China’s Stadium Diplomacy: A Zambian Perspective

By | January 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment

New_Lusaka_stadium

Guest Post by *Hikabwa Chipande

“If you want to see the heart of China’s soft-power push into Africa,” writes Elliot Ross in a recent piece for Sports Illustrated’s “Roads & Kingdoms” series, “you’ll find it in the continent’s new soccer stadia.”

I am one of the many Zambians saddened that most of our national team matches are now staged at the Chinese-built Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola, an industrial town on the Copperbelt 200 miles north of the capital, Lusaka. This is not only because I live in Lusaka, where the team used to play its home games, but also because the move greatly diminishes, if not erases, the deeper significance of historic football venues.

It was in Lusaka’s then-newly constructed Independence Stadium on October 23, 1964, that the Union Jack was lowered and the new Zambian flag raised at midnight in a sumptuous ceremony attended by the Princess Royal and Kenneth Kaunda’s new cabinet. The following day, the stadium hosted the final of the Ufulu (independence) tournament. Ghana’s Black Stars, reigning African champions, beat Zambia 3-2 in front of about 18.000 spectators.  From then on, almost all important international matches (as well as domestic cup finals) were played at Independence Stadium, a local example of how stadiums in postcolonial Africa, “quickly became almost sacred ground for the creation and performance of national identities” (Alegi, African Soccerscapes, p. 55).

Occasionally, Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium in Ndola hosted big matches. Constructed by the Ndola Playing Fields Association during the colonial era, this ground was rechristened in honor of the Swedish Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in 1961 in a plane crash near Ndola. After the British colony of Northern Rhodesia became independent Zambia, the stadium was donated to the Ndola City Council.  As the largest stadium in the Copperbelt, the traditional hub of football in the country, it hosted virtually every important  match in the region.

In January 1986, the Zambian government bought into the idea of hosting the 1988 African Nations Cup finals. Mary Fulano, then a member of the Central Committee in charge of sport, informed the public that the government had started renovating both Independence and Dag Hammarskjöld stadiums.  But in December 1986, after Dag Hammarskjöld stadium had been demolished for its planned reconstruction, Youth and Sport minister Frederick Hapunda announced that government had withdrawn its bid to host the 1988 tournament.

Copperbelt residents complained that they needed their beloved stadium, but the government kept on issuing empty promises. Surprisingly, two decades later, when an opportunity arose to build a new stadium in Ndola courtesy of China, the Zambian government opted for a completely new Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in a different area, thereby burying the rich history of Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium.

In 2012, I attended the inauguration of the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium: a 2014 World Cup qualifier between Zambia and Ghana (see my blog post about it here). The atmosphere at the venue was similar to the one described by Elliot Ross at the Estádio Nacional do Zimpeto in Maputo. Unlike the game in Maputo, however, there was no pushing and shoving at Levy Mwanawasa, thanks to plenty of available space  and sound event management.  But the stadium was so vast that the crowd could not sing and chant cohesively, or create the electrifying atmosphere so many of us treasure at football grounds.

The ignominuous end for Independence Stadium in Lusaka came after FIFA inspectors in 2007 declared it unsafe for international matches.  As a temporary solution, the Football Association of Zambia moved internationals to Nkonkola Stadium in a small mining town on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bolstered by another Chinese loan, the Zambian government then erected a new National Heroes Stadium directly across from Independence Stadium and the graves of national team members who perished in the Gabon air crash of 1993.

The demolition of Independence Stadium prompted many people to wonder why the government chose not to renovate the hallowed ground and build the Chinese-funded stadium somewhere else in Lusaka. While younger Zambians tend to like the new sporting arenas, many older fans lament the disappearance of stadiums they associate with the stories of their personal lives, their memory, their past.

Regardless of age and status, Zambians are very much aware of “Chinese soft diplomacy.” People know that Chinese stadiums have less to do with friendship or mutual cooperation and more with gaining access to Africa’s material resources. Yet there is very little that can be done about it because the government does not consult with citizens on economic deals with China. There is criticism about Chinese firms bringing very cheap laborers to work in construction sites. But there seems to be a general feeling among the population that it is acceptable for the Chinese to build stadiums and other infrastructure in exchange for copper because the alternative is allowing Zambia’s political leaders to pocket the profits from this wealth. 


*Hikabwa Chipande is a PhD candidate in History at Michigan State University. He is a recipient of the FIFA Havelange Research Scholarship for his doctoral dissertation on the social and political history of football in Zambia, 1950-1993. Follow him on Twitter at @HikabwaChipande

Football and Independence in Zambia

By | November 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment

Guest Post by *Hikabwa Chipande

LUSAKA—On a rainy Friday evening at the Pamodzi Hotel, Zambia Open University Professor Ackson Kanduza, president of the Southern African Historical Society, convened a forum based on my paper “Football and Independence in Zambia: A Political and Social History 1950s-1964.”

