YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon — She had watched some of the matches secretly, volume turned down low so that nobody would report her. She had seen the threats, and knew that she could be kidnapped or killed for watching the African soccer tournament that her country, Cameroon, was hosting.
But she was fed up with containing her excitement each time Cameroon scored, so on Wednesday, Ruth, who lives in a region at war where secessionist rebels have forbidden watching the games, secretly traveled to the capital, Yaoundé, to support her team in person.
“I’d love to scream, if it’s possible,” she said on Thursday, after safely reaching Yaoundé, while getting ready for the big game. “I decided to take the risk.”
African soccer is nearing the end of what everyone agrees has been a magnificent month. The 52 games in this year’s much-delayed Africa Cup of Nations tournament have brought some respite for countries going through major political upheaval or war, and those weathering the disruption and hardship wrought by Covid.
coup last week in Burkina Faso, Burkinabe soldiers back home danced with joy. When Senegal then beat Burkina Faso in the semifinal on Wednesday night, Dakar’s streets were filled with cars honking and flags waving. Online, after every match, thousands of people flock to Twitter Spaces to jointly dissect what happened.
a harsh crackdown. Human rights abuses by the military helped fuel a fully-fledged armed struggle by English-speaking fighters known as Amba boys, after Ambazonia, the name they have given their would-be state.
The separatists have warned people there not to watch Afcon, as the soccer tournament is known, and certainly not to support Cameroon. But many anglophones like Ruth — a government worker who asked to be identified by only her first name to protect her from retribution — have defied the risk and have traveled to majority francophone cities to attend matches.
“We may not be a very united nation, but I think this one thing brings us together,” Ruth said, adding that it was common knowledge that even as they threatened, kidnapped and tortured other spectators, the Amba fighters were watching the tournament in their camps.
Afcon is special. Players who are relatively unknown outside their countries’ borders play alongside multimillionaire stars from the world’s most elite teams who take time off to represent their countries, right in the middle of the European season.