Friday, October 22, 2010

Jabulani: Celebration of Fractals and Africa’s Humanity

On 26 June 2010, the Black Stars of Ghana exposed another Africa that has been hidden away by the propaganda barrage of negative reporting on Africa. For the second time, Ghana met the USA in the World Cup tournament. For the second time, the team from Ghana defeated the United States. This was a sporting event on the world stage. The World Cup is one of the most watched sporting events in the world. Once the youths from Africa met the youths from the mighty imperial state on the playing field, there was a true contest. In this contest, the African youths won.

The Ghanaians knew that they were representing Africa. African youths were playing for many countries. One Boateng was playing for Ghana. Another Boateng was playing for Germany. There were Africans or African descendants playing on many teams, but in the case of Ghana, the youths were playing to hold high a banner that had been unfurled by Kwame Nkrumah. This was the banner of Pan African dignity and grace.

The name of the ball specially designed for the tournament is ‘Jabulani’ (celebration), and everywhere on the African continent there had been happiness that Africa was hosting an international event that could show another side of the humanity of Africans.

But this happiness was tinged with deep and inner realities of the complexity of Africa. Here was a continent with close to one billion persons that was staging a cultural event of this magnitude for the first time in its history. Ghana represented Africa, and this author would borrow the words of C. L. R James in his description of Caribbean cricket players of another era when he noted in his book, ‘Beyond a Boundary’ that the youths ‘showed us how, in the rituals of performance and conflict on the field, we are watching not just prowess but politics and psychology at play.’ James was making a statement on the importance of sport in social history.

The Black Stars certainly proved this on 26 June 2010. Not only did they demonstrate the reality that they were able to play as a team, they exposed the optimism for and the possibility of a united, strong, and peaceful Africa in the 21st century – which is the essence of the African transformation. Africans across the continent mentally broke down their colonial boundaries and rallied, with hope and optimism, around the Ghanaian team as though one united African team. In this encounter of performance and conflict, Ghana with a very young team matched the best qualities of a society with massive resources. Although the US team was drawn from a reservoir of a new multiculturalism, these US players could not match the Africans in ‘in athleticism, stamina and never-say-die spirit.’

Indeed, Pan-Africanism, fractals and the African optimism were on display. This was neither the Africa of colonial times nor the Africa synonymous with ‘failed states.’ It is the Africa of a much forgotten but glorious past. It is the true Africa that only we Africans knew existed and persisted, even as torrential tribulations attempted to diminish the sounds of men and women beating drums, the harmonious ululations of our mothers, the contagious laughter of children, and the breeze sighing through a conserved nature. As the young black stars of Ghana were playing, the commentaries of the North American commentators were so nauseating that one would not believe that there were two teams of humans playing. Ghana won and this postcard pays homage to the victory. As Asamoah Gyan said before the world about the defeat of the USA, ‘We’ve done it before …Ghana’s one of the best of the World Cup – not for Ghana alone, but for Africa.’

This was the Pan-African statement of the World Cup and the Postcard today is a tribute to the youths from all across Africa who held the banner of Africa in this World Cup. The World Cup not only provided an opportunity for Africa to shine but everywhere youths were singing the song of K’naan announcing the waving of the new flag of freedom. The optimism of a young Somali turned our attention from the hype about piracy to the promise to push for the cultural unity of Africa. Fifa, as an organisation integrated into the new forms of capital accumulation, sought to exploit this energy – but even in its plans for more profits it could not but embrace the spirit of optimism that came from the ground in Africa. Hence, the official slogan for the Fifa World Cup 2010 reads ‘Ke Nako. Celebrate Africa’s Humanity.’

It is time for the rest of the world to acknowledge and celebrate Africa’s friendliness and warmth. But much like the intricate design on the official football ‘Jabulani’, the implications and the opportunities presented here are far more complex than the question of who will emerge with the Cup.


The World Cup in South Africa is exposing another aspect of African optimism to the world. Central to this optimism is a worldview that comes from the fact that Africans see themselves as part of nature and hence developed the geometry of nature known as fractals. We are told that Jabulani is composed of eleven colors. Besides the fact that this ball happens to be the eleventh Adidas World Cup ball, the colors, we are told, ‘represent the eleven players on each team, the eleven official languages of South Africa and the eleven ethnicities in diverse South Africa. Four triangle shaped design elements also lend the ball a unique appearance in African spirit.’ The combination of these colors creates an aesthetically pleasing football and for a second, simplicity overwhelms intricacy and we forget that we are looking at fractals, one of Africa’s most valuable contributions to the rest of the world.