Part of my doctoral research on colonial and postcolonial Zambian football, the paper draws on archival, newspaper, and oral sources to argue that the changing culture of the African game influenced the anti-colonial nationalist struggle by fighting racial segregation and promoting African leaders to highly visible and prestigious administrative positions before independence.

In the early 1960s, colonial racism in then-Northern Rhodesia was still intense. Segregation kept Africans out of European-owned shops and forced black customers to shop through a window instead; Africans were not allowed to enter whites-only train carriages and buses; and jobs paying higher wages were reserved for whites.

But in 1961-62, black and liberal white businessmen founded the nonracial (racially mixed) National Football League. A black man, Tom Mtine, was named chairman of an otherwise white-dominated league executive. Two years prior to independence, the NFL permitted black players to be on the same teams as whites, and Africans were also allowed to represent the territory in international competitions. The emergence of black administrators like Tom Mtine and the game’s function as a “neutral” cultural form among people speaking 73 languages helped to assert black power as well as a sense of Zambian-ness that cannot be ignored in the history of Zambia.

An audience of both academics and members of the general public posed interesting questions and offered constructive comments. Most participants agreed with me that these sporting events signified an important step towards political freedom. Some noted that as Zambians celebrated their country’s 40th independence anniversary, my historical evidence about black leaders in football and the hosting of an international football tournament in 1964 to celebrate the nation’s birth would be highly appreciated by millions of Zambians. The discussion also grappled with the seemingly contradictory evidence that the British believed the game to be part of the “white man’s burden” while local people used it to fight colonial oppression.

“I did not know that our football has such a rich history,” said Pride Mwaanga; “I was wondering about the connection between football and independence, but now it makes sense!” Other participants asked why this rich history of Zambian football has not yet been explored. Echoing the conclusions of Marissa Moorman’s recent history of music and nationhood in the musseques (shantytowns) of colonial Luanda, Angola, audience members highlighted how, unlike anti-colonial political leaders, Zambian football administrators and players’ contributions to building the Zambian nation are not recognized in typical historical accounts.

Participants also stressed the need to publish biographies of past footballing greats such as “Ucar” Godfrey Chitalu, Dickson Makwaza, John “Ginger” Pensulo and many, many others. Professor Moses Musonda, Zambia Open University Deputy Vice Chancellor, pointed out that we need more scholars to research and write the history of football in Zambia, otherwise we are going to lose this valuable past.

Other interesting contributions came from Mrs. Kanduza and, again, from Prof. Musonda, who both gave testimonies of how they experienced leisure activities in welfare centers during the colonial era. These social centers played a critical role in the development of football. Prof. Musonda stated that Europeans enforced separate social institutions such as welfare halls to make sure that young Africans did not have the opportunity to challenge young Europeans in sport. Ironically, the same welfare centers and sporting facilities helped African men and women build their self-esteem and were later turned into avenues for political agitation.

Prof. Kanduza concluded the event by pointing out that a goal of the Zambia Open University is to organize forums that give opportunities to listen to unheard local voices. He highlighted how the research and discussion of “Football and Independence in Zambia” captures voices and conveys the historical experiences of African people through the prism of sport. The evening ended with a promise to organize more of these lively and insightful sessions in the near future.


*Hikabwa Chipande is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Michigan State University. He is currently in Lusaka researching the social, cultural and political history of football in colonial and postcolonial Zambia. Follow him on Twitter at @hikabwachipande

The French Disconnection: Zambia and Renard Part Company

By | October 8th, 2013 | 8 Comments

Guest Post by *Hikabwa D. Chipande (@HikabwaChipande)


LUSAKA––The Football Association of Zambia and Hervé Renard have parted company after the 2012 African Nations Cup winning coach signed with French Ligue 1 club Sochaux. FAZ communications officer Eric Mwanza made the announcement on Monday (October 7) after much speculation that the Frenchman was on his way out. Rumors had been flying around Lusaka that the Frenchman was interviewing for jobs overseas. He had also hinted a few months ago before the Zambia vs Ghana 2014 World Cup qualifier that if the team were to fail to make it to Brazil then he’d resign.

Although FAZ indicated it consulted with Renard and “agreed not to stand in his way,” many Zambians have received this decision with mixed feelings. Some wondered whether Renard had just managed to sweet-talk and dump the national team as he did in an earlier stint with Chipolopolo (copper bullets).

In 2008, Renard landed the Chipolopolo job after working as an assistant to his fellow Frenchman and mentor Claude Leroy, then head coach of the Ghanaian national team, the Black Stars. Renard led Chipolopolo to the quarterfinal of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, a result last achieved at the 1996 tournament in South Africa. In 2010, he left Chipolopolo for better paying Angola, but was soon fired after going four games without a win. After Angola, Renard moved on to coaching USM Alger.

