In Africa, football and politics are inseparable

When football and politics are inseparable in Africa

October 15, 2020

Type the name of African ufabet football stars into Google and almost always you will be offered the popular search suffixes: net worth, mansion, cars, wedding. Many are remarkably generous in their donations to charitable foundations. Samu.el Eto’o has built an entire hospital; Michael Essien has equipped his home town with functioning sanitation.

In Africa, football and politics are inseparable

But the African press knows what its public wants, and it is delivering: constructing footballing rich lists, and detailing Obafemi Martins’s investments in the hotel industry; drooling over Yaya Touré’s neo-Georgian mansion in the Cheshire countryside the addition of a second Rolls Royce to his fleet of six cars. El Hadji Diouf, the Senegalese striker, and his ‘bling-tastic glitter Cadillac Escalade; and covering players’ visits home, their family and their activities on social media with relish.

In this celebrity footballers have often played the “big man’: a patron, patriarch and model of the conspicuous consumption that Africa’s tiny but fabulously wealthy elites have made the essential cypher of success. Didier Drogba played this game too on his visits to Abidjan, where he was thronged by crowds outside his mansion, around his cavalcade of cars and at the nightclubs he liked to frequent. The king of African bling, though, was Emmanuel Adebayor, who in 2013 shared pictures of his key assets on Snapchat. There were cars a-plenty, of course, but a Miami mansion too, as well as a private jet and an Imelda Marcos collection of sneakers and sandals.

No one would accuse of Adebayor of mixing football and politics too closely, but many of his peers do occupy political space in Africa. Increasingly, the leading players have had the experience, the independence and the confidence to challenge the governance of their own football associations: conflicts which are seen by African publics as emblematic of their own struggles with failed and corrupt public institutions. Ufabet Footballers have begun to appear on the campaign trail as a celebrity draw for politicians.

Kanu worked the crowd for Goodluck Jonathan in the 2010 Nigerian presidential elections. El Hadji Diouf serves at the call of Senegal’s President Macky Sall. A few, like George Weah, have crossed to the other side. Weah ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Liberia in 2005, but has since been elected as a national senator, and in 2018 in a second campaign actually won the big prize.

Drogba, while not holding any formal political post, has been more engaged in public life than any other player of his generation. Domestically, he has played important symbolic and occasionally practical roles in the peace process that finally put an end to Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war, but in addition he has had an inter national political profile as a goodwill ambassador for UNDP.

Like many other players, however, his brush with domestic politics lido proved less accommodating. Appointed, with much fanfare, to a national reconciliation commission in 2011, he found himself a very minor player in a report that many felt only scratched the suria the nation’s problems more formal corporate entities, like the Pepsi Academy in Lagos. whose alumni include John Obi Mikel and Celestine Babayaro, and the Kadji Academy in Douala, Cameroon, which sent Samuel Eto’o to Real Madrid.

Beyond these core institutions, there is a great periphery of small, undercapitalized academies, agents, middlemen, hucksters and scouts. They range from entrepreneurial ex-players with barely a squad’s worth of talent in a Lagos flop house, through one-man bands working rural backwaters with a single European contact or connection up their sleeve, to the truly unscrupulous traffickers and tricksters.