On Sunday, like many Angolans, I was forced to eat my share of humble pie and admit the superiority of Cape Verde’s men’s national football team, which, through sheer grit and determination, qualified their country for the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations at their first time of asking. Thus, the tiny island nation of Cape Verde is now one of the eight best teams on the continent. The Cape Verdeans played with a passion and will to win that has been conspicuously absent from the Angolan outfit since the opening match against the Moroccans. Watching Angola and Cape Verde play after having watched the Ivorians and, to a lesser extent, the Togolese beat their opposition the previous day highlighted just how far Lusophone football has to progress to challenge the continental giants, but the gulf in class between the Angolans and the Ivorians, for example, showed just how far apart we are in pure footballing skills. But also a matter of politics.
A team that played the way the Palancas Negras played against South Africa and Cape Verde has some much deeper structural issues that need to be examined. We may not be ready to progress beyond the quarterfinals. Cape Verde showed us we are better off focusing on moving from the group stages.
Condemnation of the Palancas Negras was swift and brutal amongst Angolans on Facebook and Twitter. They were outraged at their team, but many were also generous enough to applaud Cape Verde on their brilliant achievement. Many questioned the $9 million spent on the Palancas Negras’ preparation. There was also widespread discontent aimed at the FAF (Angolan Football Federation) and even the Minister of Youth and Sports for what many Angolans perceive as misguided sports policies and chronic underinvestment. Among the most common complaints is the lack of investment in youth football, footballing schools, and youth development in Angola.
Many questioned why it seemed that Angolan football team owners have enough money to bring aging stars into the country (such as Rivaldo to Kabuscorp) but don’t seem to care about developing their clubs’ youth structures. For a team in its seventh appearance in the Nations Cup finals, a lot more was expected of them. Fans noticed the team hadn’t built on its 2006 success when the Palancas reached the World Cup.
Angola is used to being the Big Brother among Africa’s Lusophone nations: our petrodollars and military might obfuscate our many shortcomings. So, Cape Verde’s victory over Angola was greatly appreciated by the Verdeans and the Mozambicans.
Cape Verde, once again, taught us a lesson.
For all our petrodollars, economic superiority, flashy skyscrapers, and shiny Porsche Cayennes, for all our millions spent in preparation for this Afcon, Cape Verde showed us that sometimes less is more. They scrounged together some funds to put a team into the competition, had a few friendlies here and there, and then quietly set about their work. Unlike Angola’s, their footballing leadership didn’t make any lofty promises of a semi-final finish. Instead, the Blue Sharks showed humility and an uncanny ability to stifle their superior rivals’ more potent attacking strike force.
But it isn’t just about football.
The governments of Cape Verde and Angola couldn’t be more different. Cape Verde’s investment in its education and health sectors put Angola to shame, and the Atlantic archipelago is ahead of Angola in almost every social indicator imaginable, including HDI. Their governance, the rule of law, regular elections, and respect for their strong institutions are among the best among Lusophone countries and certainly better than many African states, including Angola. When a rival political party wins an election in Cape Verde, the power transfer is peaceful and civil.
In the aftermath of the Lusophone clash, Angolan journalist Reginaldo Silva used Facebook to post a quote from Cape Verdean Prime Minister José Maria Neves to an Angolan newspaper: “O nosso petróleo é a boa governação” (Our oil is good governance).