Rebel attack forces Togo out of Nations Cup

By  | 11 January 2010 at 22:52 | 2210 views

The 27th edition of the African Nations Cup in Angola has kicked off with the wrong reasons. The Togolese National football team was ambushed in Angola by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC). The team’s bus was attacked on Friday January 8 when the team was returning from training in the rebel strong hold of Cabinda leaving the driver dead on the spot and many injured.

Sadly, on Saturday, as reports confirmed the death of the Togolese assistant team manager, a player and a sports journalist, the Togolese soccer team decided to pull out of the African Nations Cup. Behind the door efforts by the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou, to talk the Togo contingent out of withdrawing from the tournament, had so far fell on deaf ears. Latest reports have confirmed that some Togolese players are having second thoughts to participate in the tournament.

My heart goes to all the victims of this cowardly attack. There are certainly many questions that still bothering me. Why did the Angolan FA decide to host games in Cabinda when they know that the FLEC rebels still have a strong impact in some parts of Cabinda Province? Were the Togolese contingent informed that the entire Cabinda Province is safe?

Why did the Togolese national team decide to travel by bus to Angola through Cabinda, the strong hold of the FLEC rebels? Why did the team use bus all the way from their Congo training ground to their host base in Angola? It is perfectly logical and understandable to travel by bus Congo.

But from the Congo border, the team should never have made that attempt to cross in to Angola by road because that could lead them to Cabinda, the Headquarters of the FLEC rebels. Obviously, the risk assessment team of the Togolese Football Association should have known the risk involved in crossing the Congo border. Or where they not informed by the Angola FA about this risk? If they were informed then it only means that they had not done their homework well. In this case the Togo FA has not only let itself down and their compatriots, they have also let the whole of Africa down.

However, the Togolese government has reportedly demanded an explanation from the Angola FA why they were not warned about the security situation in Cabinda? The Ivory Coast, Ghana and Burkina Faso, who are also in the same group as Togo, are all staying in the same villas outside Cabinda. The attack has obviously brought unnerving effects on all the players in this group.

I am worried about this terrorist attack on the Togolese team as this would not augur well for African football. Many anti-African football pundits in the West would capitalise on this unfortunate incident to question the ability of African countries to host any major competition. We all know that South Africa will be hosting the World in June this year and being the first African nation to ever host this prestigious tournament, many in the West have started thinking twice about the security measures that have been put in place for the competition come South Africa 2010.

It is even worrying when I heard the other day how some premier league managers in England were planning to recall their African players who have been called on national duty in Angola to come back to their respective clubs in England. This is an insult to African football because most of these so-called managers in England have never played football to the level of Roger Milla (Cameroon); Abedi Ayew Pele (Ghana); let alone George Oppong Weah (Liberia).

The good news for all Africans is that the remaining 15 teams have agreed to play in the competition. The participation of these teams in Angola would definitely help improve the image and reputation of Africa and African football, a spirit that Ghana’s late President Kwame Nkrumah envisaged when he spearheaded the formation of CAF in 1957.

It would send a strong signal to all doubters. I believe the Angolan shooting is an isolated incident and should be treated as such. It came as no surprise when the manager of premier league outfit Arsene Wenger of Arsenal FC suggested that the Nations Cup should go ahead and that he would personally not recall any of his players from the competition.

Meanwhile, the reserve goal keeper of Togo, who was seriously injured, has been flown to South Africa where he is expected to undergo surgery.