Tag Archives: Angola

The Sweeper: Togo Excluded from Africa Cup of Nations

Samsung Africa

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Togo’s request to return to the Africa Cup of Nations following three days of mourning has been turned down by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). I find it very disappointing that CAF have not been more sympathetic to Togo. Togo were, after all, in the territory of the nation CAF awarded hosting to when the attack happened.

CAF’s communique on the decision today was blunt: “CAF noted that the Togolese delegation participating in the 27th Orange Africa Cup of Nations – 2010 – Group B of Cabinda left the Angolan territory; it was hence decided to cancel all the matches of the Togolese team in the frame of this group.”

CAF also announced they have signed a four-year sponsorship deal with Samsung, including for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (that link may not work, as CAF’s website has been going down for extensive periods of time in the past few days).

Between FIFA and CAF, it is shocking to me they could not find a way to give Togo time to recover and return if they wanted, even if it meant an expensive delay to the tournament.

Worldwide News

  • How former MLS players are there at the Africa Cup of Nations? Like Soccer America, you probably think there is one, Mali’s Bakary Soumare, formerly of the Chicago Fire. Nope: there is also Mozambique’s beautifully named captain, Tico-Tico (Manuel José Luís Bucuane),who played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny for a season (thanks to our own Andrew Guest for the tip).
  • Louise Taylor suggests the Football League takes a winter break, which sounds far too sensible to happen.
  • There’s an excellent Q&A with the Observer’s Paul Hayward by our friends at European Football Weekends.
  • Four Four Two has a pretty fantastic illustrated post on footballers in bad commercials; Pat Jennings’ is surely the best: “You can imagine the scene in the Unipart marketing meeting. The team sat around a large table, bouncing ideas around for their next TV ad, wondering how to bring car parts to life. One of the team nudges his mate before loudly suggesting: “How about we get Pat Jennings to dress up as an oil filter while we shoot black footballs at him? He lives next door to me, and he’s been having car trouble lately.” Now imagine his surprise when he’s given a promotion, a raise, and is charged with the task of shooting at the Northern Irish legend in his lunch break.”

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Angola Aside from the Cup: A Different Soccer Story

During my brief six months working in Angola between 2002 and 2003, a favorite pastime of mine when driving around Luanda was to try to identify the replica team shirts worn by ubiquitous street soccer teams playing in any available space.  Brazil’s canary yellow was the most popular, but the range was impressive; I saw complete teams kitted out in the reds of Manchester United, the burgundy of Portugal, the green stripes of Sporting Lisbon, the yellow/orange/black on white design of Germany, even the all whites of Real Madrid—a hopelessly futile choice in the face of the city’s red dirt and grimy haze.  I never could quite figure out how Angolan street teams, of both children and adults, managed to procure so many dazzling kits.  But it was clearly important—a small, symbolic, daily attempt to claim membership in the community of a global game.

On Friday, as most fans of the game now well know, a much grander Angolan attempt at that membership went tragically wrong.  The heartbreaking attack on the Togo team bus in rural Cabinda, an Angolan territory geographically separated from the rest of the nation, on the eve of the 2010 African Nations Cup upset me deeply.  Foremost, I’m upset about the dead and wounded; I’m upset that the vile geo-political mix of oil, land, terrorism, and inequality claimed innocent lives and injured the travelling party of a soccer team that was interested in nothing more than a game.  But I’m also upset about the potential for the ambush to detract from what should be a great year for African soccer—and to further distort perceptions of Africa.

As I noted in a comment on one of Tom’s posts regarding the Cabinda tragedy here on Pitch Invasion, Africa is a big, complicated place.  And Cabinda is a small, complicated place.  It is well worth trying to understand the politics of it all, and trying to figure out how to apportion responsibility and consider the implications of the bus ambush.  It seems plausible to me that the Cup of Nations organizers, the Angolan government, and the Togolese federation all have serious questions to answer—to say nothing of the sickness of terrorists willing to massacre innocents for publicity.  But I have no special access or expertise regarding those matters.

What I do have is some personal experience in Angola and an abiding interest in the way soccer can help us understand places, lives, and ways of being.  It now seems as though the Cup of Nations still has a chance to succeed, Angola’s wild tie with Mali in the opener brought a different energy to things, but I still can’t stomach the idea that the only story soccer fans might hear about Angola outside of its stadiums would be about a machine gun ambush in rural Cabinda.  That is only about Angola in the way that a US military doctor’s murdering innocents on a Texas army base is about America.

By way of context, I understand the fears regarding Africa being expressed around the world after the Cabinda bus ambush.  Even though I had spent a few years in another part of Africa before going to Angola, and though I knew to be careful of stereotypes about the continent’s lurking dangers, I was wary when flying into Luanda in 2002.  The country was just emerging from its 27 year civil war (though the somewhat distinct conflict in Cabinda was ongoing) and I had read much about disgruntled ex-combatants, easily available weapons, and the desperation of gaping economic inequality.  But as we drove away from the airport that first day, the Canadian NGO worker who picked me up casually rolled down his windows and we chatted about the coming week-end as if I’d never left Chicago.

The author and friends after an impromptu match in Angola

I did try to be careful when in Angola (where I was primarily working on a piece of my dissertation research), and heard a good few horror stories from other ex-pats, but in six months in and around Luanda I never personally had any problems or perceived any serious threat other than long days without running water.  And on the other side of the ledger, I had several opportunities to experience the sort of luxury an American graduate student usually only dreams of—expeditions to secluded beaches where locals would catch and cook fresh lobster while we had a kick-about on glorious white sand.  This was a long way from rural Cabinda, but actually quite close to where Angola’s Black Antelopes played Mali on Sunday.

In some discussions of the 2010 Cup of Nations I’ve seen Angola described as a poor country—but like all things related to these events that claim too is complicated.  Probably a more accurate description comes from the title of an interesting article in the British version of GQ magazine: “The World’s Richest Poor Country.”  There are pockets of immense wealth in Angola, particularly in and around Cabinda and Luanda where multi-national oil companies maintain gleaming corporate towers and heavily guarded luxury housing compounds.  In Luanda several of these buildings are just off Avenida Lenin and Rua Commandante Che Guevara—hollow tributes to Angola’s dalliance with communism during the cold war.

