By Matthew Ayibakuro
In case anyone missed it, Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who plays his club football as a striker for Borussia Dortmund in Germany won this year’s CAF African Footballer of the Year Award; deservedly so too. But unfortunately the headlines following the award ceremony were all about the runner-up, Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure.
In expressing his anger at loosing out on the award which would have been his fifth consecutive CAF African Footballer of the Year Award, Toure resorted to using words and expressions that should be a cause of concern for anyone interested in the perennial controversial issue of portraying the most appropriate image of the continent of Africa and the ramifications of such portrayal.
“Sad”, “lamentable”, “indecent” and “pathetic” were just some of the words Toure used to express his feelings about loosing out on the award. But there was more. According to him, “This is what makes the shame of Africa. To behave in this way is indecent! But what can we do? We Africans, we do not show that Africa is important to us”.
Why This is All Disturbing
Firstly, it must be stated that there is nothing wrong in expressing your feelings about not winning an award. Any rational competitive person in Toure’s shoes should be expected to state their disappointment and work harder to win the next. We have seen Messi and Ronaldo, whom Toure himself referred to in his infamous interview, do that in the last decade or so with the Ballon d’Or. However the manner in which Toure has gone about expressing himself leaves a lot to be desired.
At a sporting level, Toure’s words show an absolute lack of respect for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who won the award, Andre Ayew of Ghana who came third behind Toure and all other African professional footballers. To assume that he is most deserving of the award for a fifth year in a row and failing to recognise the talent and efforts of his peers smacks of a repulsive lack of humility and sportsmanship that has no place in the beautiful game of football.
But if this was all of it, then I would not have spent precious time writing a piece on this issue. After all, this is a player who in May 2014 at the age of 31 ridiculously created a lot of fuss about leaving his club, Manchester City for the failure of the club to mark his birthday “sufficiently”, and only recently took out time to hit out at “disgusting” critics or “beasts” who question his performance this season. To say that he could have acted otherwise in these situations is probably subject to debate; one that I am not inclined to engaging in here and now.
Ramifications of Toure’s Words in the Bigger Picture
His latest interview however appears to suggest that Yaya Toure is either unaware of his position as an ambassador firstly for the people of Ivory Coast and for the continent of Africa in the bigger picture, or he has simply chosen to ignore it. Or perhaps, he just does not understand the ramifications of his words and actions. Whatever the case, to use his failure to win a personal award to cast aspersion on a whole continent is simply inexcusable.
The power of the game of football to promote peace, unity, development and other positives in society is well established. In fact Yaya Toure himself is a Global Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with a particular focus on protecting endangered species like elephants on the continent. However by stating in his interview, and in the third-person too, that “Yaya will look after himself, and let Africa look after itself”, he displays a palpable hypocrisy as an ambassador working for a positive cause in the continent.
His words reiterate the regrettable trend of celebrities and wealthy people using their fame and position to display an ill-informed and displaced concern for the ‘exoticness” of the continent of Africa without the slightest understanding of its people, its history, its successes and real challenges. Only this time it was coming from someone who is African!
Changing the wrong perception of Africa is a challenge that is as serious as any: one that some would argue is over-flogged and yet quite saddening when confronted by. Even now, it is an unbelievably usual occurrence to meet youths from Europe and other parts of the world whose only knowledge of the continent of Africa is about famine and wars and diseases like Malaria and Ebola. The challenge is real but progress is being made. Changing this wrong perception and portrayal is pivotal and this is where global stars like Yaya Toure can be most instrumental.
Alas, at a time when the footballing world is trying to get its head around the corruption scandal rocking FIFA, Toure’s decides to extol “even FIFA” with all its “history of corruption” over the process of awarding the African Footballer of the Year. As I noted earlier, whether Toure’s claims in his outburst are justified or not is secondary, a person in his position should not be the one assisting to smoulder further the image of Africa as if dealign with the ignorance of many in the West and the prejudices of the media is not difficult enough already.
What Being an Ambassador for Africa Entails
Instead of being concerned with crying foul over a personal award, I reckon his time and resources will be best utilised in making a positive impact in his country and possibly beyond. If confused, he can get inspiration and insights from his countryman, Didier Drogba who used his position as footballer to bring peace to a country at war and continues to do wonderful things in Ivory Coast and beyond in confronting the real challenges faced on the continent.
In some way, we are all ambassadors of our individual countries and of Africa. Whilst we progressively confront our challenges, we owe it to ourselves to project a positive image of our homeland at a time when headlines are more receptive of the bad than the good.
Yaya Toure claims that he has often being told that he “shouldn’t worry too much about Africa, because Africa will be the first to let you down”. Well, I am not sure who he is talking to and what continent his informants are from. But anyone who is enlightened would realise that there is hardly a continent flowing with milk and honey these days. I hope that when the dust settles, he would come to the realize how much he has let Africa down.