No amount of grandstanding or attempt to divert attention with some feeble explanation will erase the ignominy of Zambia’s failure to qualify to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
It’s no longer news to remind ourselves this is a third consecutive failed attempt at a competition we once thought was a birthright. Records show we have made 17 trips out of 32 editions.
With 17 appearances, 7 less than table-toppers Egypt, Zambia accounts for three final appearances translating into one gold medal in 2012 and two silver medals (in 1974 and 1994). There are three bronze medals on this road meaning Chipolopolo has made it six times to the last four of the 32 editions held so far.
Add to that pedigree, a 1988 African Footballer of the Year and two African Young Player of the Year 2007 and 2017. No country south of the equator, with the exception of Cameroon, can boast of such a record.
Even the DRC with 19 appearances and two gold medals at the competition are a few steps away from Zambia’s medal record.
This is why missing out on the Africa Cup, not once, not twice but three times is unacceptable and plain demonstration of failure by those charged with the responsibility to steer the ship.
Since 2017, the ticket to the Africa Cup of Nation has become as elusive as the World Cup journey where we are now all dreaming a maiden appearance at the Qatar 2022 tournament will be a redemptive moment.
That’s a far-fetched dream. It’s possible, yes. And that’s what we are all looking forward to. But logically looking at the dynamics of the race, reality suggest otherwise.
We just failed to make it to a tournament where 24 teams from 48 sailed through to Cameroon. We are counting on 5 available places to Qatar. There are 44 teams competing, one in 10 groups will make it to the third round where the five will be determined after a knock-out stage.
The path to the World Cup is tougher than the Africa Cup of Nations route was. Actuarial scientists, bookmakers or betting specialists must be laughing at us for raising our hopes a bar higher than our current status.
But they say impossible is nothing in football. So, never say never as this same team can spring a surprise. While that surprise is possible, our hopes must be measured in approach lest we record more heartaches.
In the wake of Zambia’s failure to reach Cameroon 2021 (delayed to next year), football discourse is awash with varying opinions.
This discourse largely centers on former FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya and his successor Andrew Kamanga with supporters of both figures punching holes in each other’s arguments.
Yet this shouldn’t be the case in a decent country. Zambia’s football did not start with these two individuals. And it will not end with these two either.
Some of the ensuing arguments are highly misleading, baseless and without an iota of fact or truth to justify such positions.
If anything, there seems to be a worrisome growing tendency in Zambia — be it on the political front or sports — of condemning everything and anything that someone you perhaps dislike is doing or has done while ignoring the good such a one has delivered.
Confused? Explained differently, if you love someone in a position of power, especially because of the freebies they throw in your way, chances are that you will praise them even when they have clearly failed.
Sometimes, when you criticize those in power, they’ll actually label you “bitter” or “disgruntled” all because you’re telling them the bitter truth!
So, Zambians seem to have long departed from speaking to issues but rather personalities in charge of something they either like or detest.
Little wonder the issue following Zambia’s failure to qualify is no longer about ills of what happened and why we are in this position.
It’s now been reduced to football cadres at the opposite ends throwing filth at each other and anyone in between is caught up in this name calling. There’s no middle ground.
A cluster of followers are not interrogating why our football is in this state. Instead, it’s an issue of Kalusha this, Kalusha that or indeed Andrew Kamanga this or Andrew Kamanga that.
Talking to the issues that have afflicted our game has become secondary! And if you dare talk, you’re called names because of what you say!
If Kalusha Bwalya was the one in charge of football, how would Andrew Kamanga himself describe what has happened to us today; success or failure?
Let’s momentarily remove the two individuals mentioned and ask ourselves these questions: Is failing to qualify for the Africa Cup three times in a row failure or success?
If it were any other person in charge of our football aside these two, would failing to go to the Africa Cup be seen as failure or success?
But supporters, better still cadres, on the either end of these two personalities, even tend to have memories shorter than 24 hours and don’t ask themselves this question: are we happy with the state of our football whether it’s Andrew Kamanga in charge or Kalusha Bwalya?
If it were a Mubuna Mubuna in charge of FAZ, and posted the current record, what would we have been saying?
The point is that there have been so many former FAZ presidents who have been called out all because Zambia was massacred at tournaments. Take the massacre of Bobo-Dioulasso, for instance, when Egypt wired us 4-0 at the Africa Cup group stage.
That 1998 dismal performance caused mayhem in football administration forcing second Republican president Frederick Chiluba to intervene.
There have been instances when football fans have sung in unison and addressed unsatisfactory results all because Zambia was eliminated in the first round of the Africa Cup!
