Those who follow football will know that the Confederations cup (the winner from each of the 6 regions, plus the world champions and the host, I think) is currently taking place in South Africa. Those of you who know me will know I have no interest in football, but Brian who I live with does, which means I’ve watched more football in the last month than in pretty much the last five years combined. However, it has given me an opportunity to ruminate on Pan-Africanism.
Those of you familiar with African history will be aware of the Pan-Africanist movement, and its incarnation in the Organisation of African Unity and its successor, the African Union. Watching the football here I have been struck by the way the entire city is gripped by South Africa’s and Egypt’s matches, feeling that those teams represent the entire continent. This is particularly striking in the case of Egypt; Westerners are not used to seeing Egypt as part of Africa, but Africans themselves certainly do – though with the caveat that when a Sub-Saharan team meets a North African team ‘they are black’ (if you’re interested, when a Francophone team plays an Anglophone team they are French-speaking, and when an East African team plays another African team they are East African. Burundi doesn’t often play anyone). However, even more impressive has been the pride that Burundians feel in the Confederations cup being held on African soil, and the prospect of the World Cup next year. They say that this is something they never dreamed they would see, and dream of travelling to South Africa to see it, hoping that its success will change the view of Africa in the eyes of the world. In other words, there is a strong sense of supporting South Africa in their endeavours, and hope of sharing in their success. Moreover, it is clear that this is not unique to Burundi; features on DSTV show fans across the continent expressing similar sentiments.
What I also find surprising is that I have taken so long to notice this, because it seems so natural – it’s something that I do myself as a very-slightly-African (though obviously only once England/GB have been knocked out!). But thinking about it, I wonder how widespread it is – it certainly doesn’t exist in Europe, and I can’t really see how it would work in Asia, which anyway seems too divided. There is certainly solidarity within subregions (see Eurovision Song Contest voting patterns, if nothing else!), but for such a feeling to exist across as continent of 53 countries seems unique – can anyone with knowledge of other parts of the world (Latin America, Oceania?) give any further insight? It suggests to me that a type of African solidarity persists that is unusual, if not unique, across the world.
This has caused problems in the past, with leaders unwilling to criticise each other and banding together against criticism of their own by outsiders. However, it may have contributed to the relative lack of interstate wars in Africa (although they have made up for it in intrastate wars), and Africans are generally prepared to learn from each other, and see themselves as sufficiently similar for it to be worth doing so. When I make comparisons between Burundi and some of the other countries I have knowledge of, they are not rejected as they might be in other parts of the world, and when I talk about the importance of the peaceful elections campaign (on which more later), my colleagues reply not only in terms of its importance for Burundi, but also their hopes that if successful it could be a model for the rest of the continent. It is, therefore, also a strength, and I hope that in this blog I will be able to place Burundi in its African context, not only in terms of the ‘bad neighbourhood’ problems that it brings, but also in terms of the positive intellectual trends.
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jun 23rd, 2009