The atmosphere in Lomé, the Togolese capital, is morose. Two Togolese were killed after an attack on a bus carrying the national team by rebels of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), last Friday. The bus was sprayed with bullets as it crossed the border between Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, host country of the 2010 African Cup of Nations (CAN-2010). The government has decided to cancel the Hawks’ participation in the games and called them back to Togo where a three day national mourning will be observed, starting Monday.
The shock wave reached its climax on Saturday, after the Togolese learned about the death of Abalo Amétélé, the assistant coach Hubert Velud, hit by a bullet in the stomach, and the press secretary, Stan Ocloo, who also succumbed to injuries sustained during the attack. The Angolan driver of the bus was also killed. The goalkeeper, Kodjovi Obilale (Pontivy club, France), shot in the lower back and abdomen, was evacuated to South Africa.
The news spread like wildfire in Togo. A mixture of shock and sadness could be seen on every face. "I am depressed by the news. I cannot understand what happened," says Mama Togo, President of the Togolese squad’s fan club, visibly shocked. "It is a wise decision taken by the Government to call back the players. I do not know if they can offer anything in this state," said Mark De Souza, a Hawks supporter.
History has seemingly repeated itself. "A few years ago, Togo lost more than twenty men in the Lungi crash in Sierra Leone. The wound from that incident has not been healed… and another tragedy hits us. It’s terrible!" says a young supporter from the Kodjoviakopé neighbourhood, where Manchester City striker, Emmanuel Adebayor, lived.
A painful withdrawal
Saturday, Togo decided to withdraw its team from the African Cup of Nations in Angola after the bloody attack. Minister of Territorial Administration and spokesman of the government, Pascal Bodjona, said during a news conference in Lome that the country "cannot continue the CAN competition under these circumstances." He added: "The Hawks are expected to arrive in Lome in the coming hours." This decision was confirmed Sunday by the Togolese authorities, despite the team’s desire to compete.
The Togolese team’s decision to take part in the games is due to their desire to honor the memory of the victims of the attack. "It’s a decision that was taken almost unanimously by the group… after having been reassured by the Angolan authorities,” they said. Alaixys Romao, Togolese midfielder from Grenoble, believes that the team should fight on till the end in tribute to the victims. "People died for this CAN, others are injured. We cannot abandon them and quit like cowards. If we stay here, it is for them. And also not satisfy the rebels. Our government does not necessarily agree with us but we are all determined to play in this competition," he said. "Our hearts are broken and it is no longer a party but we want to fight for our country, our values and prove that we are men," Thomas Dossevi (FC Nantes striker) said.
The Togolese government has officially requested an apology from the CAF for the statements, which it deems "thoughtless in light of the seriousness of the attack" perpetrated last Friday on the Togolese team. Sunday morning, they confirmed the cancellation of the Hawks’ participation in the 2010 Nations Cup . "The team must return. The government’s decision remains unchanged," said the Prime Minister of Togo, Fossoun Gilbert Houngbo.
The withdrawal of the national team from the competition has disappointed many. "It’s the first time the team has managed to solve its financial problems and won all its matches… then this!" laments Aimé Ekpe, director of the Togolese bimonthly sports magazine, L’Equipe Sportive. The Togolese authorities’ decision is irreversible. A three day national mourning in tribute to the "Martyrs of Cabinda" begins on Monday.