The African Cup in Angola: Hoping for a Miracle

Football fans out there among you (that is: “soccer”) might be aware that this upcoming Sunday marks the start of the African Cup of Nations tournament, between that continent’s best national teams. An event that happens in January/February every even-numbered year, the African Cup is said to be sure to draw more world-wide interest this time than ever before because, after all, the first-ever World Cup tournament to be held in Africa will follow soon afterwards, in June. That certainly seems to be so, as we have no less than Christian Henkel of the Financial Times Deutschland writing a piece about it, specifically about host-country Angola (Africa Cup: Hoping for Angola’s Art of Improvisation).

Then again, perhaps Henkel’s interest here is more of the rubbernecking variety, the irresistible attraction to passers-by of a ten-car highway pile-up, since Angola’s hosting does seem to be a disaster in the making. In the middle of his piece he mentions the “open secret” that none of the other participating African nations really wanted Angola to be the host. Why? Mainly because – according to Henkel – Luanda, the capital city, has ranked as the world’s most-expensive capital since 2008. Twelve euros for a double cheeseburgers; more importantly, three hundred-euro per night as the cheapest room-rate at any passable hotel. The latter naturally impacts directly on the other national teams that will be spending time in the country to compete, but it also means that precious few of their fans will be able to travel along with them. Those fans will also suffer from the country’s “catastrophic” transportation infrastructure as they try to get around to the various games, with no formal system of taxicabs and no real public transportation. That’s where the “improvisation” in the title comes from: that hope is all that both organizers and participating teams have left to clutch at towards a four-week tournament that won’t end up making everyone (other than the hosts) penniless and insane. (Ticket prices for the games, however, are said to be quite reasonable.)

Perhaps you’re asking “How could a country that just emerged from a long civil war [it ended in 2002] be so expensive?” The answer is oil, as well as diamonds, which together have made the economy quite fast-growing, but really only for a few. Henkel cites one figure that, while some can afford the €12 double cheeseburgers, 70% of Angola’s population still subsists on less than €1.50 per day. The Africa Cup tournament is in the minds of some – somehow – supposed to help heal this divide; in the words of the Angolan Minister for Youth and Sport, Gonçalvez Muandumba*, “The Africa Cup should kindle enthusiasm for sport in our population and thereby further social integration.”

* With apologies to Dave Barry, I hasten to assure you that I did not just make that name up!

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