As the story goes, a ceasefire was called in the Nigerian war when Santos (Pele’s club) traveled to play in Nigeria in 1969. The Nigerian government has also held “peace matches” between civil servants to resolve tension among different governmental branches (Boer, 2004), not dissimilar to the way in which pre-colonial Nigerian groups resolved inter-clan conflicts by man to man feuds in hopes of avoiding larger scale conflict.
During Angola’s civil war in the late 1980’s football pitches were marked as “demilitarized zones” (Mankell, 2006). And five years into the Sierra Leone war, amid ceasefires, peace-talks and the shaky beginnings of reconciliation, Paul Richards wrote that one of the keys to helping child soldiers reenter normal society could be football, stating that the spirit and bonding involved in the game had the potential to “contribute to healing some of the most glaring social wounds of war,” (Richards, 1997). Following suit at the beginning of the 21st century Josiah Johnson, once one of the stars of African football, called out to the child-soldiers, “Put down your guns and go to the stadium and enjoy the game; you don’t become a millionaire shooting someone, [but] you might if you play good football” (quoted in Goldblatt, 2006).
In countries with borderlines drawn arbitrarily by men in Europe and without any regard to human demography or ethnic distribution, football can be one of the few things to unite the people under their flag. Darby writes that football has played a crucial role in “the process through which people construct their identity and affiliate with the communities and nations in which they live... the world game represents one of the most potent and visible vehicles for the expression of national pride and identity” (Darby, 2002). This is evidenced in the days of countrywide celebration and the declaration of a national holiday when Togo qualified for the 2006 World Cup, as well as in the way that Mobutu’s power in Zaire was firmly cemented after the national team won the 1974 African Nation’s Cup (Darby, 2002).
There is no doubt that Africans take an enormous sense of pride in the successes of their national football teams, and that this plays a major role in their ability to identify as Rwandan in addition to Hutu or Ghanaian in addition to Ashanti. It even carries over to the continental level, when Africans from all different countries often support whichever African teams succeed on the world stage. Nigeria’s gold medal in the 1996 Olympics was labeled a victory for all of Africa (Boer, 2004).
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