Sam Wallace: A poverty-stricken people don't need the wonga cup

The tournament has become the target of oil-rich nations in need of a PR stunt

Three years before it was selected as a co-host for this year's African Cup of Nations, Equatorial Guinea was the prospective scene of the "Wonga Coup", the laughably inept attempt by a gang of mercenaries, including the ex-SAS man Simon Mann, to seize control, install a new president and get rich. They got as far as Zimbabwe, were arrested and extradited, and Mann spent two years in the infamous Black Beach prison.

This month, President Obiang, the man the mercenaries could not touch, will welcome some of the Premier League's most celebrated footballers to his country. The first game of the tournament is in Bata, Equatorial Guinea's biggest city, on 21 January, but already the big names who are competing in the tournament – Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré and Demba Ba among them – have joined their respective squads.

The African Nations, first held in 1957, predates the European Championship by three years. It is a splendid football tournament that has, thankfully, survived the onslaught of European club managers harvesting the best footballers in Africa and then complaining incessantly when they depart for a month (a practice that at last seems to be on the wane). But that is not to say all is well.

Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho will play their group games for Ivory Coast in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea's capital, which is located by a volcano on the island of Bioko off the mainland. Ivory Coast are competing in their 19th African Nations. As for the Equatorial Guinea team, this is their first participation.

The host country has little football heritage and few, if any, recognised players. The captain, Bodipo, is registered to Deportivo La Coruña in the Spanish second division but has been out on loan recently, and he has arguably the best CV in the squad. It is said the only way Equatorial Guinea were ever going to play in the African Nations was by hosting it.

In that respect they are not dissimilar to Qatar, Fifa's disastrous choice to stage the 2022 World Cup finals. Like Qatar, Equatorial Guinea is a football minnow and like Qatar, it is not big on democracy. In the case of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang ousted his uncle in 1979 in a bloody coup and is routinely cited as one of the worst offenders in Africa when it comes to human rights.

However, also like Qatar, Equatorial Guinea does have lots of lovely oil. Unfortunately for the people of the country, the third smallest by land mass in continental Africa, they do not get to see much of the benefits. The Unicef reports are depressing in the extreme: 20 per cent of children die before the age of five; 60 per cent of the population live in poverty.

By anyone's estimation, a major international football tournament is not what the people of Equatorial Guinea need – they need clean drinking water and basic health provision – but a major international football tournament is what they are getting, none the less.

In comparison to Equatorial Guinea, co-host Gabon looks like Sweden, albeit an autocracy where the previous president Omar Bongo ruled for 42 years and, upon his death in 2009, was succeeded by his son. In terms of football, the country has a better record than its small neighbour. Gabon have qualified four times for the African Nations, making the quarter-finals in 1996.

Clearly, in the developing world there cannot be the same expectations about democracy that there are in the West. However, the fear for the African Nations is that the tournament, held every two years, has now become the target of oil-rich nations with dubious track records and in need of a PR stunt.

In 2010, the tournament was held in Angola, a disastrous decision given the attack on the Togo team bus which left three dead. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has switched the tournament to an odd-number cycle, which means the next one will be held a year from now. It was originally planned to be in... drum roll... Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. The fall of the Gaddafi regime caused CAF to change its mind about Libya, although the fact that it was previously regarded as a suitable host tells you everything you need to know about CAF's criteria. The 2013 tournament has been moved to South Africa; Morocco has 2015 and Libya is in the running to get 2017. For any leader with a reputation to launder it is not a bad option.

As ever in English football, the discussion surrounding the African Nations centres upon how much Chelsea will miss Drogba's goals, whether Manchester City will be the same without Yaya Touré or whether Arsenal will even notice Marouane Chamakh has gone. Unfortunately there is rather more at stake for the people of Equatorial Guinea.

It was widely reported last year that President Obiang's son, Teodoro, had ordered a £250m yacht of the kind Roman Abramovich owns. When it was pointed out that his official government salary is just £4,400 a month the conclusion was that he must have acquired the funds from elsewhere. Presumably the same source that allowed him to buy his £22m mansion in Malibu, California.

The hapless men under Mann's command who failed to oust President Obiang were right about one thing: there is wonga in Equatorial Guinea. And no doubt this will be another interesting tournament, with the failure of many of Africa's traditional football powers giving the opportunity to see some less well-known players and teams. But don't be blind to the real scandal perpetrated on the people who live there.

McEachran will learn if he is loaned

There are precisely 10 months between the ages of the older Jack Wilshere and Josh McEachran, the two young footballers who would one day be the centre of England's midfield.

This time last year, Wilshere was halfway through a brilliant breakthrough season at Arsenal, having been on loan at Bolton the previous season. He has missed this season with injury but when he does come back it will be to Arsenal's first team.

By contrast, McEachran has been all but ignored by Andre Villas-Boas this season. He needs to go on loan this month. All players develop at different speeds – and McEachran, 19 in March, is still very young – but Wilshere's progress is instructive.

The Chelsea man has to start playing games.

FA must fear Di Canio's little quirks

Whatever Paolo Di Canio, the FA Cup giant-killing manager of Swindon Town, does in English football, he will still be regarded by many as at best a Mussolini sympathiser, with a tattoo in honour of the dictator, and at worst a paid-up fascist, given his "salutes" to Lazio fans.

He had also used his column in the Corriere dello Sport to rail against racism and claimed in an interview with The Independent on Sunday last month that he had never voted for a far-right politician.

Di Canio suffered serious panic attacks as a young player, had a debilitating fear of flying and is interested in pagan rituals.

The Football Association must live in eternal fear of ever have to charge him with something serious. It will take more than 115 pages to sort it out.

News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal