AFCON. The tournament on the African continent warms my heart every time I read or hear about it. I’ve heard many negative things about it and if I’m honest, they pierce through my soul like a sword. I don’t want to hear it, that wonderful festivity of football and its culture should be celebrated. And, in this article, I will try to articulate why it is so special to me.
A few things I need to get off my chest before I dig in. Africa is a continent, it’s not a nation. It’s a wonderful collection of nations that cannot be reduced to one culture, one language, or even one style of football – and that my friends, is what makes it so beautiful. It’s an honour to behold and take in, for the millions of fans across the globe. But even more so for the players and coaching staff in that tournament. The weight of a nation, the thin balance between extreme joy and disappointment: it’s a form of art we should never try to belittle.
I’m half Tanzanian and I regret to inform you that we are not good enough to constantly be in AFCON. It’s hard to admit, but that’s reality. I’ve always felt this weird regionalist feeling of wanting to explore my heritage; I’ve always felt more Welsh and Tanzanian than I felt Dutch. I was raised in the Netherlands and I’ve been very privileged in many ways, but in the end, I wanted to know more of where I came from. Where do my roots lie?
Many of you know that I’m quite vocal about knowing your identity and in my case, knowing where my identity as a black man comes from. Earlier this year I wrote this:
“I often feel that this pride is misunderstood for black supremacy and that’s not what it’s about. I think it’s important to stress that white people are not directly responsible or can be held accountable for the actions of their ancestors, but they do have a responsibility to change the social, legal, and economical structure that holds the inequality in place.
It’s also about the admission of historic guilt. Whether people are conscious about it or not, the dynamics between different races are uneven. The reason why black people are voicing that they are proud of heritage, culture, and shared collective memory, is because we were trained otherwise by oppressors, government institutions, and society.
Several influential black people have said the following: “Black people have no knowledge of themselves” — and that’s what it’s about. Gaining access to our history. Exploring ourselves. Discovering languages, traditions, and ideals.
How can you know your worth if you don’t completely know what your identity is? Your self-determined worth is what makes you figure out your place in society.
We have been brought up with white ideals, morals, and standards. This is wrong in my opinion as they should have been taught about the country we live in ánd our own history. Education is so important and you should tell the whole story.“
Now AFCON is not about only black players or just a certain culture, I get that. But one thing I take from what I spoke about earlier is that I want to get to know who I am. Get to know my history, my culture, and my people. And that’s what AFCON does brilliantly.
Through the medium of football, I get to realise what is important to each and every country participating. I understand their way of life, the language that is spoken, which religion is practiced, and what the value is of joy. It’s about trying to understand what it means for a country to support your football team, seeing local players getting famed for kicking a ball about, and seeing that intense emotion of absolute happiness in the thousands of eyes in stadiums.
Knowing history isn’t the same as experiencing it. The idea of having a tournament with all independent countries, facing each other in a game of football and celebrating their cultures – is absolutely fantastic. Through football, it’s possbile to cheer, to get to know more about the culture you haven’t experienced and experience that pure pride of what it is to feel African.
There are thousands, millions of people living in Europe who have a migration background coming from Africa. It’s not always easy to grasp what it feels like to be of African heritage in a whole different side of the world. Sometimes the only thing you know is the memories and food that your parents/grandparents share with you. For me and so many others, the AFCON experience can create so much more than a tournament. It will bring a bit more life to your heritage to the surface. It will make you feel proud without any regrets to be an African human. And that my friends, is so much more than football. It’s feeling truly connected with Africa and the love it gives.
Definitely not sure whether I made sense, but for me AFCON is amazing. It makes me tear up with laughter, joy, and excitement. It really makes me feel more connected to my African heritage and I’m proud of that.