Togo Bus Attacked at border of DR Congo and Angola…Not in South Africa

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Terrible news broke today that the Togo team bus was attacked on its way to the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, with machine gun fire leaving the driver dead and several players hurt.

The incident has many questioning the safety of players for the World Cup in South Africa. The Telegraph’s Henry Winter tweeted right away that “Fifa must investigate events in Angola and improve teams’ safety before World Cup. S Africa are organised but nothing can be left to chance.”

Togo’s bus was attacked just after crossing the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo the Republic of the Congo into the Cabinda region of Angola, an area that has seen three decades of separatist violence, even after the conclusion of the Angolan civil war in 2002. There was apparently a very foolish decision made to travel through there by bus, one apparently not communicated to the organisers of the tournament, the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF).

“They should not have travelled by road,” Togolese football federation vice-president Gabriel Ameyi told The Associated Press. “They did not tell CAF that they were travelling by road. They should have flown to Angola.” (Was the Togolese federation itself unaware of their team’s travel plans?  Ameyi’s comments are rather curious in this regard.)

“We were machine-gunned, like dogs,” Togo striker Thomas Dossevi said. “At the border with Angola – machine-gunned! I don’t know why. I thought it was some rebels. We were under the seats of the bus for 20 minutes, trying to get away from the bullets.”

To return to Winter’s comment, and those of many who will conflate this incident with concerns for the World Cup: neither the DR Congo or Angola even borders South Africa. FIFA will run the World Cup, not CAF.  All teams will fly to their destinations. Africa is a vast, diverse continent, dangerous in parts, just as Europe, South America, North America and Asia are.  Certainly, FIFA should work as hard as it can to ensure the safety of teams travelling there. Today’s incident was a tragic reminder that football administrators must always do so, and it appears there was a failure here by someone. But that doesn’t mean Angola is South Africa.

22 thoughts on “Togo Bus Attacked at border of DR Congo and Angola…Not in South Africa

  1. Mike

    You’re right, Angola is not South Africa and they should have flown, not taken the bus. But I don’t think it’s a big leap to correlate this to the World Cup.

    It’s apparent FIFA hasn’t demanded that federations lock down security for their clubs and national teams. Clearly there isn’t a standardized security policy for its teams that governs travel, especially to major tournaments.

    Why isn’t there a baseline mandate, funded by FIFA, that outlines how teams must travel, how much security must be in place for national teams? Why is a national team allowed to be on a Greyhound on some back road from Togo to Angola?

    Security cannot be reactive. Haven’t we learned that already?

    http://bit.ly/8uZRGF

  2. Andrew Guest

    This is terrible news. First concern is obviously for the wounded. A distant second concern is for the perpetuation of stereotypes and misunderstandings. Thanks Tom for starting what will obviously be a lot of necessary clarifications. In fact–if at all possible it would be useful to post a map of Cabinda itself–which is not even connected to Angola by land. It is its own enclave with many problems distinct from the bulk of Angola–let alone South Africa or the rest of the continent.

    By way of analogy, what first comes to mind in saying this terrible incident would have any bearing on the World Cup in South Africa is that this would be like saying because there had been violence in Chechnya, FIFA should have re-considered the World Cup in Germany. That would have been ludicrous. And as a further analogy with the other 2010 Cup of Nations games in Luanda, Benguela, and Lubango, letting events in Cabinda influece those would be like saying the events in Chechneya should have stopped anyone from travelling to St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Vladivostok. Of course it is not a perfect analogy–but the key point is just a follow up from Tom’s: Cabinda is one small, complicated place. Africa is a big, complicated place.

    But that doesn’t make the whole circumstance (including the world’s oil addiction and econcomic inequality that is at the root of Cabinda’s troubles) any less disturbing.

  3. Jonathan

    Couldn’t agree more. With every cringeworthy tweet Henry Winter really does destroy any esteem he has in my eyes, and the eyes of many more judging by reactions within the blogosphere.

  4. Joe Wright

    This is a very terrible incident. I was very much looking forward to Togo’s involvement in the ACN. These events will cast a shadow over the whole tournament. I assume Togo will no longer take part

    I don’t think it’s a flying issue as Togo is already very far away from Angola. I imagined they flew to the nearest airport to Cabinda and got the bus the remainder of the way.

    Henry Winter’s comment can be seen as saying this unfortunate incident will act as a catalyst for the largest security entourages we’ve ever seen during a WC.

  5. SimonSpur

    “But that doesn’t mean Angola is South Africa.”

    Indeed it does not. Well put, Tom. It is good to read a reasoned and balanced reaction to this terrible story so soon after the event took place.

    A more pertinent concern than Mr. Winter’s questioning of the safety in South Africa is whether the African Cup of Nations can still go ahead. I would be unsurprised to see Togo withdraw for starters.

  6. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Andrew — the more I hastily familiarise myself in an amateur fashion with the politics of Cabinda and Angola, the more bizarre it seems games were being hosted there in the first place (and more insane it seems to travel by bus there).