But while Angola’s rich are indeed very rich, the poor are also very poor.  Less than ten years ago, Angola was ranked by the United Nations Children’s Fund as “the worst place in the world to be a child.”  The combination of landmines, a decimated infrastructure, the unavailability of education, and the rarity of decent health care made for a dismal statistical reality.  But for me as a researcher and aspiring developmental psychologist part of what was fascinating about Angola was the way those decimated external conditions did not necessarily decimate people’s internal experience.  The Angolans I met were often justifiably angry about the conditions of their lives, but they maintained a vitality and a willfulness that is sometimes surprising yet somehow human.  And peace, along with Angola’s wealth of natural resources, had brought hope that the external conditions would improve.

Although I have not been back to Angola since 2003, my sense is that in many parts of the country the external conditions of life have gotten better.  There have been accusations of massive corruption, but at least some investment does seem to be going towards repairing and creating a real infrastructure.  Angola has serious problems and challenges, but there are some good stories and I feel compelled to indulge in at least one that has very little to do with the politics of Cabinda or the glamour of millionaire footballers—but it does have something to say about the place and the game.

My favorite Angola story is about a seven year old soccer fan I’ll call “Diego” who I met through my research in a hard luck refugee camp on the deep outskirts of Luanda.  Diego had spent his whole life in the camp, a dusty set of semi-permanent huts where his family had years ago taken refuge from heavy fighting near their home in rural Angola.  Their hut was among the most haggard in a collection of several hundred that made up one section of camp.  It was sticks, mud, and brightly hued scraps of plastic sheeting printed sporadically with various insignias: the white symbol of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, a dark cartoon “jumbo” on a bag from a store 20 miles distant, an illustrated corn husk on a former sack of food aid from the US Agency for International Development, faded red and white stripes from a cheap mass produced plastic grocery sack.

In the space where Diego slept, a sleeping area shared by several members of the family but no bigger than a department store changing room, yellowing newspapers hung on the wall.  The pages listed the players on Benfica and Sporting Lisbon a few years earlier.  I have no idea how he got those newspapers, but I do know that like most boys in the camp, Diego loved the game.  Unlike most boys in the camp, the muscles of Diego’s legs did not function.

Diego’s legs had been deformed since birth.  When I cautiously inquired as to the cause, the adults I asked were neither sure nor particularly interested (though polio seems like a reasonable guess).  The reality was that his peasant refugee family had no access to high technology hospital care, prosthetics, or wheelchairs.  So Diego had learned to move around the camp by walking with his arms, dragging his thin legs like hinged tent poles while using the thickly scabbed knots of skin on his knees as points on which to rest.

I had seen Diego around the camp at various points during my first few months in Angola, but he had hardly registered with me amidst much that was unfamiliar: the languidness of people whose daily routines involved much waiting, the chattering mix of Portuguese, French, Swahili, Bakongo, among other dialects, the dramatic variety of facial expressions ranging from giddy to sober.  I only started to know Diego personally during a period of weeks when I was administering surveys to children.

To do my research one day I borrowed a school room, a wall-less polished concrete floor covered by dull tin sheets propped up by adobe posts, interviewing children two at a time.  When Diego emerged from a crowd of curious children and sat down to do a survey I became a little nervous.  Among my many questions were several about participation in sport and play activities, and I was anxious to not embarrass Diego.  My instinct was to assume such questions would make him feel badly about not having functional legs, and presumably being unable to participate in the ubiquitous pick-up soccer games among boys his age.  When Diego sat down with me on a concrete step I decided, for the sake of standardizing my research protocol, to ask anyway.

“So, how often do you play sports and games with other kids?” I blurted in rote Portuguese.  “Every day, about three or four days a week, about once or twice a week, or never.  And it’s no problem if you say ‘never.’”

Diego looked at me with puzzlement, and a tinge of pity.

Todos os dias” he said.

“Every day?”

Diego paused, unsure about me.  We sat briefly in a confused silence.

“Well,” he qualified himself, “there were a few days where I was a little sick and couldn’t play.  So almost every day.”

As with almost all the boys in the refugee camp, Diego played soccer nearly every day.  Diego just used his hands to “kick” the ball when others would use their feet, batting it sharply with his calloused fist.  There were no adults that set up special rules for the game, no adapted equipment, and no major modifications of the rules—I was the only one that seemed to find the whole thing interesting.  When asked, some boys explained that they occasionally debated what should happen when the ball hit Diego’s non-functioning legs: should that be the same as a handball for the rest of the players?  While different kids seemed to have different opinions, none seemed to worry much.  Mostly they just played.

The trajectory of Diego’s future life as a disabled refuge in rural Angola was not good, and I do not mean to minimize the problems of Angola—nor the seriousness of what happened in Cabinda last week.  But I do mean to try and offer one small reminder that there are other stories to tell about Angola.  No matter what happens from now with the Cup of Nations, it seems important to me for all of us to keep in mind the small, symbolic, daily ways we claim membership in the community of a global game.

Andrew Guest writes weekly for Pitch Invasion. He is an academic social scientist and soccer addict living in Portland, Oregon.  Having worked (and played) in Malawi and Angola, he has a particular interest in Africa.  He can be contacted at drewguest (at) hotmail.com.

The Sweeper: Despite Tragedy, Africa Cup of Nations Kicks Off

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As Tom wrote earlier today, it is unclear whether the Africa Cup of Nations should continue in light of three deaths and emerging evidence of cynical political maneuvering in the Angolan government’s decision to host games in Cabinda; it appears it for the time being it will, as Angola kicked off this evening against Mali.

That said there are a few good tournament previews.  The Independent gives a detailed and sober-minded appraisal of the ACN hosts, indicating that “Even before yesterday’s attack there were doubts about whether Angola would take the opportunity hosting offered. It is easy to be glib about such events and imagine great economic benefits, but Angola is not a particularly poor country, despite problems with poverty.”

When Saturday Comes also provides a straightforward preview, with the caveat that “For the first time, a major international tournament begins without anyone knowing for sure how many teams will be taking part.”  The piece ends with the self-negating but likely accurate statement: “Whatever happens at CAN 2010, the tournament is already destined to be remembered for the tragic events that took place before any games were played.”

