Dear United States of Africa,
It’s been a good 50 years since the day you were born from that mustard seed of hope. You’ve come a long way since then. Today (July 2, 2060) historians are trying to pinpoint exactly the moment you were birthed. Was it the day ECOWAS, COMESA and all the other economic unions finally became one – the African Economic Union (AEU) – and adopted the Afco (African currency) as the nation’s currency? Or rather, the day Afrikaans was accepted as the standard language linking all across the motherland? No, it must have been the hour when Africans – both home and abroad – cast their votes in that historic and highly contested presidential election. One that led to ascension of one visionary and exemplary leader to the position of President of the U.S. of Africa. They have it all backward. If you ask anyone from my generation – I’ll be 74 in a fortnight or so – they will tell you that mustard seed of hope was planted the day South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup: May 15, 2004. Yes, it was eons ago, and very dramatic too, but look at you now!
I remember it so clearly! (And as I quickly approach that threshold, I don’t remember much) What was I saying again? Oh yes. The story of how you came to be. There were many who said “Africa’s not ready.” Sometimes, its seemed like it. With reports of hindrances in building the stadia and preparing the host cities for the rush of thousands of football fans, it seemed Africa would be inadequately prepared for its moment in the limelight. Along with what was then the usual reports of militia taking over governments or armed rebels killing off civilians for mere rocks, grass and what-have you, the host nation South Africa also experienced outbursts of xenophobia which almost spread to neighboring nations. It definitely seemed the skeptics would have their day. What actually transpired however, was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. And believe me, we had very wild ideas back then.
With 32 teams in contention for the Jules Rimet trophy, better known as the World Cup, and its accompanying bragging rights, Africa’s warriors stood tall and proud – Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, and Ghana – the big six. In addition to making it far in the tournament, many Africans hoped that the tournament would win over more tourists to the continent (yes, back then, if you called Africa a country, you’d be met with strong disapproval!) and showcase Africa’s best. We especially hoped to disintegrate the constant media portrayal of the motherland as a dark continent of hunger, war and extreme destination. (You might have to go to the archives section of the Great Library of African History to find out what those words mean since they no longer exist in your time).
And so it begun. On June 11, 2010, the first of many matches kicked off Africa’s first (of many) World Cup. Things didn’t go too well. One by one, Africa’s warriors lost their matches until there was only one: Ghana. In comparison to countries like Ivory Coast and Cameroon, Ghana was often regarded as the lesser threat. So, not many people – except maybe Ghanaians themselves – had high expectations of the Black Stars in their first group match against Serbia. As God did with David and Goliath, the underdog prevailed with a penalty goal from Ghana’s “baby jet” and lone striker Asamoah Gyan. Thus started what many still call the one goal campaign. The Black Stars who later became GhAfrica’s Black Stars, went on to play and beat Australia with the same one goal stint. When the Germans finally came, the Stars conceded their first loss. Nevertheless, thanks to the prayers (and maybe even “juju”) of millions of Africans and Black Stars supporters, they made it through to the final 16. Then came the Americans and a repetition of history, as Ghana advanced into the group of 8 with a 2-1 scoreline reminiscent of the 2006 match between both countries.
While the Black Stars played in South Africa, an amazing transformation was taking place across the continent. The collective consciousness had changed. People were beginning to believe in themselves and in miracles again. This might sound confusing to you, my little one, but things weren’t always as they currently are. With all the poverty, lack of child innocence, hunger, violence and what-have-you, most Africans were not living. They were simply existing. And that’s a dangerous place to be. Because of the constant struggles they had to go through, and because of the wide-spread desperation, many of your ancestors forgot that they always had all they ever needed. God had given them the one thing he’d denied ever other creature (That we knew of at the time. Your cousins on mars were just mere speculation at the time): creative energy.
With the Black Stars as the sole representative of Africa, a beautiful picture emerged. Not only were they living up to their very name – the black star of Ghana’s national flag represented hope and unity for Africa – enemies or rivals, shut down their bickering to cheer collectively for Ghana. Even Nigeria – Ghana’s “rival” since time immemorial – threw its weight behind Ghana. And believe me, Nigeria almost never conceded that Ghana was probably better at some things than it was. That’s how powerful the moment was. Some of us young people urged others to BELIEVE. There wasn’t a long declaration of the need to work together, nor a detailed plan of action for “How to support the Black Stars”. All we asked for was for every African to BELIEVE. You know what the power of belief and positive thinking can do. Your generation knows that one person’s thought (and action) affects all of us. We were just beginning to realize just how much. Sometimes, I felt like if I could believe just a little more, then the Black Stars would play a little better. Needless to say, that mustard seed of hope was entrenched in African soil, and it wasn’t going anywhere. As far as Africans were concerned, GhAfrica’s Black Stars already had the Cup in hand.
And it did. Just not in physical terms. You see, my dear one, while the Black Stars struggled and fought to become the first African team to ever reach the World Cup semi-finals – and boy, did they fight for it – they never got there. In what is still hailed as the most dramatic football match, Uruguay and Ghana battled it out for that one spot in the competition. It was a close game, with both sides chalking a goal each. And then, during the final moments of the match, a breakthrough happened. Well, it depends on who you ask. Luis Suarez, a key Uruguayan player, mishandled (or should I say handled) the ball and Ghana won a penalty. Was the one goal campaign to resume? Everyone thought so. After all, Ghana’s own Gyan was gonna take the shot. He would have also set a record as the newest player to score four goals during the World Cup tournament. But God had other plans. Gyan missed the shot, the game went into penalties, the Uruguayans advanced with a 4-2 penalty win and Africa and its supporters were disappointed. But they were also proud. Proud of the Black Stars and proud of themselves. Because, where international peace treaties had failed, football had succeeded in unifying Africa for a common goal.
Why do I say that GhAfrica already had the cup in hand? Because in truth, there were TWO golden cups. One was won by…who was it again? I can never quite remember because I’m always in euphoria over the second cup. The won Africa won: the creation of a unifying power. After that tournament, things were no longer the same. We Africans realized that we could and should work together. The “boundaries” we clung so tightly to hadn’t even been drawn by us. We were one people; the very soul of the world. We’d forgotten. But losing the physical cup made us realize that we’d lost something that was much more important ages ago: ourselves. It wasn’t easy. There were some who resisted the winds of change sweeping across the continent. There were some who still instigated wars and who put in place policies that deepened rather than reduced poverty. And there were many who never got to see the dream become reality. But through it all, we believed. We believed so much that we were willing to commit our entire lives to ensuring that we turned things around. Such was the force of the transformation.
And there you have it. The story of how you, the United States of Africa, came to be. That’s your heritage and that’s your truth. As K’Naan predicted in his song “Waving Flag”, all your states would come together to hold one flag and to work towards one destiny. Even Shakira knew what it was all about when she elected to redo “waka waka”: “Today’s your day, I feel it. You paved the way, believe it…It’s Time for Africa”. See it? The prophecy didn’t say “It’s time for Liberia/Nigeria/S.Africa/Senegal/Sierra Leone/Sudan”. It said, it’s time for AFRICA.
So my darling. If ever you forget. Or if ever you’re unsure. Or if ever external forces threaten to break you. Keep calm, look within and re-member. You have the power, you’ve always had it and you always will. All you have to do is BELIEVE.
With much love,
P.S. How could I forget something this important? Needless to say, the world of football was never the same after Africa’s World Cup. And then YOU came on stage: Team Africa. From then on, the ball game was transformed. So as you go onto that pitch tomorrow to do what you do best, remember: You’re THE Black Star (Hope)!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.