“To err is human, except in Africa”

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Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier (right) greets his Mali counterpart Mohamed Magassouba before the match between the two countries at CAN 2022, at Limbé stadium on January 12, 2022.

Chronic. The 2021 African Cup of Nations (CAN) will be played in 2022. Like the year of its edition, it is upside down. Gabonese players went on strike to claim their bonuses. After consecutively launching three bad soundtracks, the organization gave up putting the Mauritanian anthem before Mauritania-Gambia.

The referee stopped the Tunisia-Mali match by mistake twice before regulation time and, in the greatest confusion, the Tunisians refused to resume play. A journalist asked surreal questions about the weather in Côte d’ Ivory to Algerian coach Djamel Belmadi even as the CAN takes place in Cameroon.

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Hiccups have multiplied in recent days in the stadiums hosting the competition. Some debriefing programs, some comments on social networks have joked about the typically African character of these blunders.

Let’s go back a few years. During the 2010 World Cup, when the French team embarked on a grand-guignolesque strike in Knysna in South Africa, the mistakes of a spoiled rotten generation were criticized. In 2019, when the anthem of Andorra is played instead of that of Albania at the Stade de France, it is a question of an individual error. At the end of 2021, when the Champions League draw had to be redone due to a ball problem, UEFA invoked a computer bug.

Fault, shame, ridicule, scandal…

In all these cases – and we could cite many others – we are certainly talking about fault, shame, ridicule, scandal… But we never link these evils to an entire continent. Regarding the CAN, the responsibilities of Cameroon, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), as organizers, are diluted in a larger whole than them.

To err is human, except in Africa, where it belongs to all Africans. The lexical field mixed with condescension to qualify it refers to indistinct stereotypes. Say goodbye to Africa’s diversity. Fi even of its divisions, like those between sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb highlighted after the disputed remarks of the former Cameroonian international Roger Milla. Africa is homogeneous and synonymous with great nonsense.

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Folklore, European or American exoticism do not exist. The blunders committed in these regions are the responsibility of individuals. These are isolated acts. They are not revealing of a mentality, of a culture. They can certainly be mocked but they are not collected in a completely reductive way. If France took it for its rank (and a fine) when the Andorran anthem sounded instead of the Albanian, no one saw a trait common to Europeans.

Africa, these are clichés conveyed from the outside, by the rest of the world, and from within. Social networks show that the same devaluing vocabulary is found among some Africans themselves. We will not reproduce here the comparisons and other questionable puns that have abounded. Self-mockery can hide self-denigration and the internalization of a norm of minimization.

Much better to do

Since the beginning of the CAN, commentators have declared that the level of play is low, that the matches are mediocre… What are Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Riyad Mahrez, Achraf Hakimi, etc.? come to do in this galley? Wouldn’t they be better off at their respective clubs?

So many questions which pretend to omit that the teams are gaining strength as the matches progress. It is not the France team who will say the opposite, they who snatched a 2-1 victory against the very modest Australian team during the 2018 World Cup which they ended up winning.

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On the CAN side, there is obviously a lot better to do. CAF, mired in its internal problems, is only the syndrome of its own evils. It is not up to Africa, to Africans to wear them and suffer from the caricatures that go with them.

Mabrouck Rachedi is a Franco-Algerian writer whose passion for football was born at the age of 6 during the Algeria-RFA match of the 1982 World Cup. Next novel: All the words we haven’t said to each other, ed. Grasset, January 26.

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