AFRICA SECURITY CONCERNS SMACK OF IGNORANCE

By Paul Stober, Deputy Managing Editor, Business Gulf News

It is plain stupid to question South Africa’s ability to host the football World Cup in view of the attack on the Togo team in Angola – Ignorance is bliss, but there is no such easy excuse for stupidity.

Hull City manager Phil Brown and his ilk have not only showed their ignorance about Africa, but put their stupidity on display by jumping to a plainly ridiculous conclusion, by claiming that the attack on the Togo national football team in Angola has raised questions about the capacity of South Africa to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup later this year, the Togo team was attacked by a separatist group in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, which is past the country’s main northern border.

Two were killed and one seriously injured and Togo was disqualified from the tournament after leaving Angola without playing their opening match.

It is possible that Brown may be so ignorant about geography that he does not know that between South Africa and Cabinda, there is basically the whole of Namibia and Angola, a distance of well over 3,000 kilometres by some estimates.

For the ignorant, the point unfortunately must be repeatedly made: Africa is a continent, made up of different countries, many of which are stable democracies with fast-growing economies.

Economic growth in southern Africa was about 5.2 percent in 2008, but it is expected to slow because of the global economic crises.

Football talent One of these fast-growing countries is Angola, which had a real growth rate of 12.3 percent in 2008, admittedly off a low base and driven mainly by oil revenue.

And, despite concerns about widespread corruption, the government is investing heavily in the development of the country’s social and economic infrastructure and succeeding in attracting foreign direct investment.

While the democratic process in the country is still taking hold after decades of civil war, there is no reason as yet to believe that democracy in Angola will not flourish as it has in Mozambique, another former Portuguese colony that survived a civil war instigated by former colonial powers.

Despite the attack, the African Cup of Nations has continued as scheduled, producing high-scoring matches in a tightly contested tournament followed by fans across the world.

There have been no further reported incidents involving teams or their fans.

The tournament — one of the world’s oldest — is graced by some of the biggest names in world soccer; including Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien, among others. Africa has produced a constant stream of football talent whose skills have determined the fate of many of the big clubs in European leagues.

Those fans and managers who insist on remaining ignorant about the continent are closing their eyes to some of the most exciting skills in the game.

It is just stupid to see the attack in Angola as a security threat to the World Cup in South Africa, which regularly and safely hosts international sporting events.

Besides the rugby and cricket world cups and the Fifa Confederations Cup, which went off without incident, South Africa is regularly and safely toured by sports teams from abroad with thousands of their fans in tow.

The country has never suffered a major terror attack and its cities are less scarred by bomb blasts than London, for example, which is scheduled to host the 2012 Olympics.

There is justifiable concern about South Africa’s high crime rate — including murder and assaults — and the danger it may represent to soccer fans.

However, there have been very few reported incidents of crime involving sport fans as venues and tourist areas are generally secure.

As part of the preparations for the World Cup, a huge security operation has been under way, which includes the training of additional police officials, anti-terror exercises and the screening of individuals who have been involved in crime and violence.
It would not be reasonable to dismiss the threat of a terror attack or the danger that crime presents to soccer fans travelling to South Africa, but on past record the country has been able to host major events and protect visitors.

By exercising the necessary precautions and common sense, soccer fans should face no more trouble than in a big city anywhere in the world.

No one can see into the future, but the easy certainty with which uninformed pundits predict the worst World Cup says more about their ignorance and prejudice, than reality.

In the meantime, other preparations for the World Cup, which starts in June, are well on track, with the host stadiums and much of the transport and other necessary infrastructure already in place.

Fifa is very protective about its showpiece event which earns it billions of dollars, and to-date the organisation has not sounded any loud alarm bells about the preparations or security for the World Cup.

For many South Africans though, the biggest concern about the event is the continuing poor form of the national soccer team, which is languishing at number 85 in the world rankings.

Source: www.gulfnews.com 20100122

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