As the AFCON 2017 tournament draws to an end with the finals this weekend, many ordinary Gabonese are jolted back to the reality of a struggling economy and the billions spent to host the tournament that many said could have been better spent to improve their lives in the long term.
Shado, who owns a small football merchandise shop in the Gabonese capital of Libreville, says the mood has definitely been different this year compared to when the country co-hosted the Africa Cup with Equatorial Guinea back in 2012.
“Compared to 2012, it’s not the same because I can say that the country kind of brought politics into the sport. That is what made it sombre and not happy this time compared to 2012. In 2012, everyone was happy, everything worked well, but this time, they tried to bring politics,” he said.
“There is no change. It is still the same. Business doesn’t work. Everything is calm. All we see here in the market are people selling. It’s not working. It needs to change. That’s what we want,” said a businesswoman who sells clothes in the same market.
“It’s because Gabon lost that it (business) isn’t working. Isn’t there a match today? But you see, no one is wearing any jerseys. It’s as if there wasn’t a game,” said Emmanuel, a merchant in the market.
Leaders of civil society unions called for a boycott of CAN a few days before the tournament started, saying the money the country is spending on hosting the tournament would be better spent on health and education.
“Our government is more interested in recreational activities – organizing CANs, organizing boat races, organizing big events with artists who are paid billions of CFA francs, so this situation, the Gabonese refuse to accept the choices of public policies of this government because 853 billion for the CAN is excessive. With this money, we could have solved the problem of housing, the problem of overcrowding in institutions, the problem of supply of medicine, the problem of roads, and the problem of youth employment,” said Marcel Libama, the vice-president and spokesperson of the Dynamic Union, said Gabon holding the tournament was not justified financially.
The tournament is currently in the semi-final stages, with the final due to be played in Libreville on Sunday (February 05).