Sports
Photo courtesy of Nike.

Now That the World Cup Is Over, Do We Still Love Nigeria?

Focusing on sports allegiance to Nigeria, offered a break from pondering over all of its social ills.

This article was originally published on Africa Is a Country

The World Cup is officially over, and so back to "normal" life we go.

The quadrennial football tournament has a tendency to make it feel as though we live in a more pluralistic world, one where players of various racial and religious backgrounds, from both Western and non-Western countries can compete squarely on a level playing field. Of course, none of that is real, but I suppose it's healthy, at least once in a while, to forget that we live in an inequitable world.

National pride soars during the tournament for every country that qualifies, but as with most things, Nigerians took such pride to unmatched levels. In the lead-up to the games, it was as though we existed in a time-suspending bubble that allowed us to relish freely in the pandemonium surrounding our kits, the increasing influence of our cultural exports, and the ever-indomitable Nigerian spirit. It was a welcome feeling that, even I, neither a lover of sports or conspicuous patriotism, was not immune to. I purchased one of our modish green and white jerseys, and even said a prayer over the Super Eagles prior to their first game—arguably the single most "Nigerian" thing I could have done. As Nigeria's national anthem beckoned, the "compatriot in me arose."

Collective reverence for Nigeria helped provide a timely distraction from how our country is usually perceived: a youth codeine crisis, an ongoing conflict over land in the country's central region, and an aging President Muhammadu Buhari's unfounded appraisal of Nigerian youth.

Focusing on sports allegiance to Nigeria, offered a break from pondering over all of its widely-documented social ills. I unguardedly held on to hope that if Nigeria was to see success at the World Cup, that success would help establish a more triumphant story, one that would eclipse the harsh realities that often make it a challenge to love Nigeria.

The admiration we afforded our country in those weeks before the World Cup was the sort of effortless, unconditional love that a person grants to tasty food or a child who gets all A's. Now that we've been knocked out of the World Cup—our run cut much shorter than most of us would have liked—it's time to return to the tough love that sometimes makes us want to pull our hair out.

It's the kind of obligatory, yet unrelenting love that Nigeria's team captain, John Mikel Obi, displayed so stoically when he faced Argentina despite learning just four hours before the game that his father had been abducted in Southeastern Nigeria—again. "I was confused. I did not know what to do, but in the end I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down," he told reporters. Mikel Obi's situation read as an exasperating metaphor for how Nigeria mistreats the very people who strive to put their best foot forward—no pun intended—in its name.

The prolific James Baldwin once said of the United States: "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."

I have similar feelings about my homeland. Because I love Nigeria, I will continue to focus on the bad. I will openly acknowledge its shortcomings and even reprimand it like a problem child when it misbehaves. I will encourage it to do better: be more equitable, just, and collectively minded, not just when it comes to football. That's my way of lovingly cheering Nigeria on, whether on or off the playing field.

Interview
Photo: Benoit Peverelli

Interview: Oumou Sangaré Proves Why She's the Songbird of Wassoulou

We caught up with the Malian singer to talk about her new Acoustic album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

When Oumou Sangaré tells me freedom is at her core, I am not surprised. If you listen to her discography, you'll be hard-pressed to find a song that doesn't center or in some way touch on women's rights or child abuse. The Grammy award-winning Malian singer has spent a significant part of her career using her voice to fight for the rights of women across Africa and the world, a testimony to this is her naming her debut studio album Moussolou, meaning Woman. The album, a pure masterpiece that solidified Oumou's place amongst the greats and earned her the name 'Songbird of Wassoulou,' was a commercial success selling over 250,000 records in Africa and would in turn go on to inspire other singers across the world.

On her latest body of work Acoustic, a reworking of her critically acclaimed 2017 album Mogoya, Oumou Sangaré proves how and why she earned her accolades. The entirety of the 11-track album was recorded within two days in the Midi Live studio in Villetaneuse in 'live' conditions—with no amplification, no retakes or overdubs, no headphones. Throughout the album, using her powerful and raw voice that has come to define feminism in Africa and shaped opinions across the continent, Oumou boldly addresses themes like loss, polygamy and female circumcision.

We caught up with the Malian singer at the studio she is staying while in quarantine to talk about her new album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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