    CAF and the Angolan Football Federation have a lot of questions to answer about this: it seems as if the decision to host games in such a dangerous area may have had a lot to do with politics and oil, and very little to do with football.

  7. Tom Dunmore Post author

    SimonSpur — I think that’s a very important question right now, and I’m somewhat unsure what my own view is. There are so many concerns from safety to morality at play here: as ever, when terrorism (if this was terrorism, and not a simple robbery) and sport collide, there are no easy answers.

    But in this case, I think every team who would have to play in Cabinda at the least would be fully justified in withdrawing. And Angola’s fitness as a host as a whole has to be brought into question: see this piece about Cabinda that must make us wonder why they were determined to host games there in the first place — http://msn.yallakora.com/english/news/Details.aspx?id=107766&Catid=1&region=

  8. Jonathan

    Joe – the Togo team were not flying from Togo, they were based in DR Congo. They took a bus from Congo to Cabinda when supposedly they should have flown. You can read more on my site if needs be.

  9. Nedved

    Many years ago I spent much of my time at Uni learning about Africa, and I have to say I was surprised when I heard one of the venues for the Cup of Nations was Angola. I figured things much have changed a lot since I was reading about African politics regularly.

    I see now that they have not. Hosting part of the tournement there is just stupid.

    My guess is that Cabinda was selected for political reasons. Perhaps it was to shower a seperatist area with money to bind it closer to the rest of Angola, or perhaps as a sop some local politicians to keep them sweet. Whatever the reasons, it was a mistake. This is, unfortunately, what often happens in the sort of top-down government you get in some sort of countries in Africa. The MPLA deserve as much blame for this as anyone else.

    Cabinda’s government in exile website is here: http://www.cabinda.org/anglais.htm

    Don’t be fooled, this is no Free Tibet movement. There is a lot of oil money at stake.

  10. Andrew Guest

    I agree, Tom, that the rationale for hosting games in Cabinda is worthy of serious quesitoning. My only partially educated guess is that it was done as a symbolic gesture to ensure Cabinda is perceived to be part of Angola (since the conflict there is a seperatist movement, and since there are some complicated social/historical/oil related reasons why it is considered part of Angola anyway).

    But at the same time it is also important to note that this happened well outside the actual city of Cabinda. My understanding is that the city itself (which has many gleaming oil company buildings, including Chevron, than no one would allow to be touched) is much more secure than the hinterlands (where the bus was travelling). In the reports I’ve read this was the controversy about the Togo bus plans — the intention was for them to fly from training in Congo to Luanda, and then from Luanda to the city of Cabinda directly. If they were only in the city and the airport of Cabinda (which is, I think, what the other teams are doing) then the rebels / terrorists / whoever would not be much of a threat.

    I have not been to Cabinda myself, but I have spent a fair bit of time in Luanda and it too was like that during the long civil war–though there was much strife and conflict in the Angolan countryside, the city itself was mostly a protected haven (which is one reason why so many squatter settlements sprung up stuffed full of people taking refuge from the countryside). But, I was told in Luanda, even during the worst of the Angolan civil war in Luanda itself there was a vibrant night life and lots of business as usual. Though that may be a somewhat perverse way to live, it is often what happens in places like Angola and is what I imagine the situation in Cabinda to be like.

  11. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Andrew, that makes a lot of sense regarding the difference between the city and the hinterlands, particularly when one considers the State Department travel advisory for Cabinda someone just forwarded to me:

    “Americans located in, or planning to visit, the northern province of Cabinda should be aware of threats to their safety outside of Cabinda city. In 2008 and 2009 armed groups specifically targeted and attacked expatriates in Cabinda; armed attacks resulted in the rape, robbery or murder of several expatriates working in Cabinda. Those responsible have declared their intention to continue attacks against expatriates. Occasional attacks against police and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) convoys and outposts also continue to be reported. These incidents, while small in number, occur with little or no warning. American citizens are, therefore, urged to exercise extreme caution when traveling outside of Cabinda city and limit travel to essential only.”

    From: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1096.html#safety

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  13. ursus arctos

    Small point of clarification.

    Togo’s training camp was in the Republic of the Congo (not DR Congo (ex-Zaire)).

    The Republic of the Congo shares a border with Cabinda; the rest of Angola does not (there is a piece of DR Congo in between).

  14. Jonathan

    Thanks for highlighting my article Tom.

    The more I read into this incident the more I am flabbergasted and shocked that the team was allowed to travel by bus across such dangerous terrains.

    If humble blog authors like you and I can learn about the dangers with just a cursory check around the net then team and competition organisers should have been on it in a serious way. Not acceptable.

  15. Bobby

    Terrible incident and you have to wonder what they were thinking when they decided to host matches in Cabinda.

    I think that some people are just looking for any chance to take a shot at South Africa, and it’s sad. Good job pointing out the differences.

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  17. Brian

    Such ignorance-based hysteria is not surprising. But being afraid of going to, say, Cape Town, South Africa because of Cabinda, Angola makes as much sense as being afraid to go to Boston because of instability in Honduras. The distances involved are about the same.