Monday July 5 2010

Ghana’s missed penalty and Africa’s date with failure

By Nicholas Sengoba

It is a game I was watching as an African would do after seeing the catastrophe that had become of all the other five African sides; South Africa, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Algeria and Nigeria at the first every FIFA World Cup final on African soil.

All but Ghana had miserably fallen out in the group stages after putting in performances that were lacklustre, with a few flashes in the pan that were not enough to put a shine on the overall picture. Meaning, I was hoping for the best but seriously expecting the worst at the same time; the same way one feels when they encounter an accident waiting to happen.

Ghana, Africa’s last team standing, played like men possessed and put in a great quarter final display that made Uruguay look ordinary and beatable. They were deservingly rewarded (or so we thought) with a penalty in the last minute of extra time after a desperate hand ball right on the goal line by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. We held our breath…and Asamoah Gyan struck the resultant penalty against the wood work and with that went the spirit. The body language of the Ghanaians from that moment on was of men who had no more fight left in their stomachs.

Ghana went on to lose in the subsequent penalty shoot out. And so the ‘African World Cup’ was left in the hands of three European nations and one from South America.

In that brief drama filled moment I saw a great comment on Africa.
Many times in our history, when opportunities have sprung up to move us to the next level of achievement, it was our revered heroes, the ones on whom we put our hopes, who are full of promise; that that turn out to be the authors of the saddest stories at a time when we need them most.

The luckless Asamoah Gyan had been a star on the rise, a messiah with vision meant to lead Africa to at least their first ever semi final and maybe final at a FIFA World cup final. Then the penalty came up to this man who had already scored two in the tournament. In what looked like a nightmare he missed and so ended the African dream in the 2010 World Cup on African soil.

He firmly follows in the foot steps of all those great men the Kwame Nkurumahs, Kenyattas, Kaundas and Obotes; the beholders of our dreams at independence. The chance fell at their feet to show to the world that Africans or indeed Black people were capable of governing themselves. By the 1980s after 30 years of self rule, the continent was instead a laughing stock bedevilled by corruption, tribalism, debt, hunger, disease, wars, coups, genocide and all manner of disaster.

Then prospect for a fresh start struck again with the so called wind of change in the 1990s. A new breed of leaders, the Musevenis of Uganda, Kagames of Rwanda, Isias Afwerkis of Eritirea etc where seen as the replicas of the biblical Moses who would mould a more democratic Africa and deliver it to the 21st century.

And see where they have brought us. We are still going hungry amidst plenty of fertile soils. We live in debt, our creditors being our former colonial masters. People all over the continent are killing each other on account of ethnicity. We still can’t choose our leaders and build good roads. This opportunity is all but lost and Africa needs a fresh start, another opportunity, another game, another penalty. That one we might have and still loose going by our history.

As Aristotle put it “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” By extension, failure and mediocrity are bad habits we practice repeatedly and accept to live with. Africa has become accustomed to failing without. That is why we find ourselves missing opportunity after opportunity and learning. We put in the bare minimum knowing there will be another time. So we now wait for the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues