Things come together: Africa emerges as World Cup winner

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The Independent Online

At a bustling market in this giant city, a shoe salesman sitting in front of his stall does not hesitate when asked whether Africa's first World Cup has taught people a thing or two about his continent.

"I believe that they have seen it as a place not what they had in mind," says 29-year-old Edmund Chukwuka Alubi, whose shop is located in the once crime-ridden Oshodi district, which is now a point of pride for Lagos.

The first World Cup hosted by an African nation has been far more than a game, boosting confidence across the continent and raising hopes that more investment, tourism and major events will follow.

But perhaps the most important result is one that many Africans say they have long been unfairly denied: respect.

From the 15-million-strong metropolis of Lagos, which rivals Cairo as Africa's largest city, to the streets of Kinshasa and Nairobi, residents say they hope the image of a dysfunctional continent awash in violence can at least partly begin to fade.

"It to some degree removes the inferiority complex," said Barthelemy Mayonde Kolongo, who organises the annual Terre d'Afrique music festival in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Africa's image emerges stronger. The disorder that people thought would occur did not happen. It proves that Africa is capable of organising any sort of global event."

No one's kidding themselves. This is a huge, diverse continent where many countries face a long list of problems both daunting and tragic.

They range from ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo's east to violence in Somalia and instability in nations like Guinea-Bissau, which has been rocked by large-scale drug trafficking.

Corruption has held back countries with huge potential, such as Nigeria, where oil wealth has been squandered and the government has been unable to provide its citizens with basic services, including sufficient electricity.

But the effects of the World Cup go far beyond teaching outsiders what a vuvuzela sounds like, many say.

While South Africa is richer and more stable than much of the continent, the impact of the world seeing Africans successfully organise the globe's biggest sporting event could reverberate continent-wide, observers and fans said.

"All those who thought that nothing works in Africa will change - they're going to have a new outlook," said Blaise Makassa, an engineer in the west-central African country of Gabon who plays football in his spare time.

"It's kind of like the election of Barack Obama in the United States."

The satisfaction for many Africans has been made greater by the fact that there were so many doubts before the tournament began. Fears about crime and whether preparations were on track proved overblown.

But not everyone is reveling in the event's success.

Many are quick to warn that the World Cup will do little to improve development in countries sorely in need of it. When the crowds have gone home, poverty will remain.

"It's a huge diversion from the serious problems we have in Africa," said Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, a leading anti-poverty campaigner in Nigeria and cousin of the late renowned musician Fela Kuti.

"We will all go back to where we were before the World Cup and face the reality."

It is a sentiment often repeated and difficult to argue with, but the morale boost alone has made it all worth it, others say. For them, the only downside has been the fact that no African team advanced beyond the quarter-finals.

"There is an enthusiasm, and that will lead other African countries to dream and position themselves for the future," said Adrienne Diop, commissioner for sports and youth for West African bloc ECOWAS.

In fact, doubts and fears over how South Africa would handle the event have even given way to what might be considered boasting for some who say the world has been shown something about how it's done.

"We have set the pace that Brazil will be hard-pressed to emulate in 2014," said Otuma Ongalo, a columnist with Kenya's Standard newspaper, with the South American nation hosting the next World Cup.

Abuch Ibeh, a 35-year-old who sells curtains at the market in Lagos, said the momentum must continue. Other African countries could now also get their turn in the spotlight, he said.

"The most important thing is they should keep hosting it in Africa," he said.