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Innocent Madawo

What an Angolan ambush says about African politics Add to ...

Last week's attack on a bus carrying the Togolese national soccer team in Angola by rebels belonging to the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda exposes the folly of African politics - the propensity to pretend all is well when all is definitely not well.

Contrary to what its rulers would have us believe, Angola is a country still at war. Some of its regions are heavily militarized, not least of which is the Cabinda enclave where Friday's ambush took place. Two Togolese officials and the Angolan bus driver were killed; eight people, including a goalkeeper, were wounded.

This incident could have been prevented had it not been for Angola's quest to show the world that it's now a conflict-free country ready to partake in all activities. And how best to show that than by playing host to the most anticipated sporting event on the continent - the African Cup of Nations. And lest anyone doubt the Angolan government's control of the country, why not stage one of the group matches in the region considered the most volatile - Cabinda.

Clearly, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos wanted to send a message with drama and effect - but the plan backfired. The fact that the Togolese team was being escorted by heavily armed security forces suggests that local authorities knew they had military problems in Cabinda.

Besides, only a fool would think that an oil-rich enclave ensconced between Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa - both among the most volatile badlands of Africa - is safe enough to risk foreigners' lives.

But Angolan authorities aren't the only ones at fault. Rodrigues Mingas, FLEC's secretary-general - obviously elated at having his group's cause suddenly thrust back into the limelight - claimed that he had warned Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football, that there would be trouble if the tournament were staged in Cabinda.

Well, politics is often referred to as a game and, as far Africa is concerned, it can be difficult to distinguish a self-centred politician from a sports administrator. They aren't afraid to take risks provided the benefits accrue to them and consequences don't harm them.

Regardless of whether Mr. Hayatou was warned by Mr. Mingas, only carelessness could lead to officials agreeing to stage an international soccer tournament in a conflict zone.

In fact, when Angola was awarded the right to play host to the tournament, gasps could be heard around Africa and its diaspora. How did a country still technically at war and with a battered infrastructure beat relatively secure competitors such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea?

It all boils down to petrodollars. Angola benefited from the oil boom of the past decade, in addition to its abundant mineral resources, particularly diamonds. Mr. Hayatou and his Confederation of African Football could not resist the lure of unlimited money that was being dangled by the Angolans.

Of course, it's also quite possible that some among the Togolese officials might have been influenced by the need to "save" money when they made the fatal decision to drive through Cabinda. The team was supposed to fly from its training camp in Congo-Brazzaville. (It's a standard Fédération Internationale de Football Association rule in such tournaments.)

In any case, the decision not only cost lives but casts doubt on Africa's ability to rise to the occasion in a year when South Africa is due to play host to the continent's first World Cup. But it's a decision made in Africa, where politicians and sports administrators don't have embarrassment, shame or remorse in their vocabulary.

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