In several major English dailies however, there is little in the way of any real coverage of the event as an actual football tournament.  Perhaps Friday’s tragic events led to reduced ACN coverage, but it’s unclear how much space these papers would have devoted to the games had the attack not occurred.  While many English football pundits had not heard of Cabinda before Friday, nor one suspects had any plans to write a jot on the Angola-based tournament (except maybe to bemoan injuries to Premier League starters), it seems they are clamouring to be first out the gate with an opinion on whether participating nations should stay or withdraw.

While this sort of “instant expert” syndrome isn’t new, and it is certainly within anyone’s right to express an opinion on Friday’s events, it’s hard to take these writers’ concerns about African football’s “legacy” in light of Friday’s horrific attack seriously when so little attention was given to that legacy as it developed on the football pitch.

Worldwide Stories

  • EPL Talk‘s Christopher Harris uses the example of the CAN to highlight how frustrating it can be to sort out global viewing restrictions: “While I don’t condone online piracy of soccer broadcasts, I completely understand where the soccer fan is coming from. It’s much easier to go to Justin.tv than to spend a few hours searching through Google trying to find who has the game. While that may sound like an easy cop-out for soccer fans, I disagree. Rights restrictions are confusing. Yes, soccer fans should know better where to find legal streams of the Premier League, but even finding online stream of the Champions League is confusing since it has changed so much in the past six months.”
  • Meanwhile Arsene Wenger has questioned the motives of those calling for players to return “home” to Europe: “What is behind things like that? Is it a selfish motivation or is it a real issue over security?” Wenger told reporters today.
  • Landon Donovan debuted for Everton against Arsenal yesterday in one of the few Premier League games not canceled due to weather.  Twohundredpercent gives a good summary of the match.
  • Fake Sigi picks at Jimmy Conrad’s vision of MLS’ future.

Richard Whittall writes A More Splendid Life.

Carry on Cabinda: Politics, Morality and Safety at the Africa Cup of Nations

CAN 2010 Angola

It looks as if Togo will depart from the Africa Cup of Nations, though games will take place in Cabinda, just days after that region saw that team come under machine gun fire, will three officials dead and one goalkeeper (who had earlier been reported as dead) in intensive care, his life in the balance.

Togo have been under enormous pressure to stay from the tournament organisers, the Angolan authorities and the Confederation of African Football, who have much money and political prestige on the line.

“It is left to you to decide to stay in a competition synonymous with fraternity, brotherhood, friendship and solidarity,” Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou told Togo.

Conflicting reports have been coming out frequently over the past 24 hours as the team deals with all of the demands being made of them. This morning, the Guardian reported Togo were leaving:

Adebayor revealed a conversation he held with Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Togo’s head of state, this morning changed the player’s minds after they had previously vowed to play on.

“That’s what made the difference,” he said. “It was also our families and loved ones at home who called us. They told us we could continue if we wished but that it is the authorities who have the information.”Is there going to be another attack? Nobody knows.

If they asked us back [home], maybe they received a call saying that the threat was not passed. We are obliged to respect that. The head of state knows what is good for our careers and our lives.

“The presidential plane will pick us up. He told me that the plane had left Lomé. There are about two hours flying between Lomé and Cabinda. We will leave in two or three hours.”

The BBC’s Piers Edwards quite rightly questioned the pressure being put on the Togo team to stay (he was writing when it was reported they were staying):

It seems wholly inappropriate to put pressure on footballers who survived a near-death experience to play a tournament, which is the least of their concerns when life was flashing before their eyes, but that is what appears to have been happening.

The pressure has – somehow – worked and Togo’s players are now singing a different tune to the one that reverberated around the world in the aftermath of the attack.

“People died for this tournament, others were injured. We can’t abandon them and leave like cowards,” Alaixys Romao told French sports agency L’Equipe.

“If we stay here, it’s for them. But also so as not to give satisfaction to the rebels. Our government doesn’t necessarily agree with us but we are determined to play in this competition.”

Indeed the Togolese government does not want their players to stay in Cabinda, with the West African nation’s prime minister upping the ante by declaring that if the players ‘present themselves under the Togolese flag, it will be a false representation’.

While this story has no clear end at present, it’s revealing to note that there has never been talk by Confederation of African Football officials of scrapping the tournament.

This is a ruling body for whom money talks and with about 80% of Caf’s revenue coming from the Nations Cup, it’s no surprise at all that no political will has been shown to stop the tournament.

Arsene Wenger made the sensible counter-point that we always hear in these situations: you cannot let the terrorists “win” by cancelling the tournament.

“I don’t believe you just can stop a competition as it rewards the people who provoke the incident and means any competition is stoppable at any time. The international federation has to make sure the security is good enough.

This, of course, is an important point, and Wenger makes it well. At the same time, there are some important reservations about continuing the tournament in this case, and in particular, pressuring Togo to participate and holding games in Cabinda:

(1) In my opinion, the political pressure on Togo is disgraceful, given the human tragedy those players have just gone through. They should have been given several days to recover before even being asked to make a decision. The tournament, at the least, should have been delayed for this: even if FIFA had to dip into their coffers to help Angola and CAF financially cover the costs. They can afford it. Who has the appetite to watch the games starting today anyway?

(2) Togo should have been given the assurance that they would not have to play in Cabinda, with their games, at the least, moved to a safer part of Angola from a region that we now all know all too well (and as Angola’s organisers were well aware) is not safe — and I don’t mean not safe in the sense of today’s modern sense of fear of everything, but in the old-fashioned in-the-grips-of-civil-war-still unsafe. The splinter group of FLEC responsible for the attack have promised to strike again.

(3) Does anyone believe that the motivation of the Angolan government is not political in their insistence games should continue in Cabinda, as indeed, the entire staging of games there was seemingly motivated by their desire to present a firm grip on the oil-rich region that still had an armed separatist movement known to target foreigners? FIFA and CAF, by allowing the political motivation of the Angolan government to determine the course of events, are going against their responsibility to the sport first and to the safety of players, fans and officials.

But those are just my opinions. The last words on this should go not to the blogger writing this from thousands of miles away, nor to Togo’s head of state, or to Issa Hayatou, CAF’s chief shuttled around in executive safety and luxury, but to the captain of Togo, who just two days ago said his final prayers, believing he was about to machined gunned to death on a bus trip to a football match.

Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor has been much maligned in recent times, but his honest thoughts and leadership in this situation has been admirable. Adebayor was speaking before the intervention of the Togolese premier, when the team seemed set on staying. Given his words, I am glad they are leaving.

