As the Fifa World Cup 2014 comes to a close in Brazil, we shall always live to remember our African teams; Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana nearly staging strikes because of the fear that their Football Associations (FA) may not pay the monies due to them. In fact, the Ghanaian government had to chatter a special flight with over $3 million in cash to physically hand over to the players who were having none of this ‘modern’ arrangement to wire the money to their accounts.
As for Nigeria, it took the whole President of the leading oil producer in Africa, Goodluck Jonathan, to assure the players of their payment before they would train. Many have condemned the players for displaying greed, lacking patriotism and having outright bad manners. I think what these sportsmen have done is a very good thing for Africans, especially those who want to be liberated from bad leadership.
In Africa, it is generally viewed as disrespectful to talk back to or make demands on your superior, manager, coach, and teacher, father etc., even if they are doing something outrageous and wrong.
When most people get into leadership positions, they seek to maintain the distance between the people under their charge and themselves. One of the simplest ways of doing this is by denying them anything that promotes their social and material wellbeing.
They are underpaid; denied social amenities like schools, hospitals and roads. They are kept in a position where they will have to look up to their leaders, beg and always be grateful that they are led by people who are ‘magnanimous’. How does Nigeria, a leading oil exporter, or Ghana that is touted as one of the strongest economies in Africa, fail to pay 24 men each? Moreover most of the money in question is from Fifa which the FA is supposed to simply hand over to the players. It is simply a mean spirit.
The other major part of the plot is to encourage the led as much as possible to wait for ‘free things’ then occasionally give them to share sacks and envelops of money during colorful ceremonies. Of course, what is given is peanut compared to what the beneficiaries are entitled to.
Most of the African footballers who strike at major tournaments are professionals who ply their trade in Europe and get a lot of money and may not need the bonuses from the local Football Association. But from the likes of Antoine Bell, the legendary Cameroonian goal keeper, to Prince Boateng, Samuel Eto’o, Adebayo, Nwanko Kanu etc., we have had these fights for money.
The reason is simple. These footballers have been exposed to a totally different culture in Europe. You are made to sweat for your pay before you receive it. There is no room for loafing around and waiting for free things. Many times you have to make do with racist chants and other forms of unfairness. It teaches you to be competitive, have a thick skin and be a fighter.
When these footballers come back to Africa, they expect to give but also receive what is due to them. There are no emotional attachments and other soft sentiments here. They are not into giving or receiving charity. The local FA president is looked at as a blood- sucking thief if he reneges on his promise of bonuses and other payments. And like with thieves and other unscrupulous people, you need not blink but pull a fast one. Here the footballers simply hold back their labour. Occasionally, an official gets accosted like it happened to a member of the Ghanaian FA.
The lesson for those seeking political change on the continent is first, you make sure as many people as possible are skilled and gainfully employed away from the favour of the government.
Their stake or contribution, especially financial, should be highly valuable to the extent that when they withdraw or even threaten to withdraw their labour, leaders will feel the trouble brewing. That is why trade unions and sit-down strikes work in Europe but not in Africa, except of course in the case of footballers at the World Cup.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org