Politics also plays in the African Cup of Nations

By Francisco Centauro of Grada Roja

There are two faces to this beast; on the one hand the clamor that represents a continental tournament organized by FIFA, which brings together different countries in Africa to share the values that football transmits. On the other hand, also visible are the many factors that have led to the social and economic decline of the whole continent. In the 19th and 20th Centuries it was the shared experience of the imperialist yoke that gave the African nations the by-product of a fighting heritage. Now FIFA and those in political power in Africa try to provide cover for the continuing poverty and inequality of the continent with showcase tournaments. Nothing to see here, move along please…

The host country for the 2017 edition of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations is Gabon. Similar to Brazil at the last World Cup, a large percentage of the population of Gabon lives in dire poverty. The dissatisfaction at the amount of money invested in organizing the tournament permeates the population and has manifested itself in widespread discontent and protest on the streets.

The riots in Gabon commenced in the aftermath of the re-election of Ali Bongo of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) whose victory is widely considered to be corrupt and fraudulent. Gabonese opposition candidate Jan Ping leads the protests and the social upheaval is ongoing, in spite of the African Nations Cup tournament. The capital Libreville, is the epicenter of both the sporting event and popular discontent. But the Cup must continue because the economic interests of the organizers in this era of commercialised soccer are a priority – they have match timetables to fill and profits to make, because ‘time is money’.

The first game of the Cup, on January 14, saw host Gabon play Guinea Bissau. Inside the stadium the encounter takes place with a certain normality, contrary to the scenes on the outside, where the population is immersed in episodes of violence, culminating in the protesters setting fire to the National Assembly as a sign of their discontent. Revolts, riots and mass arrests are the reality of the African Cup of Nations that is not reported by the mainstream media. It is obvious that, as in Brazil, the interests pursued by the government, the African Confederation and FIFA, is considered to be more important than responding to the demands of the protesters. No matter that public resources have been diverted to fund a lavish opening ceremony, the basic needs of the population can wait, because it is the priority of those in charge to show the world that Gabon is up to the task of organizing an event of this type. Most likely, after the tournament, stadiums will become abandoned properties, due to the inability of the government to finance their maintenance. Just look back and observe the countries that have hosted a tournament of similar character in other continents. In Brazil, those stadiums that were built after long days of exploitation and brutal effort for the workers, now lie abandoned. They remain as the silent witnesses of the socioeconomic consequences of being a World Cup host, Gabon will be no exception to this rule.

Looking beyond the facade of this tournament, it is important to celebrate the tradition of resistance that is demonstrated by the protests on the streets of Gabon. These protests recall the examples of struggle that led to the national liberation of several African countries, as well as the heroic characters who fought colonialism and achieved independence for their nations. Today these achievements are overshadowed by interventionism and betrayal.

So we remember Thomas Sankara and his legacy in the liberation of Burkina Faso, President Nasser’s Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the revolution of Patrice Lumumba. The many liberation struggles in southern and central Africa that saw the colonialists overthrown. And, of course, the Algerians as authentic warriors both on the pitch and on the barricades of the National Liberation Front. The revolution in Africa continues because, as has been proven by experience, national liberation in and of itself does not automatically lead to social liberation and freedom from poverty. Football and Politics remain intertwined and reflect the social context of the time and we will continue to report the political as well as the sporting.

This article first appeared in Spanish on the Grada Roja website.

Translated & Edited by Talman, with thanks to F.C. and Grada Roja

REVIEW: Dare Devil Rides to Jarama

Dare Devil Rides to Jarama dramatizes Clem “Daredevil” Beckett’s life and sacrifice during the Spanish Civil war, and celebrates the 80th anniversary of the creation of the International Brigades.

Clem Beckett lived briefly, but what he made of his 31 years on this earth is quite extraordinary. A proud working class lad born in Oldham in 1906, a blacksmith by trade turned speedway rider during the depression of the 1920s, he was quick to identify the damaging nature of capitalism, leading him to embrace solidarity, anti-fascism and revolutionary socialism. He never shunned fighting the good fight and when the biggest fight of all against fascism in Spain started, he joined the International Brigades and died in 1937 in the battle to stop Franco from reaching Madrid.

Daredevil Rides to Jarama is a wonderful piece of working class theatre, with a brilliant script and an incredibly clever way of using cheap props and lighting to convey time, place, situations and moods. A wooden panel at the back of the stage is a wall of death, a factory gate, a door to a lovenest, a cinema screen, a wall in Spain; some steps are a podium for a political speech and for an award ceremony, a writing table, and a workshop bench. There are no special effects. Musical instruments appear and are played to accompany the singing of fighting ballads. And you never realise how bare and simple the stage is because with just a few props, some poetry, some songs, lighting, and above all an extraordinarily well-crafted script and two seriously talented men create more magic and evoke more reality than you ever thought was possible with so little.

David Heywood brings back to life a brave, determined, compassionate, cheeky and sharp Clem Beckett and leaves everything he’s got on stage. He really empties the tank. Neil Gore, who wrote the play, is everybody else, from the greyhound stadium owner who exploits young riders’ inexperience on deliberately dangerous dirt tracks for sensational shows that cause injury and death, to the landowner who tries to keep ramblers off the land, and many other characters, including Christopher St John Sprigg (aka Cauldwell), the upper middle class writer and poet who became Clem’s unlikely partner and died with him on February 12, 1937 in the Jarama Valley.

Offering inspired, nuanced performances and a genuine connection with the audience, David and Neil are also the stage hands, as they operate the lights and reorganise the stage between the two acts. The play is an intellectual and emotional tour de force through a compassionate life of political commitment in the fight against capitalism and fascism. Clem’s is the story of one of the many heroic men and women who understood what was at stake in Spain and decided that the ultimate sacrifice was not too high a price to pay and joined the International Brigades to fight on the side of the Spanish resistance.

Catch it if you can from January.
http://www.townsendproductions.org.uk/home

For more information about Clem Beckett, go to http://spartacus-educational.com/SPbeckett.htm.