“If we speak of the dead, the competition should have been cancelled. But CAF (Confederation of African Football) have decided otherwise. We’re going back and we wish good luck to those who will remain, especially to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“What I have told their leaders is that they may be attacked at any time in Cabinda. I hope they will be cautious.”

Sweeper Special: World Reaction to Togo Tragedy

Togo crisis

There is only one story to cover this morning in a rare Saturday roundup, after waking up this morning and learning three more travelling with the Togo team have reportedly died from yesterday’s terrorist attack in Cabinda, Angola, apparently a reserve goalkeeper, assistant coach and a PR official. Togo have withdrawn from the tournament.

The complexity of the situation is such that we can only scratch at the surface at the politics behind the attack, and the decision to host games in Cabinda in the first place, as we attempted to do yesterday.

And yet, as we said we feared would happen in our initial reaction piece, most journalists are choosing not to try and learn more and appreciate the depth of the issues underlying this incident, but to instead use it to paint broad brushstrokes about Africa and the World Cup.

And so Ralph Ellis in (surprise, surprise) the Daily Mail:

As details emerged last night of the horrific attack on the team bus carrying Togo’s players across the border into Cabinda, a province of Angola, it left growing fears about the future not just of the Africa Cup of Nations but of the World Cup in South Africa itself.The decision to take the game’s most colourful tournaments to a region that was scarred by a bitter civil war was always a gamble.

But the organisers reckoned it a risk worth taking to show the world how the continent was moving into a new era.

Instead last night there were calls from England’s Premier League clubs for their players to come back home as the full shock began to sink in. And the question will be asked: ‘If Angola can’t keep players safe from terrorists, can South Africa protect the world’s biggest stars in the summer?’

Nevermind that “home” for these players is actually in Africa.

Nevermind that South Africa does not plan to host any games in a region with an active armed separatist resistance as Angola decided to do. We would never make the same comparison in Europe between regions far apart and with incredibly distinct histories and political situations. Indeed, even when terrorism strikes in western countries during major sporting events, we go on. Many will recall that in England, an IRA bomb exploded in the city of Manchester on the 15th of June, 1996. The very next day, Russia played Germany in Manchester at Old Trafford in Euro ’96. The very next day (“City shows its defiance by throwing a Euro 96 party”, the Independent headlined after). Obviously, footballers had not been targeted in the Manchester attack; the Olympics, of course, were directly targeted in Atlanta in 1996, and the Games went on. Nobody suggested the entire continent of Europe or North America would be unfit to host the next major sporting tournament to be held there, however near or far it was from the attacks.

The point I’m making is not that the ACN tournament should necessarily go on as those tournaments did (I do believe no more games should be held in Cabinda). It’s just to wish so many did not make lazy generalisations on safety, security, and the entire continent of Africa. Rob Crilly makes this argument well at the Huffington Post: “Once again the continent is treated as a single country. The problems of one place easily transposed to another, whatever the similarities or differences between South Africa and Congo-Brazzaville. South Africa has its security concerns, there’s no doubt. Rebel groups is not one of them. Nor pirates, famine or elephants marauding through stadiums. The attack on the Togo team bus is an horrific tragedy. But let’s forget easy clichés. Let’s get a grip.”

Onto to more misleading comments: perhaps the man under most pressure today should be Angolan government minister Bento Bembe, a former leader of the separatist movement in Cabinda who led the partially recognised peace accord in 2006 and pushed for holding games in Cabinda seemingly to prove the central government’s hold on the oil-rich region. Only a day before the attack, Bembe assured concerned observers that Cabinda was safe, and security was “guaranteed”. Today, he continues to claim that “Cabinda is a province like any other in Angola. And the Nations cup is positive for Angola. It does not represent a threat. There is no reason not to organise the Nations Cup in Cabinda.”  It is patently not true that Cabinda is just like the rest of Angola, as even the most casual observer can learn from the State Department or British Foreign Office’s travel advisories. It’s a shame more press reports have also not realised this reality when drawing their conclusions about Angola and Africa.

There are still many unanswered questions. Why did Togo decide to drive directly from their training base in the Republic of Congo to the city of Cabinda, meaning they had to go through the hinterlands of Cabinda, an obviously dangerous area?  Did their federation know about it? If not, was this because of yet another dispute between the players and the federation?  The ACN organisers have said they did not know the team planned to bus it, apparently believing they had planned to fly to Luanda and from there to Cabinda. But if so, surely they would have had some information about the itinerary to provide security in Luanda? (Not the world’s safest place, either)  Clearly, it was far cheaper to take the bus down from their base than fly past Cabinda to Angola and fly back again (there being no direct flights from the Republic of Congo to Cabinda, as far as I can ascertain). Whose decision was this, though? Did the Angolan authorities really not know about it? Who was providing the security that was travelling with the Togo team? Is anyone asking these questions?

Summing all this up, I’d like to highlight a comment made just now by ursus actos on yesterday’s post. The points he makes are far more pertinent than anything we’ve read in the press today.

Two non-playing members of the Togo delegation (the assistant manager and press attache) have died from their wounds and there are unconfirmed reports on French forums that the reserve keeper has also died (he was reported by L’Equipe this morning to be one of three members of the delegation in critical condition).

Togo have withdrawn from the tournament. Togo players have also been quoted as saying that they have spoken to players on other teams in their group in an attempt to convince them to boycott the matches or insist that they be moved. I still believe that those teams should refuse to play in Cabinda, partly out of respect to their Togolese counterparts.

To follow up on my geographical point of clarification from yesterday. Togo were training in Pointe Noire (on the coast of the Republic of the Congo, and clearly visible in the map above). A quick look at that map shows why taking a bus would have seemed reasonable under normal circumstances. It is also worth keeping in mind that the Togolese FA has a long record of dysfunction (you may recall all of the disputes with the players over promised but unpaid bonuses at the last World Cup).

The Angolans and the CAF continue to maintain that they were unaware of the Togolese travel plans, but the presence of an armed Angolan escort makes that claim very hard to take seriously. Clearly, someone in the Angolan security forces knew what they were planning to do, and the organisers and the CAF clearly should have known.

