In Ghana our word to express sorrow for loss is Buei! (Alas!). After AFCON, Ghanaians can cry their hearts out, but they must remember this rhetorical question, which is asked when someone is faced with an unexpected disaster: “Enti menkowu?” [And so, must I go and take my life?] Of course life goes on.
There is a picture that will forever stay in my mind. It is that of a “selfie” of two young boys, clutching their father in despair, as they watched the live final between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire at last month’s AFCON 2015 tournament. It was sent to me via that modern miracle of electronic messaging: WhatsApp.
Ghana had not yet lost the match, but the agony on their faces was palpable: agony caused by Ghana’s missed chances; agony at the idea that on several occasions, Côte d’Ivoire had come close to scoring; and agony at the imagined horror that lay ahead, in the form of extra time, followed by a penalty shoot-out.
Their nightmare became a reality when Côte d’Ivoire succeeded in outscoring Ghana by 9 penalties to 8, after initially sending Ghanaian spirits soaring by missing their first two penalty kicks. Surely Ghana couldn’t go from 2-0 up to being beaten? Yet defeated we were! In the end, sealing that fate came down to the two countries’ goalkeepers – the Ghanaian goalie missing when it came to his turn to take a penalty, while his Ivorian counterpart, who had, earlier, saved his rival’s shot, managed to score! What drama it was!
But far from going to die in bitterness, I suggest that Ghanaians should share in the Ivorian victory. For in truth, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire could – largely – have been one nation today, had not the British and the French intervened in our affairs about two hundred years ago. So, if we allow our imaginations free play, the match featured Ghana against Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire against Côte d’Ivoire! Am I talking nonsense? Listen: I am going to shut up and allow other writers to tell you what they know!
Steeped in history
For example, here is what Wikipedia says – and I quote at length for emphasis:
“The Akan people [of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana] are believed to have migrated to their current location from the Sahara desert and Sahel region of West Africa into the forested region around the 6th century, and many Akans [only] tell their history as it started in the forested region of West Africa, as this is where the ethnogenesis of the Akan, as we know them today, happened. Oral traditions … relate [however] that they originated from ancient Sudan. As a result of the introduction of Islam into Western Sudan, and the zeal of the Muslims to impose their religion, the ancestors [of the Akan] left for Kong (i.e. present-day Ivory Coast). From Kong, they moved to Wam [as in Wamfie in Ghana] and then to Dormaa in present-day [Ghana’s] Brong-Ahafo region …
Around the 6th century, they moved from Dormaa south-eastwards to Twifo-Hemang, North West [of] Cape Coast in Ghana… The kingdom of Bonoman (or Brong-Ahafo) was established as early as the 11th century, and between the 12th and 13th centuries, a gold boom in the Akan area brought wealth to numerous Akans… During different phases of the Kingdom of Bonoman, groups of Akans migrated out of the area to create numerous states based predominantly on gold mining and the trading of cash crops. This brought wealth to numerous Akan states like Akwamu (1550-1650) and ultimately led to the rise of the most well-known Akan empire, the Empire of Asante (1700-1900), the most dominant of the Akan states.
“In the coastal regions stretching from southern Ivory Coast to Benin, [a common form of dress is] a huge rectangular cloth … wrapped under one arm, draped over a shoulder, and held in one of the wearer’s hands … The best-known of these toga-like garments is the Kente (made by the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast), who wear them as a gesture of national pride.”
Then there is this from Robert E. Handloff (ed.) in the book Ivory Coast: A Country Study. Washington – GPO for the Library of Congress, 1988. And again I liberally quote at length:
“Voltaic cultures are found in north-eastern Côte d’Ivoire, northern Ghana, and Burkina Faso. They share cultural similarities with the Mandé peoples to their west… The Sénoufo occupy north-central Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Burkina Faso and are also known as the Seniambélé and Siena. Sénoufo is a Juula word meaning ‘speaker of Séné’ … Language is among the few culture traits that unify this heterogeneous group. They have several myths of origin, each popular in a different area. Several of these involve an ancestor known as Nangui or Nengué, who left the Juula, capital of Kong, to establish the Sénoufo city of Korhogo, which means “heritage”. Sénoufo history refers to Juula traders as early as the thirteenth century, when Islam arrived in the region… Akan influence is fairly strong among the Sénoufo, some of whom have adopted matrilineal descent systems resembling that of the Akan…
“Adjacent to Sénoufo territory are the Lobi, Koulango, and several smaller Voltaic societies… They probably arrived in the area from the east and organised themselves in autonomous villages. They resisted the spread of Islam, which was brought by Juula traders and teachers over several centuries. More recently, they have rejected many aspects of European acculturation… In the mid-eighteenth century in east-central Côte d’Ivoire, other Akan groups fleeing the Asante established a Baoulé kingdom at Sakasso (Sikasso) and two Agni kingdoms, Indénié and Sanwi. The Baoulé, like the Asante, elaborated a highly centralised political and administrative structure under three successive rulers, but it finally split into smaller chiefdoms. Despite the break-up of their kingdom, the Baoulé strongly resisted French subjugation. The descendants of the rulers of the Agni kingdoms tried to retain their separate identity long after Côte d’Ivoire’s independence; as late as 1969, the Sanwi of Krinjabo attempted to break away from Côte d’Ivoire and form an independent kingdom.”
Fielding a single West African team
Now, folks, I fully realise that anyone can shoot holes in my argument by pointing out that despite the commonalities in history and culture between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire demonstrated here, there is no guarantee that there can be no conflict between us.
But, then, conflict is part of human nature – as we all know from the conflicts that we experience from time to time even within our immediate families. So, it is no use, and it is cynical to argue that Côte d’Ivoire, by itself, has endured internal conflicts that led to civil war! For I insist that the said conflict was political in nature, and political conflicts can occur within any society.
In other words, if we look on the positive side of the relationship between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the evidence is not lacking that there are very many affinities and that the triumph of one country against the other may be seen, in a sophisticated interpretation, to be what is called a mere Pyrrhic victory.
Therefore Ghanaians, especially those who are young (like the lads I saw being comforted by their dad because Côte d’Ivoire was beating Ghana) must look forward to a time when not only Côte d’Ivoire but other West African countries might be able to field a single team to play tournaments against, say, a united North Africa, Southern Africa, and thence, to take on Western Europe or Western Asia and that sort of thing.
Am I being too optimistic? Well, listen to this: when a boycott of South Africa as a sporting nation occurred in earnest in 1977, following the “Gleneagles Agreement” by Commonwealth countries, few of us who were young at the time foresaw that the apartheid system would ever be defeated and that South Africa would come back into the fold of the major sporting nations, especially those that excelled in international Test Cricket and the Olympics. Yet, today, not only does South Africa play Test Cricket against the West Indies, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but also, the captain of its cricket team, Hashim Amla, is of Asian origin! Incidentally, he is one of the finest batsmen playing today.
Oh, okay: life as seen from Under The Neem Tree is quite unpredictable, right? So, over there, while Ghana’s loss at AFCON 2015 would be mourned, it would, nevertheless, be understood with the right perspective. At any rate, so say I.