What you need to know:
- After hitting rock bottom, the only way should be up, but not for African teams
Your columnist counts himself amongst the legion of Ugandan journalists Kevin Aliro (RIP) left an indelible mark on. Fondly referred to as KA, Aliro ruled respective newsrooms with an iron fist in a velvet glove. He would at once fill a foot soldier with inexpressible terror and joy unconfined.
Feelings did not just bubble on the surface on his watch; they shot up like spewing volcanoes! Aliro pursued truth with a theological sense of conviction – once memorably revealing in The Observer newsroom that he would not think twice about naming and shaming his mother in the event that she was caught shoplifting. Given how he always spoke glowingly about his mother, a few of us (newbies) almost gave in to the temptation of accusing KA of hyperbole.
Your columnist dispensed with such undercurrents after one profound incident established KA as a fierce and implacable opponent of what he felt to be wrong. The Observer was to run with a front-page splash of Micho Sredojevic being complicit in the reported exploitation bordering on abuse of two Ugandan players – Nestroy Kizito and Philip Ssozi – who were keen on joining the paid ranks in Serbia.
The story pulsed with details that were a damning indictment on an Villa outfit KA not only devoted himself to supporting but once served as an organising secretary. After getting wind of the unwelcome news, the Jogoos sent a high-level delegation to The Observer’s premises. Current Villa president Omar Mandela and his predecessor William Nkemba were among the officials who looked on with increasing unease as KA refused to give them audience until the next day’s print was put to bed.
More than being left speechless, the episode evoked in yours truly a sense of introspection and reappraisal about the place basic moral principles, such as honesty and truth-telling, take in this space we call journalism. Biases have to be put aside to face [and tell] hard truths. The Fifa World Cup takes centre-stage in Qatar later this year. It will be 22 years and counting since the cut-off period within which Pele predicted an African country would end up on the winners’ podium.
It is safe to say that Africa’s collective performance at the big time has left many observers uncertain that their representatives are what the legendary Pele cracked them up to be all those years back. Yet hope springs eternal. The ongoing Africa Cup of Nations finals is offering critics a window to size up the inroads, if any, that African countries have made.
Bar DR Congo, all countries that are still in the frame to represent Africa at Qatar 2022 are vying for bragging rights in Cameroon. This lot also includes Algeria’s Desert Foxes who – despite drawing their opening fixture against minnows Sierra Leone – are three results away from eclipsing the longest national team unbeaten streak (37 games) currently held by Italy.
But if we (by which I mean Africans) are to be as brutally honest as KA was all those years back, what would our verdict of Africa’s chances at Qatar 2022 be? If performances are going to be judged against what transpired at Russia 2018, then questioning the merits of the mountainous task ahead seems unwise.
Lest we forget, none of Africa’s five representatives at Russia 2018 made it out of their respective groups. The defending of set-plays and management of the clock left a lot to be desired.
Basically, all that could go wrong did just that in Russia. After hitting rock bottom, the only way is up; right? Well, staging the Afcon finals months apart from the World Cup finals means that burnout will most likely work against Africa’s representatives in Qatar. And then your columnist is also reminded of what KA used to say about African players at the grandest of stages. He held that success was not quite hardwired in their DNA. An inferiority complex always tends to rear its ugly head.
Email: [email protected]