What is more significant in football; winning the match, appearing at the event, or not making an appearance at all since you know that you will not win the game? East Africa seems to have chosen the last option and for the last eight decades that FIFA has held the World Cup tournament none of the countries that make up the East African region has ever featured. Not even as a guest.
With Africa hosting the World Cup event for the first time in 2010, it would have been better to have representatives from all over the continent (west, east, centre, south and north) but, as it has turned out, none of the six representatives is from eastern Africa: Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique. Four (Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria) are from West Africa, one ‘Algeria’ from North Africa and the other is hosts South Africa, representing the southern tip of the continent. The absence of Eastern Africa is shocking, but this region appears to see nothing wrong and is in fact hosting another regional affair, the Confederation of East and Central Africa Football (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup in Nairobi and Mumias (November 28-December 13, 2009) in Kenya.
Completely unknown when it comes to major football tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup, the Under 20 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations, it is hard for one to believe that a football culture exists in this region whose populace is among the world’s top football fans. This leaves many across the continent wondering what is wrong with this part of the continent. Is it that East African countries are always unfairly eliminated in the World Cup qualifiers or the players aren’t playing, can’t play and will never play “real” soccer as cynics point out?
East Africa, like the rest of the continent, has representatives in Europe playing for well known international clubs; however the countries do little to nurture their own talent. They wait for European clubs to spot the talent and then they will continuously rely on what has been discovered to propel them to fame. Except for the regional tournaments like CECAFA, eastern African that these countries host among themselves, most East African countries hardly ever play outside their borders.
Talent is the major problem in this part of the continent. The few players that have been discovered and heavily relied upon to bring glory the nations are on the contrary less committed to their nations due to poor remuneration, poor management, and inadequate facilities.
Why, then, should East Africa continue to host tournaments such as CECAFA and masquerade as a soccer region it can’t play football? Perhaps to console themselves over their miserable losses in major tournaments or to remind themselves of what they ought to have done in the past? This region needs to accept the fact that they will never play standard football unless it tackles the many loop-holes it has refused to identify as problems requiring urgent attention. Instead of wasting enormous resources hiring foreign coaches and team managers that can’t change the situation or trying to recuperate what does not exist, the region needs to venture out into other sports like rugby, cricket or even athletics where they tend to perform relatively well.
Well known for producing distant runners, Kenya, for instance, should stop believing that there is a curse bestowed upon it by the Maghreb when all the facts point to the fact that that curse is self-inflicted and that it can easily be eliminated in the same way. No wonder spectators need to be reminded whenever there is a match in which their country men are participating for them to get to stadia.
Nicholas Musonye, the Kenyan CECAFA secretary-general, laments that unless Kenyans steer clear of the prevailing apathy and lack of enthusiasm to soccer that sees “too few spectators” at stadia, no future CECAFA tournaments will be held in Kenya.
Saying stadium attendance in Mumias in western Kenya was far from matching the required enthusiasm for soccer, Musonye said, “I have nothing to say about Nairobi because most of what you have [here] are “pub-gossip-fans” who prefer to watch football on beer.”
But Musonye, a former sports writer, was not through with Kenya yet. Said he on BBC, “Kenyans pretend to be soccer fans but all they want is to drink free beer. They even ask for money from football officials. It was very useless holding this tournament in Kenya.”
Predictably, Kenya isn’t fairing well in the tournament that ends on December 13, 2009. Perhaps the Kenyans–if they can feign to be fans as Musonye says–are also masquerading as the soccer players they aren’t?
Uganda may be the defending CECAFA champion, but we ought to ask ourselves why it can’t stand up against the likes of Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria or Egypt if, indeed, it plays “soccer”.