Depressing end to Afcon for DRC team

The sound generated by the Congolese fan club maintained a steady deafening level until about the 75th minute of the game. Thatai??i??s when it finally hit the Leopards fans that CA?te dai??i??Ivoire was leading 3-1 and there were only 15 minutes left.

It was a depressing end to the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ai??i?? last week in what seemed like a miracle, they overcame a 2-0 deficit early in the second half against their neighbour across the river and beat Congo Brazzaville 4-2.

The day before the match, I arrived in Bata. Itai??i??s about a 45-minute flight southeast of Malabo on the mainland, that chunk of Equatorial Guinea sandwiched between Cameroon and Gabon. The plane that brought me from Bioko Island was South African registered, complete with South African crew ai??i?? the safety demonstration before take off sounded like it had been recorded in Benoni.

Iai??i??m a DRC fan ai??i?? I support them in just about anything and everything. I met the woman I would have children with in Kinshasa ai??i?? that;s a good enough reason.

No jerseys, lots of excuses
First order of business in Bata was finding a DRC football jersey. Itai??i??s the Afcon finals in Equatorial Guinea ai??i?? football jerseys are on sale everywhere, for every team in the championship ai??i?? except Congo Kinshasa.

Shopkeepers provided a number of theories as to why Leopards shirts werenai??i??t available ai??i?? nobody expected Congo to make it to the finals, they hadnai??i??t finished making the shirts on time, and they couldnai??i??t find the money to deliver them from Kinshasa.

A United Kingdom sports journalist covering the tournament told me that the lettering on the jerseys was too small, and the African football federation ordered them removed from the market.

I was resigned to having to wear my Big Pineapple T-shirt from Bathurst in the Eastern Cape. And then I bumped into the president of the DRC football supporters association ai??i?? Thomas Ayala ai??i?? looking rather lost in a sea of CA?te dai??i??Ivoire supporters in the lobby of the Ibis hotel in his ai???Iai??i??m behind the Leopardsai??? shirt.

There was a party atmosphere happening but Thomas wasnai??i??t part of it ai??i?? he had his back to the wall, was close to the door, in a corner next to a very bored looking woman sitting at the car hire desk.

Thomas couldnai??i??t help but register how happy I was to see him ai??i?? just before I spotted his jersey, hotel staff had told me I couldnai??i??t use the internet unless I was a paying guest, so I was about to go back out into the overheated steam room that is Bata and everywhere else in Equatorial Guinea.

The day hadnai??i??t been much of a success up to that point. Thomas changed that. Visibly pleased to have a fellow Congo supporter in his midst, the pleasure was compounded when I told him I had worked at his favourite radio station in Kinshasa. The bottom line is he offered me a Congo shirt ai??i?? all I had to do was pick it up at his hotel in the morning.

The locals donai??i??t seem interested
Congolese fans, what there were of them, were not staying at the Ibis, the only sort of luxury hotel in Bata ai??i?? they had taken over the Albermon, a very rough around the edges, and the interior as well, sort of place that looks like it belongs up river in Graham Greeneai??i??s The Heart of the Matter.

At 10am on the day of the match, the DRC fan club was in full preparation mode in the Albermonai??i??s parking lot ai??i?? football shirts were distributed, and Thomas had one for me, all the extras for the fan club show were being loaded into cars ai??i?? drums, horns, wigs, water bottles full of paint in the colours of the Congolese flag. And the beer was flowing.

Bata stadium is big ai??i?? much bigger than its counterpart in Malabo. Somewhere in the region of 40 thousand fans can sit comfortably inside the place. Wednesday night perhaps about 18 thousand people sort of filled the stands ai??i?? if the TV cameras only pointed towards mid field, then the place would have looked reasonably full.

The problem getting people to the matches is a bit of dAi??jAi?? vu for fans who attended Afcon in South Africa in 2013 ai??i?? the locals just donai??i??t seem to be interested in African football.

The focus is on tonight
Where South Africans seem to have some sort of obsession with English Premier League, Equatoguineans show the same sort of mad devotion to Spainai??i??s La Liga.

Bata stadium had few English or Spanish supporters in the stands for this match ai??i?? the overwhelmingly dominant language was French ai??i?? most of the fans were from Cameroon, CA?te dai??i??Ivoire, Mali, Guinea, and of course, the DRC.

I donai??i??t know what Equatoguineans were doing while the Leopards and the Elephants confronted each other on the pitch. There doesnai??i??t seem to be a lot of other options for entertainment in Bata on a Wednesday night.

Nzalang Nacional, as the EG team is known, plays tonight in Malabo against Ghana to see who moves on to the final on Sunday with CA?te dai??i??Ivoire. Malabo stadium has about half the capacity of Bata, and, with the home team making it this far, they should be able to fill the place.


About David

David has worked extensively with the UN on media projects in conflict and post conflict zones from the Balkans to the Central African Republic, including the conception and implementation of the hugely successful Radio Okapi network in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Current projects include establishing a Kanuri-language radio station in the Lake Chad Basin, targeting areas affected by Boko Haram. Dandal Kura broadcasts from studios in Maiduguri, and has been on the air since January 2015. David also provides political analysis on conflict zones and fragile states for various media outlets as well as think tanks. Through Okapi Consulting, David Smith conceived and implemented a United Nations sponsored radio project, Bar-Kulan (meeting place in Somali), established for the people of Somalia and the Somali Diaspora. His background in electronic media is extensive, including producer positions with the international public broadcasters of Canada and the Netherlands as well as managing a commercial transformation project at South Africa's Capital Radio. David’s work in development began in Zimbabwe shortly after independence as part of an education programme funded by the Canadian government to help get young Zimbabweans back into classrooms after the war in that country had ended. While on mission, he hunts down books by local authors and writes about both the book and the search for it in Book Safari, a column in the Mail & Guardian newspaper (Johannesburg).