A fractal is a geometric shape that exists in nature with certain characteristics that are universal to different shaped fractals. These are self-similarity, recursion, scaling and infinity. The adoption and elaboration of fractals by Africans is evident in many domains of daily life. These iterative shapes and colors are to be found in all areas of cultural expression, especially with the booming cultural forces of the World Cup. Magazines, films, posters and other media are exposing the intricate patterns of fractals in this period. The simplest form of fractal use is visible in Africa with hair, clothing and other decorative design patterns. African women expose this intricate geometry in their braids. One step above was the adoption of fractal design as a method of organising the village and the houses. Similar houses (self similarity) often followed circular or triangular paths, significant areas in the village often had the same design but used scaling, as they were slightly larger than the surrounding houses. The use of fractals as means of organising the village seemed to be very effective for daily activities and many more villages in proximity often adopted fractals. Fractals are also credited to have served a crucial role in the development of mathematics, with distinguished scholars and researchers such as Dr Ron Eglash going as far as claiming that the use of fractal mathematics led to the invention of modern computing since Euclidean geometric language was unable to describe fractals.

Finally Africans also adopted fractals as means of social organisation. They understood the characteristics of fractals and thus the separate development of the individual did not complement the system. Fractals require sharing and cooperation. That Michael Essein and Didier Drogba are superstars according to the western media and according to the market for soccer players does not detract from the fact that they come from communities where the individual is linked to an elaborate system of totems, clans, ancestors, spirits and lineages. The individual in turn sought to insert himself/herself as part of a larger fractal in a bottom-up system, wherein each individual was self-similar (thus equal) but understood his or her role within the bigger picture (concept of Ubuntu and acknowledgment of each other’s humanity.)

While these systems of social organisation based on fractals might seem strange for those steeped into competition and individualism, the World Cup presents exactly this opportunity for Africans to manifest these values that have remained internalised even with the dominance of Western values. The core element of cooperation has been evident from the Black Stars and although young, they were representing the free spirit of Africa. It was a representation that was promising the world that once this free spirit is let loose; we will have another concept of humans.


Far from seeing sport as an aspect of the cultural life of a society, commentators from Europe understand sport as a continuation of war. These war metaphors were being used constantly by journalists from the Western media and were much in evidence in the commentaries on the game between Germany and England. With war as the metaphor for politics one reporter said that the game between Germany and England was ‘another kind of history that gives the encounter its edge… That is the history written by guns and tanks and trenches, in towns and cities laid to waste, and in the millions of dead from World Wars I and II.’

John Burns, one of those correspondents who have been embedded with US troops in Iraq, wrote a piece before the game entitled, ‘England vs. Germany: Everyone Mentions War’. The British media certainly took the defeat of Britain as if this were war.

From the Argentinians there was another reminder that sports and politics can be a space for promoting peace and truth. This was reflected when the Argentinian team made their statement on the history of militarism and murder in South America. This team coached by Diego Maradona held a banner at the World Cup calling for the for the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

These mothers are like the mothers of millions in the Congo and the Sudan. In this case, these Argentinians who have been tenacious in exposing state violence are the mothers of young men and women who ‘disappeared’ during the Dirty War carried out by the Argentine Military Junta between 1976 and 1983. The Argentinean players were reminding the world that they were not only cultural representatives of their society; they were also ambassadors for peace and change. Thus when millions watched Argentina playing, they were witnessing young persons who also had a commitment to truth and peace.

Commentators in Europe want to have the final say on this sport. The Anglo-American media is replete with recriminations from within Europe over the fact that so-called power houses of soccer (meaning former colonial overlords) England, France and Italy were eliminated in this tournament. On one side some say it is only a game but in France and Britain there is so much trauma that it is as if there has been a natural disaster.

In France, a society that won the World Cup in 1998 with youths from all parts of the African world, the political leadership rewarded these youths with a new bout of xenophobia to the point where there have been uprisings in France against racism. Yet, despite the chauvinism and racism of the political leadership in France, the society cannot understand the reasons for the implosion of the French soccer team. France has taken its defeat at the hands of South Africa so badly that President Nicolas Sarkozy called crisis ministerial meetings on the French World Cup debacle. The daily Le Monde went further, drawing parallels between this ‘strange defeat’ and another, on the front lines of 1940.

We are told that there was an extraordinary session of the French Parliament where the parliamentarians declared that the humiliation of France in the World Cup was about far more than sports: ‘This isn't just about football, it's about France: It's our honor that's at stake…For the French, this is about more than sports. It's a blow to the national honour at a time when the country is already worried about its decline in the world. Football-proud England and Italy, too, are wondering whether their World Cup failures are glitches or a sign of a broader malaise.’

Africans are wondering when the same France will call a national symposium on racism against French citizens of African descent.

From the other side of the planet Africans shared the yearnings of their South American brothers and sisters, this is the yearning for peace. The yearning for peace and reconstruction in Latin America cannot be separated from the revolutionary fervour that is sweeping Latin America. Four of the last eight in the quarter-finals of the World Cup are from this region of revolution. In these four societies, Argentina Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, the democratic struggles are intense. African players in the World Cup shared this yearning for revolutionary change and will not begrudge the South Americans. African youths share with the youths from Latin America the desire for change. These youths did not unfurl banners as the Argentines did, but in their determination to promote another image of Africa, they were making a statement on the celebration of life in Africa.


