In the Central African Republic, a country devastated by war and crime, merely watching a World Cup game is a feat in and of itself. Our Observers in the country share their experiences.
In the last few weeks, gatherings to watch World Cup games have posed serious security problems in several countries. The Kenyan government has advised football fans to watch the games at home after attacks on two restaurants led to nearly sixty deaths on June 16. In Nigeria, an attack in an Abuja mall last Thursday left 21 dead, just two hours before the Nigerian team played against Argentina.
In the Central African Republic, the security situation in Bangui and other cities has prevented many fans from watching the games. Prime Minister André Nzapayéké even called upon his countrymen to adhere to a ceasefire in order for everyone to be able to watch the cup.
The map below shows the cities from where our Observers have shared their photos and stories.
“The World Cup is used as an excuse for looting”
There are about a dozen big screens set up throughout Bangui, often by NGOs or churches. But generally there are never more than about two dozen people watching games on these screens, because most people are afraid of watching the games in a group. There are more people at the 5pm games [Editor’s note: the time of day when the earliest games are broadcast in Bangui] because there is still daylight. But at around 6pm, usually around half-time, most people prefer to go home and listen to the rest of the game on the radio. At 9pm [Editor’s note: the time at which the second games are broadcast in Bangui], only the really intense football fans remain.
French and African Union troops patrol right outside these screening sites to keep the peace. Often, the local residents also organise community defence groups to search people at the door. Three days ago, they stopped someone that had a machete and two grenades!
Even watching television at home can be dangerous: during France’s game last Wednesday, a Bangui resident had taken his TV set down into the courtyard and invited his neighbours. Anti-balaka men [from self-defence militias] that were walking nearby came in and asked him whether he had a permit to screen the game, which was a ridiculous request. They took away his television and his decoder, which prevented everyone there from watching the rest of the game. Even the World Cup is a pretext for looting...
“In one refugee camp, it costs 100 CFA francs just to watch a game”
I saw a sign indicating that the Nigeria-Argentina and France-Ecuador games were going to be broadcast. I was curious and wanted to know more. It turns out there is a refugee who fled with his television and parabolic antenna and has set up a spot in the camp to broadcast the games, thanks to a generator.
The television is tiny and the space is limited, but there are usually several dozen people watching the games. That said, it costs 100 CFA francs per person to be able to watch. In the end, very few of the people in the camp can afford it.
“It’s impossible to watch the World Cup here in Bambari”
All of the video-clubs [Editor’s note: mini-cinemas that broadcast the games] have been closed since the start of last week out of fear of attacks against fans. It has become nearly impossible to watch the World Cup here in Bambari. Yet these are very important leisure moments for the residents of this city [Editor’s note: the city has been very tense since ex-Selekas attacked the French army there in late May].
I went to the Bambari cathedral, where there are many refugees. The priest set up a small screen of 50 centimetres in diameter. There are nearly 500 people piled together around the television to follow the games.
“The Muslims here show solidarity with us Christians, though for a fee”
Despite the presence of French forces, there are still many ex-Seleka members that attack Christians here. We avoid turning on our generators and televisions during matches because that is a surefire way to attract the attention of the rebels and to have your home ransacked. To watch the games, we go to the houses of our Muslim friends who, for 150 CFA francs [Editor’s note: about 20 euro cents], welcome us into their homes. It’s, in a way, a kind of solidarity, even if it’s for a fee, which allows us to come together around football and to discuss the situation in our country.
The situation is not the same all over the Central African Republic: Observers in Berberati, in the southwest, and in Bouar, in the west, have confirmed that they are watching the World Cup assiduously and without any incident. They have the photos to prove it.
Post written with FRANCE 24 Observers journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).