As to why there were matches in Cabinda to start with, I can only repeat what I have said elsewhere:

The Angolan government’s entire approach to the Cabinda situation in recent years has been to deny that there is an active insurgency, while at the same time engaging in human rights abuses (as documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others). Having one of the CAN groups centred in Cabinda (which isn’t even geographically contiguous to the rest of Angola) was a profoundly political statement by the government and part of their campaign to show the world (and the multinational oil companies active there) that they were in full control of the situation and that there was nothing to worry about.

Just how hollow those claims were is now crystal clear to the entire world.

Cabinda, Angola, Togo and the Africa Cup of Nations Tragedy

In the comments to the previous post about today’s attack on Togo’s team bus in Cabinda (reminding Henry Winter that it’s part of Angola, and not South Africa), Andrew Guest suggested we post a map of Cabinda to illustrate its complex relation to Angola. As we can see, Cabinda is an enclave of Angola, with what is called Zaire on the map (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between it and Angola proper.

Map of Cabinda, Angola

Here is another appropriate photo to illustrate Cabinda, and the reason the separatist conflict there has lasted over three decades, and continued beyond the end of the Angolan civil war in the rest of the country in 2002:


Oil. There is a lot of it in Cabinda; reportedly more than half of Angola’s reserves. Separatists rebels (with over a dozen armed and unarmed groups active at various times in the past three decades) think the central Angolan government takes too much of its revenue; the Angolan government has long tried to crack down and assert control. As globalsecurity.org explains, this has not disappeared in the past decade:

After years of reduced activity, in 2001 a renewed independence movement was again active in the enclave of Cabinda. This movement, which calls itself FLEC-RENOVADA (Renewed Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) started to target foreigners as it tries to gain international attention for its cause – namely, independence from Angola.

FLEC-RENOVADA reached a peace agreement with the Angolan government in 2006. But not all within FLEC agreed with this move. This is why, in an eerily prescient AFP piece from yesterday, many were still questioning the decision to host ACN matches in Cabinda given that offshoots of FLEC remain active in their armed resistance, actively and openly committed to attacking high-profile targets:

Oil-rich Cabinda, separated from the rest of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been embroiled in a long-running independence struggle but will host the seven Nations Cup matches this month.

The conflict officially ended in a 2006 deal with the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).

FLEC however has made several media claims in recent months about attacks on the military and foreign construction and oil workers based in the province.

According to Agostinho Chicaia of Mapablanda, Cabinda’s only human rights organisation, things have only gotten worse since the deal.

“Cabinda continues to be unstable, there is no peace,” he told AFP, saying the fighting has eased, but human rights abuses and arrests on security charges were increasing.

“The true peace is that which is born first in the hearts of people and in their consciences, and it’s a peace based on justice,” he said.

“The (agreement) has done nothing for justice, so now there is only a heightened tension.”

Mapablanda as well as US-based Human Rights Watch have documented abuses, including the case of Fernando Lelo, a former Voice of America journalist who last year was sentenced to 12 years in prison for national security offences.

Lelo spent two years behind bars but was later acquitted.

“Cabinda is still living in a state of war today,” he told AFP. “The fact that we present ourselves as defenders of human rights… we’ve been targeted for arbitrary detentions and persecutions.”

As Just Football rightly asked, after today’s attack that splinter group Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda – Military Position (FLEC-PM) have now claimed responsibility for, many questions must be raised about the decision of the Angolan Football Federation to host games in Cabinda for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Angola’s government has clearly seen the entire tournament as a showcase for the country in the wake of the terrible, decades long civil war, building shining new stadiums across the country. It promised to be a wonderful story for the country. But did they risk hosting games in Cabinda as a show of power, demonstrating to the multinational oil interests such as Chevron that all was under their control?

There is something of a defense to the decision, despite the state of Cabinda in general. As Andrew also pointed out in the comments to the previous piece, this attack happened outside the capital city of Cabinda, also called Cabinda. The Togo team, for reasons that remain unclear, decided to travel unsafely on bus through the hinterlands instead of flying to the capital. The footballing authorities may not be to blame for that; we do not know the full story yet.

The oil money that has flowed in Cabinda has made the capital city much safer than the rest of the region; the State Department’s travel advisory makes this pretty clear:

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.

Moreover, it should be pointed out that this attack does not mean the rest of Angola is an unsafe war zone. The British Foreign Office states that “Most visits to Angola are trouble-free. 7 British nationals required consular assistance in Angola in the period 01 April 2008 – 31 March 2009 for the following types of incident; deaths (1 cases); hospitalisations (0 cases); and arrests, for a variety of offences (4 cases).”

But like the State Department, the Foreign Office makes a point of warning against travel in Cabinda outside the capital city: “We advise against all but essential travel to the interior of Cabinda Province.  In 2008 there were reports of violent incidents including rape, murder and kidnappings involving foreigners and Angolans in the Province of Cabinda.  Groups claiming responsibility for these attacks have declared their intention to continue attacks against foreigners.”

Antonio Bento Bembe, a minister in the Angolan government and former FLEC rebel who led the 2006 peace accord, denied there should be such concerns. ”What these people are saying is not true. These people are just using Human Rights Watch to get publicity. It would be good to recognise the efforts being made by the government, not only to speak critically. Cabinda is safe and security there is guaranteed. The Cup of Nations is an opportunity for Cabinda to receive visitors and it will bring money and investment to the province.”

What was supposed to have been a dream showcase for Angola as a country has turned into a nightmare showing its violent instability, at least in that province. Security, obviously, was not guaranteed in Cabinda.

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


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.

Gifts for an Angolan Christmas: A Sort-of Soccer Story

Photo by J.Star on Flickr

A note in preface: The story here is a bit of a divergence from my usual weekly post.  With Christmas coming and the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola not far behind (kicking off January 10th) I’ve been thinking about the 2002 Christmas I spent in Angola when working on my dissertation research.  Part of that involved helping to organize coach training programs in refugee camps near the capital of Angola—and while the programs included a variety of sports, ‘futebol’ was what really mattered.  So while this particular story is only tangentially about the game, the game is what offered the connection.

