Matchday 1: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmed Ben Bella, and Muammar Gaddafi

Africa Is a Country is proud to introduce a new podcast focused on the politics and cultural relevance of football on the African continent.

Nigerian football match. Image via Sports Friends on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Deed.

The African Five-a-side podcast is an ongoing conversation about Africa via the prism of its favorite pastime: football.

The show will be split into different thematic arcs examining the sociopolitical, historic, and economic aspects of African football. Each theme will be addressed across five 30-minute episodes, which will be grouped together as a “matchday.” The goal of the African Five-a-side podcast will try to transcend the trivial mechanics of the sport, and discuss the game as a social enterprise that teaches us about the human condition from an African perspective. “Matchday 1,” will profile African football’s five favorite politicians, with a few honorable mentions named to our bench.

So, let’s kick off our first episode with the bench. The father of Nigerian nationalism, Nnamdi Azikiwe, is the first name on the team sheet. In this episode, we dissect how he used the media and his own sports club to galvanize support for Nigerian independence during the goodwill tours of 1941 and 1942.

Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, takes up a seat next to Azikiwe. Ben Bella was a footballer in his local city of Maghnia prior to the Second World War. When the war broke out, Ben Bella was stationed in Marseille. Prior to heavy fighting, he displayed his skills at the military base. His performances earned him a cameo with Chateau-Gombert and Olympique de Marseille.

Muammar Gaddafi is the final man on the bench. Although he wasn’t the biggest football fan, there can be no denying that he understood how to instrumentalize football to serve his own political machinations. Professional sport was banned during the first years of his reign, and it only returned under certain conditions. According to legend, in his inaugural address during the opening ceremony of the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations, Gaddafi finished his speech curtly: “Now, I leave you with your stupid game.”

So that’s the eclectic group of fellows that make the bench of our first Five-a-side team.

Listen to the show below:

Further Reading