An unequal football legacy

Equatorial Guinea, co-host of the Africa Cup of Nations, is a country with a limited footballing culture where the majority are busy just trying to get on with their lives.


    It was a scene that must come close to defining irony - Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang introducing himself to the Libyan players at the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations with a big smile.

    Since the departure of Muammar Gaddafi, Obiang has taken the prize of being the longest serving leader in Africa. His country is effectively a one-party state and human rights abuses are well documented. Sound familiar?

    The Libyan team is a group of players who talk optimistically about the new values they hope their country can represent.

    But, in Equatorial Guinea, the people are often too frightened to even mention politics.

    Last year alone a state radio broadcaster was fired on air just for mentioning Libya. He foolishly tried to evade the official news blackout on pro-democracy protests.

    A recent conversation with a taxi driver is indicative.

    He happily spoke about football, food and religion but, it was rather different when I asked him about Obiang:

    "People can have an opinion about politics if they like. But I just want to eat and sleep safely.

    "Politics is not my business," he told me.

    Since seizing power from his uncle back in 1979, Obiang has gone out of his way to discourage open political discussion.

    Reporters without Borders has described Obiang as a "predator of press freedom". It is even said that in the 2002 election, one precinct gave him 103% of the vote.

    What Equatorial Guinea does have though, is a lot of cash.

    Rich oil reserves have funded the building of new stadiums in Bata and the capital, Malabo, for this tournament.

    We have also visited the new town of Sipopo, where the Ivory Coast team are cosseted in five-star comfort. Their hotel, complete with golf course and spa, is part of the $700m development that hosted last year's African Union Summit.

    You drive there on a desolate three-lane highway. Lifeless beach resorts and manicured follies are your only company. It is only a few kilometres outside of Malabo but it might as well be on a different planet.

    Statistics tell you this is one of the richest per capita countries in Africa. But, your own eyes tell a different story.

    While there is a very wealthy elite here, the vast majority survive on less than a couple of dollars a day. The United Nations estimates that around half the population simply do not have access to clean drinking water.

    The football facilities that have been built for this event will provide some sort of sporting legacy. It has been heartening to see new training pitches used not only by the visiting teams, but by local sides as well.

    Beyond the escapist release of a host nation match day though, there is precious little excitement surrounding the event.

    It is a country with a limited footballing culture and the majority are too busy just trying to get on with their lives.

    Three weeks of football is what the people have, but sadly it is it not really what they need.



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