Aside from politics, nowhere in Africa is the intersection between juju and groups more pronounced than soccer. From high schools to professional soccer teams, juju is heavily appropriated, so much so that it obscures tactics, efficiency, technicalities, discipline and team work. Though there are no official figures, millions of dollars are spent on juju supposedly to help soccer teams win their tournaments every year. But yet most do not win and yet they go back to the juju mediums all the time. It is like being hooked on illicit drug, they can’t extricate themselves from juju, to their detriment.
But gradually as the debate to refine inhibitions within the Ghanaian/African culture (of which juju is one aspect) gains momentum and higher reasoning and rationality battle irrationality, strange and erroneous thinking, the cultural inhibitions are under siege. It is in this atmosphere that one of Ghana’s and Africa’s top soccer clubs, the Fabulous Kumasi Asante Kotoko, founded in 1935, have come to the conclusion that juju and other such African native spiritual practices are charade, irrational, wasteful and counter-productive.
In a way, Kotoko has “banned” juju from its operations. I was surprised to read Kotoko’s action. “Really,” I said to myself. Such actions also embolden Ghanaian/African enlightenment thinkers, who are campaigning to refine the inhibitions within the African culture, to push on. For any small step, in this direction, no matter where it comes from, such as Kotoko’s, is highly welcomed and further enrich the enlightenment campaigns.
The reasons for such radical conclusion from Kotoko managers are that the proud Kotoko didn’t do well and was nearly relegated in the 2009/2010 premier soccer season, that Kotoko spent nearly US$1-million on juju in the 2009/2010 season to no avail, and that despite all these juju dipping the level of motivation among Kotoko players was abysmally low to the point self-destruction. Kotoko’s comeuppance has come from such awful experiences and it has opened Kotoko to enlightenment.
Shaken to disbelieve, the Accra-based Daily Guide reported that “The newly appointed Kotoko Board of Directors, led by Dr. K.K. Sarpong, has stated that it has no interest in voodoo known in local parlance as ‘juju’, and would not spend the club’s money on ‘juju’ to win matches in the coming seasons.”
Kotoko’s ancient dabbling in juju emanates from the Ghanaian/African culture. Kotoko’s new found enlightenment reminds me of an interesting article I read weeks before the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The author, a South African who sounds like an academic, suggested that either African juju mediums should use their craft to charm other non-African national teams to play bad for the six African teams to win hands down or individual African teams should seek the assistance of juju mediums to win the World Cup. (He failed to mention how the juju will work when two African teams play each other).
He recalled with seriousness how juju has been used in ancient African wars and other African endeavours and it is time juju is used by the African teams to win the World Cup. Anything like planning, tactics, discipline, efficiency and team work were minimized, or absent from the piece. After much laughter, I said to myself, here, Africa is moving backwards, the irrational outweighing the rational.
Whether Kotoko’s management enlightenment will have effect on individual players is different question in a culture where the players are socialized into juju and other such irrational beliefs. As a student at Kumasi High School (fondly called Kuhis), soccer-mad and one of Ghana’s top soccer schools, the intersection between juju and soccer was part of the soccer culture. In my years at Kuhis, during soccer matches, students were virtually forced to contribute money for juju rituals for the school to win games.
It doesn’t matter whether one belief in juju or not, one has to pay. The amusing part was that even the self-righteous “born again Christians” have to pay – you dare not refuse. Some of the top Kuhis players such as Simon Awuah (Sibo) and Albert Adade (Father) later played for top clubs Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko respectively. Before playing for these teams their minds had already been prepared, like other similar Ghanaian players.
Kotoko’s boss, Dr. Sarpong, wants the large amount of money used for juju used to “motivate” players, improve management and develop soccer infrastructure. That’s pretty sensible. And Dr. Sarpong is aware of the psychological implications of banning juju in a culture that has socialized the players and supporters into such beliefs. And to answer such implications, in a highly superstitious society of Ghana’s, Dr. Sarpong made it clear that “Kotoko fans that have firm belief in ‘juju’ could go ahead to do it at their own expense for the club. “They should not come to me for money for ‘juju.” That’s realistic, but it puts Dr. Sarpong’s thinking in a quandary.
And that makes Dr. Sarpong’s Kotoko enlightenment scheme limited, for whether Kotoko itself uses juju or supporters use juju to help Kotoko or individual players use juju, in the final analysis, Kotoko is using juju – it doesn’t matter where the juju is coming from. That makes the logical and the material in harmony, which in the Dr. Sarpong’s reasoning, shouldn’t be so – the juju shouldn’t mix with technicalities, discipline, tactics, efficiency and team work. Supposedly, to do so is to undermine Dr. Sarpong’s Kotoko enlightenment project.
For, the juju appropriation needn’t necessarily come from only Dr. Sarpong’s management; it could come from anybody – players, hardcore supporters and individual fans for Kotoko. Now come to think of Kotoko and Ghana in Dr. Sarpong’s thinking, Kotoko’s juju dilemma is a microcosm of the struggle Ghanaian/African enlightenment campaigners are going through – how to minimize the inhibitions within the culture and free the people for greater progress.
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