It has always been the African way to hide intricacy under simplicity. For South Africa, and in turn Africa, the World Cup isn’t just a football tournament or a great economic opportunity. In the past, when the United States, Europe and Asia hosted the World Cup, they showed the world their technological prowess, with state-of–the-art stadiums and artificial islands built specifically for the tournaments, sharing some of their culture along way. Of course, South Africa has also offered newly constructed world-class stadiums and transit systems such as the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town and Soccer City in Johannesburg or Gautrain, a new 80km long high speed transit railway. Numerous commentators inside South have rightly drawn attention to the more than US$6b spent on the upgrade of the facilities to host this World Cup. South African sufferers have also opposed the corrupt system of contracting that has been mobilised by the political leaders who were once members of a liberation movement. Yet, in the midst of these contradictions, the people showed that when they were being called upon to show Africa on the world stage they would find the elements of ubuntu that are being sidelined by neo-liberal capitalism.

It is this ubuntu that has been on display in a culture filled with abundant hospitality and vibrancy, because at the end of the day South Africa and Africa’s best resources are, in fact, its people. What differentiates us Africans is our ability to smile through hardships and challenges. It is the same philosophy that has crossed the ocean to the Caribbean islands, to the United States and to South America where Pan-African communities, despite their socio-economic status, celebrate Carnivals, Jazz and Capoeira and do almost everything with a smile. A smile is a reflection of one’s essence, and the African spirit is one defined by hope and forgiveness.

Regardless of past and present sufferings and oppressions, the African attitude has always remained one of healing and reconciliation. We needn’t go far to get an example of the role of this concept of social organisation.


Exactly one month before the game between Ghana and the United States the people of Ghana had held a major celebration of the centenary of the life of Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was the first leader of an independent Ghana and he was tireless in his support for unity and freedom in Africa. Nkrumah had tapped into the spirit of freedom and independence but the forces of oppression intervened to remove Nkrumah after these same forces supported the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

The Ghanaian players who were on the field on 26 June came from a society that was rehabilitating the spirit and energy of Nkrumah. This energy can be seen with the flags, banners and black stars that were being unfurled across the society. It was the memory of Nkrumah and the role of the CIA in the overthrow of peace that gave the match between Ghana and the US ‘another kind of history that gives the encounter its edge’. Asamoah Gyan scored the winning goal three minutes into overtime giving the Black Stars the historic victory. It was in the overtime that the stamina of the youths was displayed even more. But from the start of the game, the youths from Ghana wanted to make a clear statement. In the fifth minute of the game Kevin Prince Boateng signalled the edge of Ghana when he placed the ball into the net and gave Ghana the lead. The US came back in the 62nd minute of the game when they were awarded a penalty. After this, the game was tied at the end of ninety minutes. It was during the overtime that the young Africans showed their tenacity and fitness.

This is how the analyst started his reflection in the New York Times on the victory of the young Black Starts over the US team: ‘There were two teams in this compelling contest at Rustenburg. As difficult as it was for the United States to go out in such a fashion, the importance of Ghana’s young, brave and ultimately undeniable victory has ramifications for the World Cup as a whole.’ The commentator then detailed the grace, speed, skill and dignity of the Ghanaians as they outplayed the USA.


Ghana has reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Ghana and Uruguay will play for a place in the World Cup semi-finals at Soccer City in Johannesburg on 2 July. The Black Stars of Ghana will be demonstrating not just prowess but politics and psychology. They are bidding to become the first African side to reach the semi-finals of the tournament, while former champions Uruguay are hoping to make it to the last four for the first time since 1970. Win or lose the Black Stars have done Africa proud. At the wake of the match on 26 June, Africans across the continent and in the diaspora put away their national flags and waved one flag with dignity for the continent. After Ghana’s victory, African youths used social media network such as facebook to express their Pan-African feelings. One citizen of Tanzania asserted on facebook that he would prefer to be called a TanzGhanian. This is the spirit of Pan-Africanism being lived through the energy of the youths that would liberate the continent in this century.

We cannot agree with Terry Eagleton that football is simply a friend of capitalism. Capital attempts to turn everything into a commodity. But Africans who were treated as commodities during slavery understand that even when capitalism seeks to dehumanise them, it is at the same moment when there is an intensification of the struggles against capitalism. The African youths and their South African counterparts are playing on the field while struggling for change. This is the essence of struggling on many fronts. Drums, vuvuzelas, beautiful colors and innumerable shades of humans from all continents are celebrating not only the beautiful game, but life itself. Blow the vuvuzuelas!