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An insider's view of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon

Posted: 6 February 2017 Time: 19:20

KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo paints a picture of his experiences of Gabon as his coverage of the 2017 African Nations Cup draws to a close.

Just over a week has passed since I arrived in Gabon for my first ever visit to this tropical rainforest country.

The expected challenge of communication has prevailed due to my severe limitations in French, which is the official language of communication in this nation whose long stretch of incomplete buildings has caught my immediate attention from Libreville to Port Gentil down to deep in the equatorial forest in Franceville.

Apparently the reason for these unfinished concrete structures is that someone ‘ate or ran away’ with the tender money abandoning the project before its completion.

What is shocking is that these incomplete buildings are then just left standing like that for eternity.

Getting into Gabon from Johannesburg via commercial flights is courtesy of an SAA flight to Cotonou, Benin which stops over in Libreville before proceeding over the Gulf of Guinea into West Africa.

The state of the airport in Libreville named after the country’s first president Leon Mba provides the first hint of the ‘downgrade’ in general conditions which will greet you for most of your stay in this country whose currency is the XAF (Central African Franc).

The XAF is a currency used across six countries across Central Africa – Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville). It trades at one Rand to 23 XAF.

Standard fast food franchises like KFC, Nandos and McDonalds just don’t exist in this part of the world where a movie house is also not known.

For those with alcoholic preferences, Regab is the local beer of choice with whisky and brandy also available though the options are obviously dependant on the size of your wallet. Gabon is generally considered to be expensive in this regard.

Then the fact that in this country they drive on the right takes some getting used to whether you are on the steering wheel or a mere pedestrian looking to cross the streets.

On weekends the beach front in Libreville is always lively with alcohol sold freely like soft drinks because from what I gathered public drinking is not a crime. They have thirsty throats here and know how to gulp!

The main shopping centre in the capital city is called Mbolo and it is actually a supermarket surrounded by tiny shops.

Despite the construction of all the stadiums in this country football is dead, with the local top-flight league said to be wallowing in crisis leaving doubts to what will happen with all the stadiums that have been built.

Port Gentil – where a beautiful stadium has been built – has no football team worth making noise about besides groups that meet for weekend games.

Linked to the rest of the country by a 25-minute flight or four hours on a boat, Port Gentil is the place where I heard South African house band Mi-Casa blasting out from the car of a guy who told me that he studied in Cape Town.

Inland is a place I prefer to refer to as a growth point as it doesn’t qualify to be referred to as a town. It is called Franceville and truth be told it has a dungeon feel to it situated between a stretch of hills separated by rivers right in the middle of the rainforest.

Besides the impressive stadium and few hotels built ahead of the 2012 AFCON finals there is absolutely nothing else that looks good on the eye. It is a place where there is absolutely nothing happening besides the sight of the green vegetation which would leave anyone from a farming region green with envy. The place is either hot and humid or just raining.

Gabon is also the land of a man called Ali Bongo – the Gabonese president who is far from being as popular as his late father Omar Bongo who the locals still claim was actually adopted in Nigeria as a child.

Story for another day.

Au revoir!
Lovemore Moyo was in Gabon courtesy of SuperSport

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