The story itself—mostly true barring the vagaries of memory—is something that started as a Christmas letter.  Now, with the Africa Cup of Nations about to begin, I’ve re-written it in hopes a few fans of the game might be interested in some experiences of Angola outside the stadiums (which I wrote about last month).  If you like your soccer writing witty and cynical, please ignore.  If you can excuse some sentimentality around the holiday season, I hope you enjoy…

For several Christmases they had lived on a soccer field, in front of a crumbling brick schoolhouse, in the deep outskirts of Luanda.  Or, more specifically, a soccer field that had been converted into a temporary refugee camp for Congolese families fleeing violence.  The soccer field was just a reasonably flat space intended to serve the families for a few weeks.  Then a few weeks had turned into a few years.  And it probably wasn’t ever a very good soccer field anyway—the space around the touchlines leaned badly, it had no grass to speak of, and when it rained the red dirt surface segmented into canals of thick mud.  But when I stopped to think about it all, the idea of being condemned to Christmases living on a not very good soccer field, I felt overwhelmed.  Of course, I felt overwhelmed often in Angola—the unfamiliarity and the noise and the confusion of it all.  And, on that particular day, the 23rd of December, the rain.

It had rained a few times in the months I had been in Luanda, living in the central city and commuting daily to various refugee camps outside the capital of Angola, but for the most part the city itself was dry.  That morning it had suddenly become flooded with tumults of water.  Around 6:30 am I looked out the window of my Soviet-style apartment block, wedged into an eclectic downtown mix of dilapidated cement shells, gleaming glass high rises built with money from oil and diamonds, antique Portuguese colonial villas, and shantytowns surrounding the urban core, to find that three hours of pouring rain had turned the drain-less streets into rivers.  Every open space was suddenly a lake.  It was supposed to be our last day working in the camps before Christmas.

Christmas in Luanda was a filtered version of Christmas elsewhere—a day of vaguely religious reflection, a chance for a nice meal, an expectation of gifts to the extent one could afford them.  But being in a place that daily shoved dramatic inequalities in my face—the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor—the gifts piece became more complicated.  I want Christmas to be about something more than material exchange, about celebrating the birth of Christ or engaging in a giving spirit.  But I know gifts matter.  And in the long-term refugee camps where I worked on my research and with volunteer programs promoting play for children, camps where people had lived in forced dependence to Western donors for years, the expectation of gifts was raw.  I was the ‘wealthy’ outsider, the American who showed up periodically in a pock-marked Land Cruiser with balls, cones, papers, and games.  So the refugees had asked matter-of-factly, not awkwardly nor hopefully nor greedily: “what are you getting us for Christmas?”

My Angolan colleague and I had tried to get them something—at least for the ten or so adults who’d volunteered with us for a coach training program.  We’d spent what for us felt like considerable time and expense getting together small Christmas baskets: flour, eggs, powdered milk, and a chicken.  The idea was to give the people we worked with the chance to make a decent meal, maybe a cake if they could work that out on their cooking fire.  My Angolan colleague assured me they could.  And so that morning around 8:00, worried whether we could make it through the storm, we loaded the truck for delivery.


We only worked at the camp on the soccer field on Mondays because it was small and further from town—we hoped maybe it hadn’t rained as much there.  And on our way from the city to the camp, our truck hydroplaning through the crooked streets, the rain did seem to slow just as the usual morning crowds began another day.  Luanda is a city of 5 million originally designed for a few hundred thousand; the roads host hives of people squeezing between the noise of cars, trucks, busses, carts, and the choke of modern life.  On that particular day the storm amplified the masses of emotion: some people shook sadly in their second hand western clothes, some were zestfully dancing and sliding and soaking in the quagmire, many kept on selling their wares with a water logged version of the usual intensity—weaving and wading on foot between disjointed traffic waving plastic bags of soft drinks and beer, fake Christmas trees, bubble gum, sandals, toy cars, popcorn, newspapers, underwear, pictures of sofas (available in a waiting warehouse).  Entrepreneurial youth were charging people a ferry toll to carry them on their backs or shoulders through the deepest mud.

Soon it became obvious that there had not been less rain outside of town.  If anything there had been more.  A mile from the camp, away from urban rush on a road lined by yellowish green hills drifting towards the ocean, we turned off the tarmac to find the road a pit of deep red mud.  We could see our destination in the distance—the school and its field stood on a hill overlooking rolling acres of bristling grass, leaf-less trees, and scattered huts.  But, looking at a long curve around a dangerous bend, driving wasn’t worth the risk.  We were stuck.  It had taken us an hour to go this far.  It was two days before Christmas and we had perishable gifts in our backseat.  We had to walk.

Mud seemed so strange in Angola.  Or maybe mud seems strange everywhere and I just haven’t spent enough time with it.  Whatever, when we stepped out of the truck the mud immediately overwhelmed our shoes—it layered on magnetically like a cross-section diagram of the earth’s core.  Within five steps I was walking on uneven seven inch platform boots, realizing that shoes were of no use.  We returned to the car, left our shoes and socks, and set off again.

When was the last time you walked a long distance through thick mud in your bare feet?  What fun.  Especially when you are in undulating hills outside Luanda, Angola.  When you have Boabob trees dotting the horizon.  When you have glossy little kids cartwheeling through the puddles on the side of the road, stopping briefly just to give you a “Bom dia.”  When you pass a mess of uneven thatch huts with women peering out and shaking their heads in confused amusement.  When mud splays up through your toes and rests on your instep—the whole sensation like a warm bed after a long night.

Passing the crest of the final hill, a stressed hockey bag full of flour and powdered milk digging into my shoulder, the camp seemed empty.  Water was dripping heavily around the 50 or so small huts that occupied just over half the soccer field; small canyons of water weaving between piles of trash and clumps of earth.  Every step I took required an intense focus on the ground, negotiating rusting tin can lids from South African tomato paste, corroded blue Chinese D cell batteries, broken Portuguese beer bottles—a refuse of globalization.  We were soaked, our legs encrusted with dirt, immersed in a soporific din.  It was 10:00 in the morning, still raining, and the camp was asleep.

We went to a house in the near corner of the camp, a mud, stick, and canvas construction little bigger than a backpacking tent that we knew to be the home of a friend—one of our coach training participants.  My Angolan colleague, balancing a large cardboard box of chicken on his head, announced our presence with a sharp hand clap.  There had been no words, we hadn’t spoken since leaving the truck 45 minutes before, and there was no response.   Just rain beading on a dull blue tarp, seeping down my face through a sparse excuse for a beard- a beard that everyone said made me look sad.

