The Togo Shootings: One Year On
This time last year, the whole of Africa - nigh, the whole footballing world - was looking forward to the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Held in Angola for the very first time. The competition, as always, was meant as a celebration of all that is good about football on the planet's largest continent. Togo, one of the smallest nations taking part in the tournament, arranged to travel to Angola via bus; racking up a distance of 400km and passing through Nigeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, and fatally, the provence of Cabinda.
The bus would never make it to Angola.
After Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, Cabinda - which was a seperate nation - became an enclave province (think France/Monaco, but without the tax breaks) of the newly-freed Angola. The Alvor Agreement was signed by parties representing both countries, stating that both nations would now share a governement and armed forces. Almost as soon as the agreement was signed a seperatist group formed calling themselves the 'Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda' (FLEC). For the next 27 years a civil war was fought in Angola, with nearly one million civilian casualities. It wasn't until the death of FLEC's original leader, Jonas Savimbi, that the war finally ended in 2002.
Although the war had ended eight years previous Cabinda was still seen as a 'high risk' area for the Togolese national team. And as the bus passed over the border from DR Congo, 15 gunmen unleashed an unprecidented attack on the team's vehicle and its travelling security convoy. The gunfight lasted half an hour, with three men being killed. One of the men killed was the team bus-driver Mário Adjoua, meaning there was no-way of escape for the passengers on board. FLEC took full responsibilty for the attack, stating that: "This operation is just the start of a series of planned actions that will continue to take place in the whole territory of Cabinda."
Emmanuel Adebayor, Manchester City striker and captain of Togo, later said in an interview, "this is the worst thing I've ever been through in my life." As Adebayor was one of the very few people unhurt in the attack, he was charged with carrying his screaming team-mates into a nearby hospital. Thomas Dossevi, a team-mate of Adebayor describes the attack as thus: "It was a real hell. Twenty minutes of shots, of blood and fear. The bus carrying the luggage was riddled. Maybe they thought we were there. Then they opened fire, even against our coaches. It was terrible. We were machine-gunned like dogs."
Following the shootings, the Togolese team called for a boycott of the competition. Thomas Dossevi and other players spoke of their disgust and lack of desire to compete following their experience. Subsequently, the Togo national team withdrew from the tournament. A few days later however, after a dramatic change of heart, the players decided to compete in the tournament, "in memory of those who have died". The Confederation Africaine de football (CAF) however, had other ideas: instead of allowing this grieving nation back into the competition, they fined them $50,000 for travelling through Cabinda. Virgilio Santos, a member of the Organisation Committee, said, "The rules were clear: no team should arrive by bus. I do not know what has led Togo to do it anyway." On 14th January 2010, Togo were officially disqualified from the next two African Cup of Nations. Many called for the competition to be cancelled because of the atrocity, but CAF decided to continue with the tournament. A minute's silence was held before every game. Egypt eventually won the tournament, beating Ghana 1-0 in the final, but the victory was a hollow one.
It's been exactly 365 days since the attack, and CAF's reputation hasn't recovered. The shambolic way in which they went about dealing with the atrocity was condemned by players, managers and journalists alike, all over the globe. FIFA also came for criticism; completely washing their hands of any involvement: "This tragedy took place during the Africa Cup of Nations, which is organized by CAF and not by FIFA. The regulations of the organizer are the ones which apply, and there are no specific FIFA regulations for such competitions.”
So, one year on, how are Togo recovering?
After much uproar, CAF relented with their disqualification of Togo from the African Cup of Nations, lifting the ban of 12th April 2010. Adebayor, Togo's best player and talisman, retired from international football soon after, claiming that he "was still haunted by the events of that horrible afternoon".
As well as the deaths of three of the team's support staff, a number of players were injured during the attack: most notably, goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale. Having been shot in the back, surgeons were unable to remove the bullets from his body; they are still, one year on, burrowing into his stomach. His career, as you'd imagine, has been tragically cut short; and he has to rely on the use of a permanent wheelchair. And the compensation fee he received? A measely $25,000. Obilale had this to say late last year: "There are people who just don’t have hearts. All they think of is counting their cash. Honestly, if my name was Samuel Eto’o or Didier Drogba it wouldn’t be happening like this. Nobody would be offering me $25,000. But it’s because I play for Pontivy.We all kick the same ball – it should be fair for everyone. They don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow, what my plans are. Nobody is asking.”
And that's the problem: nobody has asked. They may not play for Inter Milan and Chelsea, but they still deserve the sympathy and respect of the footballing world.