthy of analysis, you do have to wonder just who it was that dropped the ball in Cabinda.