Wasted chances

2010-06-24 00:00

WHY is it that a country only double the size of the Kruger National Park — Switzerland — flourishes and one the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with all its mineral wealth, flounders ever so close to being a failed state.

The answer may lie in observing how they play football. It may also shed some light on why Africa remains at the bottom of development, while countries that have smaller populations and fewer natural resources continue to develop.

After watching Nigeria forget that despite scoring early in their match against South Korea, they were still bottom of their group, I suspect that football might hold a clue as to why African nations remain underdeveloped while other continents get wealthier and healthier.

The DRC is endowed with more gems and minerals than it knows what to do with. Yet it is poor. Switzerland on the other hand, with no mineral resources to speak of, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The Swiss even produce the finest chocolates when they are not the world’s greatest milk producers.

It is a bit unfair to compare Switzerland with the DRC because the Europeans have been a sovereign state for 700 years whereas the Africans only emerged from the yoke of colonialism and the murderous rule of Leopold and the Belgians 50 years ago.

This argument does not hold when you compare Nigeria, who are out of the World Cup, and South Korea, who have proceeded to the last 16.

The Nigerians pranced about as though it was a schoolyard kick- around and only came to their senses after the Asians had taken the lead. Even then they contrived to miss gilt-edged chances that my arthritic mother-in-law could have scored.

In the end, a more talented Nigerian team will have to pack its bags and leave the tournament while South Korea will live to fight another day.

It is not only in football that Nigeria must for all intents and purposes be better than South Korea.

Nigerians boast that they are Africa’s greatest exporters of PhD­s, yet looking at how their country is infamous for state corruption, drug trafficking and 419 scams, you would not say so. In football, they have players in all the top leagues of the world, yet they have won nothing since the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.

Virtually every South African university has a highly trained Nigerian academic, yet theirs is a country where 70% of the population lives below the poverty datum line.

The dominant narrative in Africa and the Global South is that the West has not given developing countries a fair deal. There can be no serious debate over this. Yet, as Africans we have to ask ourselves what our role has been in our failure to progress.

There is something to be said for the fact that South Korea was more or less as poor as Nigeria and many African countries (and many still are) some 40 years ago but is now a highly industrialised and relatively wealthy country.

Leadership, planning and exploiting of institutional knowledge must have played as great a role in where South Korea is as a country and where it is now in the World Cup.

Their coach, Huh Jung-Moo, has been with the team for three years, this after an on-off involvement with the side in various capacities since 1989. Nigeria on the other hand only appointed their manager, Lars Lagerback, at the end of February after sacking Shaibu Amadou for “failing” at the Africa Cup of Nations where Nigeria finished third.

Politically, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan had to approach the courts to be confirmed as acting president and thus close the power vacuum when the then incumbent, Umaru Yar’Adua, was recovering in a Saudi hospital. It must have reminded Nigerians of Fifa’s threat in 2006 to suspend the association if it didn’t resolve the impasse in its national association.

While there is a lot that is wrong with our African governments and those leading the football associations, individuals in these countries and teams cannot get off scot-free. There is simply no reason Yakubu Aiyegbeni missed that chance which will go down as the most glaring miss since the World Cup was first played in 1930, just like there can never be any excuse to burn a library because you don’t like something about the government.

Nigerians know that their World Cup chances vanished at that moment of complete stupidity when Sani Kaita kicked a Greek player and got himself sent off.

The Nigerian goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, was one of the best in the tournament but will have to watch from the sidelines because of his compatriots’ inability to match his drive and desire. Is it then a great wonder why other talented Africans choose the cold climes of Europe and the Americas where they are appreciated?

In South Africa we celebrated as some kind of achievement that we beat an out-of-sorts French team, even though we failed to get to the second round.

For some, allegiance to country and continent is not the same as blind acceptance of everything those in charge do or want. They should know that tough love and demand for fulfilment of potential are equally acts of patriotism.

It is thus bewildering when Bafana striker Katlego Mphela actually asked “what more could you ask for?”

Where would you like us to start and how much time do you have, Katlego?

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