It’s hard to say in which direction the fortunes of the Cameroonian nation are heading while it is hosting the 2021 African Cup of Nations.
The premier men’s soccer tournament translates as Coupe d’Afrique des Nations (CAN) in French or African Cup of Nations in English. AFCON is held under the banner of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), headquartered in Egypt. Billionaire South African entrepreneur Patrice Motsepe is CAF President.
The 2022 event which holds from January 9 to February 6 was originally scheduled in 2021 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time Cameroon hosted the competition was in 1972.
In 1972, Cameroon was in its infancy, having obtained independence just a decade earlier, separately from Great Britain on October 1, 1961, as Southern Cameroons, and from France on January 1, 1960, as French Cameroon or La Republique du Cameroon. Through a referendum on May 20, 1972, the union of the English-speaking Southern Cameroons (West Cameroon) and French-speaking La Republique du Cameroon (East Cameroon) was made official.
While Cameroon remained peaceful for a while, much tinkering with its constitution opened the doors to a centralized administration based in Yaounde, it’s capital city.
More than 50 after independence the form of the Cameroon state, as well as ethnolinguistic and political allegiances, are the subject of heated disputes, an issue experts believe fomented a civil war that has now claimed over 6000 lives and displaced thousands of its own citizens.
The AFCON tournament is taking place amid an ongoing insurgency pitting separatists seeking to break the country’s two English-speaking or Anglophone regions away from the majority French-speaking nation of 26 million people. This was supposed to be a unique moment when the government hoped to showcase its own strengths and capabilities.
To an extent, the administration has shown the world what the country is about it. Cameroon kicked off the event at the new Olembe stadium. With a lot of fanfare, the event brought tears to many eyes after a prolonged period of instability. Under heavy security, President Paul Biya showed up. Cameroonians, at home and abroad, talked about how beautiful their country is. Yet, many said it has been marred by poor leadership. Others remained thankful to the current leadership for maintaining the unity of the country.
Even while the separatists scored their own victories, through assassinations and by causing some chaos, thus far the event is considered a success for the government.
Biya, 88, appears to be the ultimate winner of AFCON2021. Even while he is considered unfit for the job because of his age and incompetence in dealing with the Anglophone crisis, his government managed to bring FIFA, CAF, and the international community on his side by holding the event in the midst of conflict.
This review from The New York Times tells the story of what happened in Cameroon against the backdrop of troubling news in other parts of the continent.
Cameroon, which still prides itself as “Africa in Miniature,” gained some positive media coverage following the opening ceremony and matches. The host nation easily beat Burkina Faso 2 to 1 on Day 1. On Day 4, they beat Ethiopia 4 to 1. Cameroon qualified for the round of 16 after a 1 to 1 draw with Cape Verde on January 17.
As expected coverage of the event on the radio, satellite TV, online, and print channels is intense. In the midst of the tournament pitting 24 top teams, the pendulum of news coverage quickly swung in the negative direction after insurgents struct, creating headlines that quickly traveled around the globe.
In a review of some of the top news stories about what is going on vis-a-vis the hosting nation, the storyline from January 2 through January 16 tells of a country struggling to balance its pride, prestige, nationalism, with the determination to combat what the government describes as terrorism and infringement on its territorial integrity.
Mixed Reviews Characterize Coverage of AFCON in Cameroon
January 2, 2022 — CNN
7, 2022 — International Crisis Group
January 8, 2022 — ESPN
January 10, 2022 — CAF Online
January 10, 2022 — VOA News
January 10, 2022 —DW News
January 11, 2022 — The Conversation
January 12, 2022 — Al Jazeera
January 13, 2022 — France 24
December 15, 2021 — The Athletic
January 16, 2022 — The Washington Post