After more clapping, there was a slight rustling in the hut.  Our friend emerged, pulling back the maize sack hanging in place of a door.  He was sleepy and confused.  What were we doing there?  Didn’t we know about the rain; about the camp being asleep?  He shook the shadows out of his eyes, invited us in, and made space for us to sit.  One plastic chair, orange and broken, one plank laid across grey scarred tins the size of paint cans.  There was a sickly looking chicken running around the dirt floor, water falling out of its feathers as if it was leaking.

Our friend went to call the other few participants from our coaching course.  Four came, and impractically all were wearing shoes—shoes weighed down by layers of mud from a walk of about 20 yards.  Even though their feet were tough from years of movement, even though it was much easier to negotiate the mud in bare feet, even though they risked ruining their shoes for a 20 yard walk, even though my own feet were bare, the shoes were important.

We explained that we didn’t want to do much today—I wanted them to know I wasn’t so naïve as to think we might work on a day like this.  But we had small gifts.  We emphasized small gifts; on his own my Angolan colleague told them in Portuguese that the gifts were just symbolica.  I wondered what they symbolized—but everyone seemed to understand.   So we unloaded the bags and the cardboard box, we gave them a list of who we intended the things for, we shook still confused hands, and we left.  There were very few words exchanged.  They didn’t complain, but they didn’t express much appreciation either.  They had expected something, though maybe not that day or that way.

The walk back to the truck was downhill and our loads were gone, so we should have gone faster.  But our feet had tired and our bodies were slow.  We still didn’t talk.  I focused less on the road, which seemed familiar now, and more on the vista.  I tried to remember clues our friends might have given about whether they liked what we brought.  I worried that others, for whom we hadn’t brought anything, would be angry with us.  I wondered if I should feel good about what I had done, or if I was just playing a role in a big global act—the privileged outsider trying to salve his broken sense of justice through gifts symbolica.

Then, slowly, my thoughts settled.  My body more easily coped with the gelatinous road.  There were even a few minutes where everything seemed quiet—a few moments during which I watched grass rustle and felt the soft pleasure of earth wrapping through my feet.  With my back to the soccer field, on a muddy red road where my work was done, the world oozed through my toes.  It was a moment of tired happiness, and it was the gift: a few minutes in the warm rain of an Angolan Christmas.

Andrew Guest writes weekly for Pitch Invasion. He is an academic social scientist and soccer addict living in Portland, Oregon.  Having worked (and played) in Malawi and Angola, he has a particular interest in Africa.  He can be contacted at drewguest (at) hotmail.com.

Building Stadiums: Angola, China, and the African Cup of Nations

CAN 2010

The African teams are mostly set.  After last weekend’s final qualifiers, we know that Cameroon, Nigeria, and either Egypt or Algeria will join hosts South Africa, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana as Africa’s representatives at the first African World Cup.  But those qualifiers also served to decide the field for a more immediate event: the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations hosted by Angola in January (shorthanded as CAN2010—for the Campeonato Africano das Nações em Futebol Angola 2010).  So the African qualifiers will first be travelling to Angola, where they will be joined by the hosts and the teams that finished second and third in the four team final qualifying groups: Gabon, Togo, Tunisia, Mozambique, Zambia, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Malawi.

Which all leads me to a random trivia question: What is the most expensive city in the world for foreigners?  Tokyo?  Copenhagen?  Geneva?  All good guesses, all in the top 10.  But, out of context, I bet few people would have guessed the number one spot goes to the city that this coming Friday (November 20th) will host the draw for the CAN2010: Luanda, Angola.  Luanda is an archetypal global mega-city where massive wealth (due primarily to Angola’s huge reserves of oil and diamonds) combines with massive poverty (due primarily to the dual legacies of Portuguese colonialism and a brutal 27 year civil war between its 1975 independence and the 2002 death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi) to create a place rife with both hope and hardship.  And now, during January’s African Cup of Nations, a place that makes an unlikely host for a major international soccer tournament.

I spent six months living in Angola during 2002-2003, working on my dissertation research through a volunteer posting with an international organization doing development-through-sports programs in refugee camps.  It was an intense and rich experience.  Living in Luanda and working outside the city in communities hosting refugees from Congo along with internally-displaced Angolans, I saw much of the diversity of Africa within a few square miles.  The region has a mix of quaint but crumbling Portuguese colonial villas, bullet strewn government blocks, private beach resorts, sprawling slums, modern high-rise bank headquarters, lush agricultural villages, modern suburban developments, old Cuban military bases, glistening corporate mansions in walled compounds, and hardscrabble squatter camps.  And then there were those ubiquitous African landmarks: hundreds of improvised soccer fields crammed into any available nook.

But now Angola is doing some improvising on a much bigger scale: through arrangements with China, Angola is building four brand new stadiums to host the Cup of Nations.  The designs for these stadiums were up on Pitch Invasion last month, and their aesthetics are well worth appreciating.  But the stories around the stadiums are also worth some consideration.  As the tournament approaches I hope I’ll have the chance to write some more personal stories about my soccer related experiences in Angola.  For starters, however, I’ll focus on the stadiums and the nation itself.

Estádio Cidade Universitária, Luanda's stadium for the 2010 African Cup of Nations

Estádio Cidade Universitária, Luanda

The Geo-Politics of Building Stadiums

As a country Angola is a prime example of the “paradox of plenty:” having massive quantities of natural resources too often makes places ripe for exploitation and destructive inequality.  Angola’s approximately 18 million people have a per capita GDP of around $6000 per year—which is relatively high for Africa, particularly in a country just emerging from a long civil war—but 70% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, the country has extremely high rates of infant mortality, low life expectancy, and is often rated among the most corrupt countries in the world.  In my experience, however, Angolans are also a proud and resilient people, and considering the challenges of overcoming the damning legacies of colonialism and war there is still some cause for hope.

One major reason for both hope and concern is the fact that among Angola’s wealth of natural resources is oil—what Venezuelan politician Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo called “the devil’s excrement.”  The short and massively over-simplified version of why Angola’s civil war went on for 27 long years is that one side had oil, the other side had diamonds, and the long-burn of the war allowed each to keep funding themselves.

The more contemporary geo-political implication of Angola’s oil is that it is one of several African countries embroiled in a quiet contest between the US and China in their quest to ensure energy for the future.  One by-product of the end of Angola’s civil war was the opportunity for the country and multi-national countries to more efficiently exploit the country’s oil—Angola became a member of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2007, and will host its first set of major OPEC meetings this December.  Several months ago when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her first major African tour, the New York Times declared “once again Angola is a crucial battleground.  This time, it is the contest for influence between the United States and an increasingly powerful, resource-hungry China.”

