By Samwin Banienuba
In weeks, call it days, the world will rally in Brazil and spotlight the much anticipated 2014 Football World Cup. For those of us who recently watched Real Madrid snatch the European Champions trophy from Atletico Madrid in the dying embers of the game need no reminding of the propensity for football to inflict as much pain and despair as it affects euphoria and joy within moments of each other, depending on which team your camp is pitched of course. Never knowing what can happen in the next minute is what captivates our attention in this beautiful game also known as soccer.
Nowhere else does the suspense enthrall so much more than in the World Cup where 32 participating countries will each be carrying the burden of pride of their national flags and the hopes and expectations of millions of compatriots with them. In the midst of the 32 flags a paltry 5 will be flying for continental Africa, home to some 1.033 billion people most of who are dyed in the wool soccer diehards spread across 54 sovereign states and countries, 9 territories and 2 de facto independent states. Thankfully, ‘sovereign’ is a political terminology that lacks cultural expression and soccer significance in Africa.
While the 5 flags will have the colours of Algeria, Cameroon, CÔte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria most Africans will be following the fortunes of these 5 countries with an almost equal hue and delight, transferring their support from one African team to the other every time the lights dim on one and shine on another. Remember what happened just 4 years ago when all of Africa and especially host South Africa threw their weight behind Ghana in the quarter finals, nicknaming the West Africans BaGhana BaGhana in absolute solidarity and sentimental mimicry of their own national team, Bafana Bafana? It is an all too familiar African refrain.
The nuance being missed by soccer pundits and social commentators is that Brazil will be flying the 6th flag for Africa in the perception of Africans and Africanists in particular. No mistake about Brazil being a South American country! That fact was established millions of years ago when the two continents separated one from the other and have since been divided by the Atlantic. Yet, strong bonds exist that tie Brazil to Africa both umbilically and sentimentally. After all, the South American country is home to more Africans or people of African descent than any other country in the world except Nigeria.
According to the 2010 census African-Brazilians constitute a consequential 50.7% of the population and that represents some 97 million people. Fact of the matter is, many more Africans were taken into slavery in Brazil than anywhere else, four times more than those taken to the United States for instance. This thus began an irreversible and profound cultural bond from carnival and samba to music, food and religion between Africa and Brazil. In fact, the African footprint in Brazil is so landmarked it is more difficult to miss than notice.
Brazil has been leaving its own footprints in Africa. A common lingua franca with 5 African countries blends in the South American country quite well and provides it with relevant social capital in the continent. In 1996 the Lusophone or Portuguese speaking African countries of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Principe and Sao Tome reinforced Brazilian presence when they formed the Community of Portuguese Language Countries together with Portugal and the South American country. The Community is expressed in more direct and stronger relational connections with Brazil through a shared language from a common Portuguese colonial heritage. In Angola and Mozambique the presence of Brazil is particularly pronounced with Brazilian businesses actively engaged in the local economies.
Coupled with the African presence in Brazil and the cultural ties it already enjoins in the background, stronger economic relations with the rest of the continent has always been a matter of time and seems the most logical thing between the two. Recent times have truly witnessed a significant warming of economic diplomacy and development cooperation between Brazil and Africa in the spirit of South-South relations. Records suggest there are as many as 37 Brazilian embassies across Africa and it certainly underlines the growing value Brazil is beginning to attach to Africa today.
Some observers have described the rapprochement as a soft power offensive by Brazil to claim a piece of the economic promise of contemporary Africa while others suggest it is a gesture of recompense for the ‘historic debt’ the country owes Africa from the yesteryears of slavery. The two arguments are palpably and mutually reinforcing, and whatever the reasons, Africa needs Brazilian expertise and technology for infrastructural development and sustainable mining just as Brazil needs a market share of African natural resources. In fact, it is not as if the economic ties are not appreciably strong, the critique has always been that Brazil and Africa could do much more within the framework of South-South economic relations and the inherent cultural affinity between the peoples of these two great entities.
Africa has been in Brazil for centuries and in Africa Brazil has been the gold standard for African football for decades. Many African countries and Ghana in particular like to think of themselves as the Brazilians of Africa, so there we go. The legendary Brazilian PelÉ is easy to identify with for Africans and remains the role model for many. While corporate and political executives remain at work fine-tuning their common cause in the economic terrain continental African peoples have elected to fixate on the bloodlines and cultural DNA that unite them with the Diaspora in Brazil. For them, the World Cup offers one desirable opportunity to reconnect and reappraise that relationship amidst the fanfare of soccer extravaganza so dear to both nations.
Naturally, many are those in Africa who will be rooting for Brazil in the 2014 mondiale in almost the same measure as they will be praying without contradiction that this World Cup will be the African World Cup that finally brings home the trophy to the continent. For them, whether Brazil lifts the trophy for the 6th time or Africa makes history with a 1st it will be on home grounds, and may the Ancestors forbid but so will be the loss if they both miss out on this much coveted prize
Certainly, the World Cup has everything to do with human esteems and national prides but it is still about football and football remains a game, a fine game and a festival at that. At Humanitas Afrika we wish Africa, Brazil, all participating national teams and indeed the world a happy soccer fiesta with all the samba, carnivals and the many other delectables that Brazil always has on offer. Enjoy!
The writer is the International Spokesperson for Humanitas Afrika