Sunday, February 12, 2012

Football and The Power Of African Presidents

I thought I'd post this very pertinent post on the eve of the African Cup Of Nations final between Zambia and Cote D'Ivoire. Note well, I'm recalling from memory so some of the details might be sketchy. In 1981 or 1982 I attended a football match between Zambia and Zimbabwe at Harare's Rufaro Stadium. I went with my elder brother. In those days the (titular) President of Zimbabwe was Canaan Sodindo Banana. Robert Mugabe was still nominally the Prime Minister (although all power rested in his hands).

Now this was the great Zambian team of the early 80s featuring players like Pele Kaimana, Alex Chola and Peter Kaumba. As it happened, Zambia scored a goal in the 2nd half (from what appeared to be an off-side position). The scorer, I recall, was either Peter Kaumba or Pele Kaimana. The ref immediately whistled off the goal as being off-side, but the Zambians protested. The ref would not listen to the Zambian players, so they decided to walk off the pitch. That's when something extraordinary happened: The ref then walked up to the match commissioner, but instead of conferring with the ref, the match commissioner immediately made his way up to the V.I.P stand where President Banana was seated. This was in the full view of all the fans.

After conferring with the President, the match commissioner then made his way back to the sidelines to commiserate with the ref. Then, the ref ran back onto the pitch and called the Zambian players -- who had been standing on the sidelines after walking off -- back onto the pitch to resume the game. Then he signaled that the Zambian 'goal', which had been scored from an off-side position, would stand. In other words, our President had overruled the ref and allowed the goal!

All the while I was being given a running commentary by my elder brother and other fans about what was going on. Once this news percolated through the stands, all hell broke out. That's when my elder brother grabbed me and told me that we must leave the stadium at once. I can only recall following my elder brother down the Rufaro Stadium stands and I never did find out what followed after that.

My point here is that, it's preposterous that a country's President could even take it upon himself to overrule a ref's decision at a football match! But then again, what sometimes happens in Africa must be filed under "to be seen to be believed", or even more ominously, "only in Africa".

The total power that's vested in our African Presidents is overwhelming and suffocating. With no checks-and-balances, their power wades even into trivial matters. Can we imagine President Harper, of Canada, stepping in to disallow a hockey goal, or President Obama nullifying a (baseball) 3rd strike! Preposterous! We Africans need to see to it that our Presidents "know their place" and are hemmed in by Constitutional checks-and-balances, so that they don't overstep their boundaries. We owe this to ourselves.


dernali said...

Oh my....Rufaro stadium - memories...and yes some things only happen "in Africa"
But then again Sodindo was a commissioned referee himself - No? maybe he was approached to confer his expertize on off-goals etc:)

James Chikonamombe said...

Yes, it is true that USodindo was a qualified ref, but that's not the crux of the matter. What's important is that our leaders know when NOT TO wade into matters not of their concern.