And what does all this have to do with soccer?  One of China’s most interesting tactics as it strives for global influence as an emerging superpower is what some have called “stadium diplomacy.”  China’s general scheme in the world of international development has been to worry a lot less about moralizing and telling developing countries what to do (which has been the general caricature of much Western aid), and to worry a lot more about making friends and creating business opportunities with no strings attached.  In Africa at least, building soccer stadiums are a great way to do that.

According to at least one source: “The Chinese have built or are in the process of building stadiums across a veritable A to Z of African states, including Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, the Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.”  I can’t imagine the US Congress would be willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for soccer stadiums in Africa, but China doesn’t seem to have that problem.

There is also a sort of natural political connection between Angola and China since the governments in both places have a historical tie to Marxism and a contemporary affinity for making lots of money.  The MPLA party has officially ruled Angola since independence, and much of the framing of the long civil revolved around cold war ideology.  One of the amazing stories of the Angolan civil war involves a turning point when heavily armored and anti-communist South African convoys made a long charge up the Atlantic coast to take Luanda—but the MPLA called on their comrade Fidel Castro who sent Cuban troops to help the Angolans repel the invaders.  But now, likely to Fidel’s great consternation, Luanda is home to gleaming new skyscrapers for capitalist behemoths such as ExxonMobil that sit, with great irony, just off Avenida Lenin and not far from Rua Comandante Che Guevara.

The Practice of Building Stadiums

The situation in Angola does raise interesting questions about when and how a developing country should spend money on sports.  This question seems particularly acute considering the way China tends to go about building the African stadiums—by using Chinese contractors and Chinese workers.  So where South Africa has tried to partially justify the massive expenditures it is making for World Cup stadiums by arguing that the money offers employment to local workers (of course, the South African worker’s strikes confirm this is not always a clean process either), Angola is just making sure the stadiums get built.  In one report from the BBC, for example, the construction site at Benguela (a provincial capital on Angola’s Atlantic coast) was reported to have 700 Chinese workers contrasted with only 250 locals.

Benguela, Complexo da Sr. da Graca

Benguela, Complexo da Sr. da Graca

Overall, though there has been much concern and speculation as to whether having Angola host in 2010 was too ambitious—a familiar refrain for international tournaments in Africa considering naysayers targeting the just completed FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria and upcoming South Africa 2010—it does look like the Angolan stadiums will be ready.  True, the opening date for the main stadium in Luanda has been pushed back, having targeted a grand opening for next week against Ghana in a friendly that will now be played in the old Estádio da Cidadela.  And they may have to do without the exterior landscaping that helped make the early drawings look so pretty.  But Luanda really is the least of the concerns—though the new Luanda stadium would be the biggest, the old stadium is still serviceable.

The other stadiums, in contrast, are in provinces more directly affected by the long civil conflict and without Luanda’s access to resources.  The fact that the stadiums in Benguela, Lubango, and Cabinda seem well in order, though smaller than in Luanda, is certainly an accomplishment of some sort.  And even with the Luanda stadium, the few Angolan workers are confident—as one told the Reuters when asked if the stadium would be ready: “I’m sure it will, the Chinese are building this thing.”

The other thing the Angolans, or the Chinese, or whoever, should probably get some credit for are the details of the stadiums themselves.  I attended a few games at the old Estádio da Cidadela, and it is one of those classic cement monstrosities common to many African capitals.  It can handle lots of people, and does the basic job, but that’s all that can be said for it.

From concept on, the new Angolan stadiums seem to be something more.  The original designs were apparently made by an Angolan architect to be based on the Welwitschia plant, which grows only on the borders of Angola and Namibia.  And, at least for the Luanda stadium, Reuters notes: “The stadium rim is expected to bend like the horns of the black sable antelope — the country’s national symbol. The soccer team is known as the ‘Black Antelopes.’”  Others of the stadiums also have thoughtful touches—such as Benguela’s Complexo da Sr. da Graça which opens out to a view of the ocean.  The efforts to make the stadiums aesthetically pleasing and culturally meaningful is important in African contexts long assigned only austere basics.

It is also worth noting that despite the expense of living in Luanda, the estimated costs of the stadiums could be considered reasonable in comparison to the insane sums devoted to other modern complexes: a common estimate seems to be a total cost of around $600 million for the four Angolan stadiums.  While that is still a huge amount of money to spend on sports, the four combined are only slightly more than the single Green Point Stadium being built in Cape Town for the World Cup.  Granted, the Angolan stadiums are significantly smaller and not fully enclosed, and soccer spectators may not appreciate the eyesore of running tracks, but considering where Angola is coming from and how it has all come together the stadiums would still seem to be an intriguing sort of modern soccer monument.

Stadia Spotlight: Angola, African Cup of Nations 2010

You might notice the cheeky slight change to our weekly stadium feature’s name — we’ve pluralised it as we are looking at more than one this week.  We feature the renderings for the four new, impressive stadiums being built in Angola for the African Cup of Nations 2010, to be held in January.

Capacity: 40,000
Stadium name: Estádio Cidade Universitária

Estádio Cidade Universitária, Luanda's stadium for the 2010 African Cup of Nations

Rendering of Estádio Cidade Universitária, Luanda's stadium under construction for the 2010 African Cup of Nations

Stadium Name: Complexo da Sr. da Graça  
Capacity: 25,000

Benguela, Complexo da Sr. da Graca

Rendering of Complexo da Sr. da Graça, Benguela's stadium under construction for the 2010 African Cup of Nations

Stadium Name: Estádio Chimandela
Capacity: 25,000


Rendering of Estádio Chimandela, Cabinda's stadium under construction for the 2010 African Cup of Nations

Stadium Name: Estádio Alto da Chela
Capacity: 25,000

Stadium in Lubango

Rendering of Estádio Alto da Chela, Lubango's stadium under construction for the 2010 African Cup of Nations

As the tournament gets closer, we’ll report on the final stages of stadium construction, but it looks as if — for a country torn apart by civil war for most of the past three decades — it will have beautiful stadia to host the Cup. And plenty of running tracks for use afterwards. . .