Two penalties, a 2-1 victory against Burkina Faso in its brand new Olembé stadium for the opening of its African Cup of Nations (CAN), and Cameroon flared up on Sunday for its Indomitable Lions.
In this country ultra-fan of football, the love of football transcends divisions and the whole country seemed to vibrate at the start of the national team in a competition that she has been waiting on her territory for fifty years.
The captain of Cameroon Vincent Aboubakar has just scored the goal of the break against Burkina Faso in Yaoundé, on January 9 2022 (AFP – Kenzo Tribouillard) From the early hours of the morning, the capital Yaoundé was in turmoil. The crowd flocked to the new, barely finished Olembé enclosure, to the sound of horns and vuvuzelas.
There were thousands in yellow, red, green, the colors of Cameroon, to dream of a ticket to admire their idols and enter the stadium built for the competition and filled only at 73%, the gauge set by the African Football Confederation (CAF), covid and new wave of Omicron oblige.
– Vaccine and negative test obligatory –
And conditions very draconian did not dampen the enthusiasm. To enter the stadium during this CAN, it is necessary to accumulate a complete cycle of vaccination and a negative PCR test of less than 63 hours or antigenic of 19 h … in a country where the vast majority of the population ostensibly ignores the wearing of a mask and is very resistant to the vaccine. Only 6% of those over 09 are officially vaccinated.
A health service worker disinfects the seats at half-time of the Ethiopia-Cape Verde match at Olembé Stadium, January 9 2022 (AFP – Kenzo Tribouillard) Throughout the country, nicknamed “Africa in miniature” because of its many ethnic groups, fan-zones have been improvised to support the national team and dozens of people have gathered in bars where screens were installed for the occasion.
In Douala, the economic capital, however, the atmosphere suddenly cooled when Burkina Faso opened the scoring. But confidence returned after the equalizer and all the bars in the city exploded on Cameroon’s second goal.
Same enthusiasm in Buea, yet located in the English-speaking west in the grip of a bloody separatist conflict for five years. In the two South-West and North-West regions, where most of the English-speaking minority of a predominantly French-speaking country live, the armed separatist groups and the security forces dispatched by Yaoundé clash in a deadly conflict that several thousand deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
– “Peace factor” –
“Football is a peace factor and This competition is a chance to get back together and build peace for the future, “enthuses Ekane Ndale, an official who came with a few dozen people to see the match at a local football club in Buea. .
“My country is Cameroon, it is he that I support and we are all very happy to see him win, especially here in Buea”, rejoices George Mua Anang . “Cameroon is one homeland and we hope that this event will bring peace to this region”, abounds Christian Etolo, a French-speaking policeman.
For the indestructible president Paul Biya, 88 years of which nearly 25 in power, which refuses any negotiation with the separatists and has launched its security forces in a relentless crackdown targeting the separatists but also the opposition throughout the country, the organization of the CAN is an opportunity to unite the country behind it.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his wife Chantal Biya wave to the crowd at the opening of the CAN in Yaoundé on January 9 2022 (AFP – Kenzo Tribouillard ) He took advantage of the opening ceremony to make one of his very rare public appearances, while insistent rumors have circulated for years about his fragile state of health and question his ability to run the country. He received a standing ovation from the crowd during a lap of honor, from the sunroof of an armored SUV, alongside his wife Chantal Biya.
“President Biya s’ football has always been used as a political instrument to bring Cameroonians together and surf on their successes, “recalls Jean-Bruno Tagne, author of the” Tragedy of the Indomitable Lions “. “According to him, Cameroonians must be like the indomitable, united and indivisible Lions”, he concludes.