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Use Football Tournament for “peacebuilding, unity”, Cameroonian Archbishop Tells Citizens

Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Cameroon's Bamenda Archdiocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Archbishop of Cameroon’s Archdiocese of Bamenda has called on citizens to use the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) that the Central African nation is hosting for peacebuilding and unity.

In a Tuesday, January 11 interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Andrew Nkea said, “The Africa Cup of Nations has come to us at a very good time, when there is a lot of tension around.”

“But it is very important to note that football is a game of unity. Football is a game of fraternity and football is a game of love and sharing,” Archbishop Nkea told ACI Africa on the sidelines of the 45th Seminar of the Catholic Bishops of Cameroon held in Ngaoundere Diocese.

The Cameroonian Archbishop continued, “My message to the Cameroonian people is that we should use the Africa Cup of Nations in our country as a time of unity, and as a time for building peace because we have known a lot of fighting; we have known a lot of hatred.”

Cameroon is hosting the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), the 2022 competition that has brought together 24 countries that qualified for the tournament. 

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The competition is taking place at a time when the two English speaking regions of the Central African country, the North West and the South West, are in a protracted conflict that was sparked by a protest involving lawyers and teachers in 2016. 

An armed separatists’ movement claiming independence for the so-called republic of Ambazonia emerged following the government’s crackdown on the protests.

In the January 11 interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Nkea highlighted the importance of peace and fraternity throughout the football tournament.

“This is a time of fraternity; this is the time of togetherness and this is the time for peacebuilding so that we can give a good image of our country and of ourselves to the rest of the world,” the Archbishop of Cameroon’s Bamenda Archdiocese said.

He went on to implore, “May the Lord guide and protect our people and our visitors throughout this competition.”

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The 45th seminar of the Bishops of Cameroon that kicked off January 9 with Holy Mass is being held under the theme, “The National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon: Her Missions in Church and Society.”

Speaking at the official opening ceremony Monday, January 10, the President of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC), Bishop Abraham Kome rejoiced at the holding of the African football jamboree in Cameroon.

“I rejoice with football lovers who since Sunday, January 9 have been living unforgettable moments with the official opening of the Africa Cup of Nations that our country is hosting,” Bishop Kome said.

He added, “This is a feast of encounters. We hope and pray that this tournament brings true reconciliation between sons and daughters of our continent and may Cameroon come out of the competition elevated.”

Meanwhile,  a Cameroonian Catholic Priest ministering in Chad has called for a stadium boycott of Afcon, faulting his native country that is hosting the continental football tournament for not paying keen attention to human dignity.

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“Cameroon has become a very repressive country. Football is not more important than human dignity,” Fr. Ludovic Lado told ACI Africa January 10.

He said, “I simply invite Cameroonians who care about human dignity to boycott stadium in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the bushes in the North West and South West regions and with those jailed in violation of human rights and public liberties.”

The Jesuit Priest who serves at the Centre for Studies and Training for Development (CEFOD) in Chad further said, “It is time football and sport at large begin to pay attention to human rights issues.”