Sports in Africa: Monkey de work baboon de chop

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The recent arrest of Aimable Habimana, the vice-president of the Burundian football association, FFB following the missing of players bonus, vividly reminds one of a typical saying in Africa. Have you heard of the African expression  “monkey de work baboon de chop,” which means “while the monkey is working, the baboon is eating?”

Well, if the saying is foreign to you, you probably are indeed not conversant with African social, political and economic realities – and the sports domain is not excluded from these obvious truths. Welcome to Africa, where it is a very common norm for dedicated African sportsmen and women to always fight their various governments before they secure the athletes’ rightful allowances and bonuses after every competition. Yes, to beg and fight for their allowances and bonuses because some corrupt, heartless, shrewd sports officials have sadistically and fastidiously channelled the money meant for those patriotic athletes, to their corrupt private pockets. That is an African way of showing gratitude to their dedicated and patriotic athletes, isn’t it?

It is, indeed, all about the “monkey de work baboon de chop” mindset; a mentality very common in Africa, with Nigeria as its global headquarters. But the Burundi government will not have any more of that capricious attitude. After surprising many doubting Thomases to qualify for the AFCON, arguably, the Burundi national football team made the country proud. They fought like a wounded lion in the tournament despite the fact that it was their first time to qualify for the African Cup of Nations. Regardless of being underrated, with full patriotism and naked determination, they fought gallantly on the pitch and showed the world, it was not a team to be dismissed easily as a football lightweight. They sacrificed everything to make their country, Burundi proud. Like all the other teams that have gone to Egypt to proudly represent their countries in the AFCON tournament, the Burundi Swallows are entitled to bonus and allowances. Unfortunately, not everyone in the sports ministries appreciates the zeal, patriotism, hard work and dedication of these great African athletes, who often have it in their minds to make their countries proud and great. Otherwise, why would any right-thinking sports official channel the money, budgeted for these sports ambassadors to their private pockets?

 We all have read about dedicated sportsmen and women being left penniless at the airports, in their hotel rooms, football pitch, simply because their governments – or, to be fair,  some dishonest government officials – have embezzled their bonuses and allowances. In most cases, these disrespected athletes would, out of anger and frustration, refuse to go on with the competitions they have trained very hard for, due to the unpaid financial compensations. It took the Federal Government of Nigeria, 25-years to fulfil the pledge it made (a free house for each ) to former Technical Adviser of the Super Eagles, Clemens Westerhof and the players. The team won Nigeria’s first-ever FIFA World Cup ticket, won Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations title on away ground and reached the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in the USA.  Unfortunately, some of the members of the team had died before the government could fulfil its promise. What a shame! Yes, these great athletes were denied of their rights. This denial and abuse are hardly only limited to football. What of those who are left to take care of their medical bills from the injuries sustained while trying to represent their various countries? How can one explain this heartless, ungrateful attitude from the African governments? How can attitudes like this motivate athletes? They hardly can.

Result? Many talented African sportsmen and women have angrily switched alliance and decided to represent other countries where their huge talents are not only wanted but equally appreciated and rewarded. In most cases, it is a very difficult decision to make, but the reality on the ground does not call for any other better decision.

The decision by the Burundi government to arrest the vice-president of the Burundian football association, FFB who is allegedly implicated in the missing players’ bonus must be commended. It is a good and brave decision in the right direction, which other African government must emulate in order to bring some degree of sanity and respect in the African sports circle. Will other African governments borrow a leaf from the Burundi government’s action?  How else can African governments bring some sense of normalcy in the sports and indeed, show much-needed respect and appreciations to African sportswomen and men who have made numerous priceless sacrifices to represent their countries?

Definitely, leaving those patriotic African athletes penniless is not the best way to compensate them for their priceless heroic deeds.