Waiting for the Ubuntu Games

It is an established fact that international games create a shared feeling of oneness among participants, enabling them to forge a common bond in the face of weightier political or economic issues. It is in recognition of the transcendental effects of sports, that games such as, the Winter Olympics, Asian Games, South American Games and the All Africa Games came into being. Amongst the games competed for in the Winter Olympics, for instance, are ice hockey, cross country skiing, bobsleigh, alpine skiing, speed skating, snowboarding, luge, curling, among other sports unfamiliar to tropical Africa.  Participation in this sporting event, held once every four years,  is for those countries who share similar climatic conditions. Africa is currently lacking such authentic gaming platforms for showcasing the uniqueness of the continent’s clime and culture.

Traditional African Game Courtesy of Gary Grossman

In 1928 when the idea of a Pan African Games was first conceived, the European colonialists kicked forcefully against it. Knowing the strong unifying effects of sports, the colonial masters realized that if given the platform of competitive sporting, it would only be a question of time before the colonized African countries would convert it to an avenue to begin the clamor for independence.

It was not until 1965 when most of Africa had become or were surely on the path to independence that the first ever All Africa Games was held in Congo Brazzaville. Since then, the event has been hosted every four years with the aim of forging inter-continental cordiality.

It seems, however, that the Game’s intentions of expressing Africa’s independence, unifying the continent and creating a sense of continental pride are yet to be harnessed.  Much of Africa remain tied to the apron strings of the West and increasingly the East. There is a manifest lack of connectedness across the continent of what true independence represents. This lack of connectedness is most exemplified in the nature of the sports played in the All Africa Games: football, volleyball, basketball, athletics and residues of the European colonial heritage. Except for the all African competitors and the fields and track that are often shabbier than in other parts of the world, there is nothing intrinsically African in the nature of the sports competed for in the All Africa Games.

The All Africa Games is quite unlike the Asian games for instance, where such indigenous games as Wushu a modernized variant of traditional Chinese martial arts, or Sepak takraw a popular Asian adaptation of soccer that allows players to use their feet, chest and head to touch the ball, or the Asian team sport Kabbadi, are prominent . What these games entail for the Asian is a sense of pride in his originality, a state of mind that encourages further creativity and innovation in other fields of human endeavor. The games are signature Asian and can attract tourists from the rest of the world to witness the games at source.  Although taekwondo, originally Korean in origin has risen to international prominence, there is still no doubt about where to get the authentic coaching and game from.

Further, the official language of the All Africa Games remain French and English, while neither Swahili, a language spoken by over two hundred million Africans, nor Creole nor Pidgin English qualify as official languages.

Moreover, the fact that the All Africa Games is open only to continental African nations leaves much to be desired. The event does not – unfortunately – include the Africans in the Diaspora who have been recognized by the African Union (AU) as “an important part of our continent.” There is no better way – beyond rhetoric, sparsely attended workshops or elitist conferences – to incorporate the African Diaspora and make them feel a part of the African nation than through sports.

Perhaps if Haiti had started participating in the All Africa Games long ago, it would have resonated more to the AU to send aid and troops to the country at the onset of the earthquake. Instead, the world once again witnessed in Haiti, the  – no doubt, good intentioned  – Americans displaying the stereotypical  image of the white savior of the black race. Perhaps, having seen the damage done to the image of Haiti and black Africa by the desperately needed assistance received from the West, Chile very politely refused the blanket aid offer extended at the wake of the earthquake in their country. With it, the country prevented what it perceived to be the “biased” coverage of the disaster by the Western media.  While one might have reservations about putting national interests or pride before human needs, the lesson to be learnt in this particular instance, is that Chile will draw support from friends in the South American Games group including Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and others.

In the case of Africa, although the African Union might not have half of the material resources deployed by the West to assist Haiti after the earthquake, it surely would have easily mobilized the desperately needed human resources, especially in the failure of the government of Haiti to provide leadership, direction, discipline and purpose to the relief efforts of the West.

The absence of originality in the All African Games represents the single most crucial issue facing socio-economic advancement for Africa in contemporary times. Authentic African games are lacking in the All African Games competition, just as African centered systems of governance, trade, medicine, architecture, etcetra, are non-existent across the continent.

Unfortunately, the mere mention of indigenous knowledge, to the African mind,   conjures fleeting images of fore-fathers with razor sharp teeth digging into the thighs of a defeated enemy, even as the rest of the body parts roast in fire. This European history of Africa has prevailed, to the detriment of the complex and all encompassing indigenous political, economic, social, educational and cultural systems of Africa.

Africa must understand that development is not a one track concept, centered around material acquisition. Development is about self actualization and it involves every embodiment of the self; intellectual, spiritual, emotional and the physical.   Africa will possibly be able to lay the basic foundations for the much elusive social, political and economic advancement through a game that will emphasize her uniqueness and shared experience. I call it the Ubuntu Games.

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