Not Just Nationalism

GHANATimothyAClary:AFP:Getty

Dayo Olopade, "someone who usually snaps 'which country?' when 'Africa' is mentioned," notices widespread African support for Ghana:

Suddenly, pan-African solidarity appears to trump major differences in culture, history and geography. But why? In similar circumstances, would the United States (out of the running) cheer the Mexican team (out), or the South Koreans (out) root for Japan (still kicking)? The answer is probably not--and suggests that the myth of "Africa" is more seductive than even Africans want to admit.

In the context of history, the cheering makes some sense. Under leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and even Joseph Mobutu, nationalism thrived in the 1960s and 70s. But the African states that have since failed their citizens time and again today inspire a less than robust sense of civic pride. Ethnic, linguistic or religious identification may generally be stronger than the political borders that partition the West African coast, for example--or do not partition the vast, conflict-ridden eastern Congo. And for many of the African nations that did not qualify--Senegal, Kenya, Angola and Egypt, to name a few--the South African World Cup was always going to be a proxy war.

(Photo: Ghana's striker Kevin-Prince Boateng celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the 2010 World Cup round of 16 football match USA vs. Ghana on June 26, 2010 at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg. By Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty.)