In the week when Uganda’s foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa became president of the United Nations General Assembly and budgets were read, our attention was still saved for the FIFA World Cup. On the streets around East Africa, few people can tell you about the tax on airtime or fuel but many will tell you the score between Spain and Netherlands.
The FIFA World Cup has many praying for the officials in charge of power distribution not to switch off the power when a good game is expected. Others love to watch the games with others in bars something that has the brewery companies smiling to the bank. Bars not screening the games can as well just remain closed.
The women are also known to join the frenzy while others are known to complain about receiving very limited attention if any from their soccer mad partners during this period. The usual fights for the TV remote to switch between soaps, cartoons and other TV shows are now one sided. You cannot want to watch a soap opera when Ivory Coast or Nigeria is playing a world cup game unless you plan a divorce very soon.
The sports betting shops also expect to reap big in this season. The betting culture fuelled by the European football circuit now takes on a new level as the World Cup draws towards the final game. So we should expect to meet instant millionaires and those who have gambled away their inheritance.
Like is now the culture we East Africans often find ourselves in the same supporting pattern. We start by supporting all African teams and then rallying behind the African team that makes it out of the knock out stages until our hearts are broken. At the final we often find ourselves having to support a former colonial power or a South American team.
The heart break we went through when Ghana lost that game against Uruguay in 2010 is a scar that is yet to heal. That said, I wish East Africans could one day take part in the World Cup. If you look around Africa, almost every part of the continent has been there apart from East Africa.
The Arab North has been there several times, the West Africans have also been there and even made it as far as the quarter finals with Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana. Central Africa has seen DRC (then Zaire) featuring at the 174 games. While the south has seen Angola and South Africa also making it with the latter even going as far as hosting the 2010 edition of the games.
The closest presence at the World Cup games for East Africa has been that of East African FIFA accredited referees officiating at the World Cup games. But can’t we surely do better? Is the games’ top platform beyond our reach really? I refuse to believe that.
If you are talking about talent, East Africa has managed to produce some very skilled lads who have played the game for top clubs in Europe. Some of my readers may not even know that Arsenal has had a Rwandan player on its book or that Mrisho Ngasa a Tanzanian has featured for West Ham United.
Uganda’s Ibrahim Ssekajja and the Kenyan trio of Victor Wanyama, Denis Oliech and McDonald Mariga have been phenomenal at the European club level. Burundi has also produced the young duo of Saidho Berahino and Gael Bigirimana.
The love for football in East Africa is quite unquestionable. We have some good football rivalries that bring towns to a standstill such as Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopard in Kenya or APR vs Rayon Sports in Rwanda. In Burundi the president himself is known to show up at the stadium often to play a football game.
Rwanda’s President Kagame even sponsors a whole tournament between clubs in the region (CECAFA). Not to be left out Uganda’s president is said to have paid out about 1.5billion shillings to ensure that Ugandans can watch the 2014 World Cup.