Indeed, there have also been former FAZ presidents who have called for an elective FAZ AGM months earlier and decided not to seek re-election because during their executive’s tenure, Zambia had failed to qualify to the Africa Cup!
Just like in 1999, Zambia’s first ever appearance at the Under-20 World Cup came at a time when government was at loggerheads with the then FAZ executive.
In fact, from time immemorial, successive FAZ executives have been known to fall out with governments yet in the most difficult of situations, they have scored successes and not failing to qualify to the Africa Cup a record three times.
And if one claims the government doesn’t like their face or nose, why seek re-election altogether?
Service is to the country, not to self, therefore if those elected to supervise the general administration of the country are at variance with those in football, surely one must give in for the sake of the country especially if they are not producing results. And when in-charge of a national association, better be ready for scrutiny as well.
At the expense of being misunderstood, we have previously taken unpopular positions in our journalism paths because we have called things for their real names.
History will remember us for taking on the Kalusha Bwalya-led executive committee. Some certain former FAZ presidents wouldn’t even pick our calls when we were critical of them. And when they did good, we acknowledge.
When suspected shoddy deals were cut, we exposed them, we interrogated them—we asked the pertinent questions. That has been our own little way of being consistent to serving the beautiful game.
And we don’t intend to change our standpoint because of the name of the person in charge of our football at any particular point.
Failure is failure and success should be success. The two can’t be transposed regardless of who is in charge of our football.
Mediocrity or success should not take a different shape or name all because we like or dislike the person offering us a service in their leadership role.
Failure to qualify to the Africa Cup once is failure. Twice is failure. Three times is cumulative failure that should concern every football loving Zambian. And we must strive to offer solutions.
Arguments suggesting Zambian football must be delinked from politics are laughable—if not sad to entertain—because such a theory can’t even exist in a vacuum.
Saying so is no different from attempting to borrow funds from the bank at your terms. Impossible! It can’t happen. The bank will dictate the amount you borrow even when you will pay them back with interest based on your capacity.
Politics and football are intertwined in Africa. FAZ is a grant aided association with national team sponsorship wholly undertaken by the Zambian government.
As such, the National Budget presented in Parliament includes a fraction of the Chipolopolo funding and also a monthly allocation to FAZ. That in itself factors politics into football.
FAZ officials are themselves members of various political parties in the country. Take for instance, FAZ ethics committee member Kizzy Moonga who is vying for adoption on the UPND ticket in Mazabuka. That is politics.
There are others we may not know, but are actively participating in the national politics ahead of the August 2021 polls.
So, there is no way under the sun that football can be delinked from politics because seeking office to administer the sport requires a process of electioneering which in itself is highly political.
In addition to national team funding, majority of teams in the Super Division and Division One are directly or indirectly funded by the government whose activities are regulated by politics.
Forget delinking politics from football as a panacea to Zambia’s current woes. If you want to that to happen, make the national team, FAZ and the league financially self-sustaining and we wish you luck with that.
What cadres (yes, cadres are on both sides of the aisle, not just one that is calling failure what it is) should be discussing is how we will recover from this disaster and if possible qualify to the World Cup in 2022 and the Africa Cup in 2023 and ensure we win it.
If we are to consider why we have failed especially on the 2021 hurdle, inconsistence on the technical bench ranks high among those reasons.
The firing of Wedson Nyirenda was ill-timed and ill-advised. Nyirenda had started to stabilize Chipolopolo and oversaw the transition of the golden generation (class of 2012) to the rising stars (class of 2017).
But misguided soccer fans, allowed some modicum of room to play football in the corridors of Football House, helped Nyirenda out.
With five coaches in five years, it surely was going to haunt us as the case has been. And we can’t blame the government for that!
The best is to admit we have failed and pick the pieces up hoping to rediscover our winning ways and dominant force on the continent and not missing out at a tournament the likes of Malawi, Comoros, Gambia and even Mauritania will be parading their non-entities.
When football records are written, they will not remember how much integrity, transparency (if any) one brought to Football House.
Soccer fans at Soweto market don’t care about that (but that’s not to say we are encouraging thieves at Football House).
It will also be hard to remember how many Cosafa tournaments Zambia won at different levels but how many major tournaments we qualified to and eventually won. No one remembers the bridesmaids, just bana bwinga na bashi bwinga.
Dear friends, it’s plainly embarrassing we can’t make a 24 team tournament when we were perennial envoys at 8, 12 and later 16 team Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
NOTE: The authors of this article have a combined sports journalism career spanning over 41 years and have covered the national team both local and internationally.