Angola’s politics: a spectator sport

At the Africa Cup of Nations one man has been everywhere. Large portraits of Angola’s president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, hang from every side of the ground in Luanda’s new 11 November stadium.

When the host nation was playing, until they were knocked out by Ghana last Sunday, dos Santos was there in person too, smiling and waving whenever the camera panned to the presidential suite; something which happened rather a lot.

Angola is touting the tournament as the country’s re-entry into the global economy. Eight years after the end of a 27-year-long civil war, and with Angola poised to overtake Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer, the country’s economy is booming.

But for dos Santos the tournament is also about solidifying his support. He has been president since 1979 but has never been elected. His MPLA party won more than 80 per cent of the vote in 2008’s parliamentary election but a planned presidential poll was put off. Some analysts wondered if dos Santos was worried that he might not be as popular as his party.

Now he never needs to find out. Parliament approved a new constitution a week ago which abolished direct presidential elections. From now on the president will be chosen by parliament, something which should mean dos Santos – whose party has a tight grip on parliament – will continue in office.

From my latest column for Monocle. The rest is here


Hello and welcome to Africa United. In the run up to Africa’s first World Cup this website will try to put African football in a bit of context. It will cover goals and games, but it will also look at the politics and the culture that surrounds football on the continent.

African football has never been so popular, with most of the top teams in Europe relying on at least one African star. But our knowledge of the African game tends to be limited to the Drogbas and the Essiens. Few in the West know much about the countries those players come from, let alone the state of football there.

As the reaction to the tragic attack on the Togolese team in Angola showed, too often the West views Africa as a whole rather than as 53 separate countries each with their own identities and challenges. Within hours of the news breaking football commentators in the UK were claiming that this called into question South Africa’s ability to host the World Cup, ignoring a whole host of factors not least that Cabinda is almost 2000 miles away from Johannesburg.

One of the aims of this website will be to try and correct those mistakes and present a more nuanced view of Africa and its football. It will also serve as a bit of an advert for my book, Africa United, which will be published by Canongate in the UK and Harper Perennial in the US and Canada this May. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon by clicking on the link on the right.

You can get involved by making comments and asking questions, or suggesting links and stories. Either post your comments below or send me an email at steve_bloomfield at



Violence in Jos, unity in Angola

Photo from

Hundreds of people were killed in the northern Nigerian city of Jos last week following an outbreak of violence between Muslims and Christians. After Nigeria’s 3-0 win against Mozambique on Wednesday, which sealed their place in the quarter-finals, forward Osaze Peter Odemwingie dedicated the win to those who died in Jos and spoke about why the win was so important:

“We are from every part of the country and we must be united as a country”

It’s the sort of thing Nigeria’s president, Umara Yar’adua, should be saying, if he ever comes home.

“There’s a drop of greatness in every man”

No one does African football ads like Guinness. I love this one, although I’d prefer it if Supersport didn’t play it during every single ad break.

Algeria’s revenge

Photo from

Algeria should have been the first African team to reach the second round of a World Cup. In 1982 they recorded a famous victory, beating West Germany 2-1. They went on to lose their second match to Austria but recovered to beat Chile 3-2. Algeria were on the brink of qualification but had to wait 24 hours to see what happened in the final match of the group, between West Germany and Austria.

A 1-0 win for West Germany would see both sides go through and Algeria head home. After West Germany’s Horst Hrubesch scored on 10 minutes the game all but stopped with neither side attempting to get anywhere their opponent’s penalty area. Fans in the stadium booed and whistled, while one German supporter burned his flag in protest.

For more than 25 years Algerians have quite rightly felt they were cheated out of the World Cup. Last night, they were accused of playing a similar trick. In the final round of matches in Group A of the Africa Cup of Nations both Angola and Algeria knew they only needed a point to qualify, as long as Mali beat Malwai in the evening’s other match.

Mali were 2-0 up within four minutes and the message soon filtered through to the 11 November stadium in Luanda where Angola and Algeria were playing. Neither side threatened to score during a fairly tedious first half. It got worse after half-time. Attacks broke down before they got anywhere near the opposing penalty area. The match ended goalless.

Algeria’s coach, Rabah Saadane, denied there had been any agreement between the two teams, but few fans will believe him.

There must have been a slight moment of panic when Malawi pulled one back. A point for Malawi would have put them through instead of Algeria. If anyone on the Algerian bench had been watching the other game they would have had their heart in their mouth when the ball was crossed to Malawian striker Russell late in the second half. From less than three yards out he somehow contrived to head the ball down into the ground and over the crossbar. Mali went on to win 3-1.

Algeria are through, but it was not a great advert for African football.

A few good links

Photo by Paul Rhys, Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera on Luanda’s “Stadium of Vanity”:

“People say this money should be spent in social areas because we have so much poverty. But the Cup is to show foreign people that we can do things nice even though we have had times of war. It is for the pride of the Angolan people. It is how we show ourselves patriotic to each other and the right Angolan face to the world .”

Sudan’s British coach on how football is uniting the country:

“Sudan is crazy about football and there is a fantastic atmosphere at games… Football is a way of life for most Sudanese people they love their football.”

The BBC focus on Malawi’s big moment:

“This is all to do with sound management, starting with the top where the FA president is doing a great job,” captain Peter Mponda told BBC Sport. ”We don’t have problems like before, where there were always money issues and we only played teams geographically close to us.”

Chris Roper in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian has the final word on the European media reaction to Cabinda:

“But seriously, soccerball fans, there’s more chance of dying of hunger while waiting to be served in a Cape Town restaurant, than being shot by a revolutionary group.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times suggests ways the new football association (SAFA) bosses can improve the game:

Dollops of wisdom and progressive thinking must became Safa’s trademark. [Kirsten] Nematandani [new SAFA president] tells us the association has soul; we want to see evidence.

“Haitians and Togolese, we think of you”

The way the African Football Confederation (CAF) dealt with the attack on the Togolese squad was nothing short of shameful. CAF officials were quick to lay the blame on Togo for driving rather than flying, did little to support the team following the attack, and once Togo had left released a technocratic and heartless statement confirming the team’s “disqualification”.

Thankfully, Africa’s best players are far more human than the administrators. Last night Ivory Coast’s goalkeeper, Copa Boubacar, held up a banner after every goal, which read:

Haitians and Togolese, we think of you

I’m half-expecting Copa to be fined for making a political message.