Following the dismissal of Italian coach Dario Bonetti, the Football Association of Zambia announced on October 22, 2011, that Renard would return as coach of the national team on a one-year contract. Peter Makembo, patron of the Zambia Soccer Fans Association, seemed to speak for many local fans when he questioned the loyalty of the French manager. After hearing that Renard was being interviewed at FC Sochaux a few weeks ago, Makembo told Radio Ichengelo that, “as soccer fans we feel betrayed by Renard’s actions.”

However, Renard silenced all his critics in his second tenure at the helm of Chipolopolo by winning the 2012 African Nations Cup: Zambia’s first-ever continental crown. His charges dispatched favourites Senegal in the group stages and African powerhouses Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the semi-final and final respectively.

There is no doubt that Renard will remain one of the most respected and loved coaches in the history of Zambian football because of the African title he brought to the country. But some critics point out that he only came back when it suited him and that he reaped where he did not sow since Bonetti, whom he replaced, had done the groundwork for Chipolopolo’s success.

Other Zambians remarked that Renard came here as an inexperienced player and used Zambia to build his coaching resumè before leaving for greener pastures. This is a common phenomenon not only in African sport, but in donor-funded development projects too. Typically, “Western” volunteers arrive, are mentored by local men and women, and then return to their countries where they often become “experts” paid to supervise the Africans who originally taught them much of what they know.

The question remains: is there anything wrong in a European professional coming to an African country like Zambia to build his profile only to leave for a more prestigious, high-paying job? From my point of view, this is how things are and there is little we can do apart from getting used to it. We also need to be realistic and come to terms with the fact that inexperienced, ambitious coaches like Hervé Renard are what poorer countries like Zambia can attract and afford to pay. Few African nations can hire exaggeratedly expensive coaches like the Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, as South Africa did for the 2010 World Cup. (Interestingly, South Africa became the first host nation in World Cup history to be eliminated in the first round of the competition.)

From 2010 to 2013, Renard proved that he is a good coach by delivering what all previous Zambian skippers failed to do: win the African Nations Cup. Many Zambians argue that he is the best foreign coach Zambia has ever had, sometimes in tandem with Yugoslav Ante Buselic who took Chipolopolo to second place in the 1974 Nations Cup in Egypt. Without question, Renard will remain close to the hearts of millions of Zambian soccer fans for a very long time.

However, the Frenchman’s failure to defend the African title and Chipolopolo’s premature elimination from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers compelled FAZ to part ways with Renard. Luckily for Zambia, Renard’s new employers rejected his proposal of bringing his assistant Patrice Beaumelle, also French, to Sochaux. As a result, Beaumelle was chosen as interim head coach of the national team.

Depending on how the new Frenchman will command the Chipolopolo during the friendly match against Brazil in China in a few days’ time, he is likely to be confirmed as Renard’s permanent replacement. Zambians hope that Beaumelle will perform the same miracle as his predecessor, even if he’s only here to strengthen his coaching pedigree before moving on to the next level of world football.



Hikabwa D. Chipande is a PhD student at Michigan State University. He is currently in Lusaka conducting archival research and oral history interviews for a doctoral dissertation on the social, cultural, and political history of football in colonial and postcolonial Zambia. Follow him on Twitter: @HikabwaChipande

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Resuscitating Football on the Zambian Copperbelt

By | June 21st, 2012 | 1 Comment



Guest Post by *Hikabwa Chipande

NDOLA — Zambia’s victory in the 2012 African Nations Cup has spawned a new fashion on the Copperbelt — the country’s industrial and football heartland — where people now wear Chipolopolo (Copper-bullets) replica jerseys as well as chitenge (women’s waist wraps) in the national colors. Selling Chipolopolo regalia has also become big business in street markets and makeshift stores. Clearly, the African champions have re-energized the mood of the nation and revitalized support for football among ordinary citizens, politicians, and business people.

The stability of copper prices, increases in copper production, an improving economy, and the pride of being African football champions, have led ZCCM Investments Holdings, formerly Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines, to reconsider supporting the sport. For instance, private companies such as Mopani Copper Mines and Copperbelt Energy have resumed their funding of Kitwe’s famous Nkana Red Devils and Power Dynamos.

“Winning the African Cup changed things,” says Red Devils head coach Linos Makwaza. “People have started coming back to football. At Nkana [Football Club] Mopani [Copper Mines] is now involved and has taken over which is good,” Makwaza says. The relationship between mining companies and football is not a new one. It has shaped the history of the game in Zambia. As far back as the 1920s, when copper mining started on the Copperbelt under British colonial rule, and into the independence era up to the privatization of the ZCCM mining company in 1991, government-controlled mining companies provided football grounds, financial resources, coaches, players, and stimulated a deeply rooted fan culture.

Zambia’s Nations Cup success has inspired politicians such as Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili to encourage new owners of copper mining companies to sponsor Mighty Mufulira Wanderers, Nchanga Rangers, Nkonkola Blades, Roan United, Kalulushi Modern Stars and other important, but struggling, clubs in the mining province. Abraham Nkole, currently Mighty Mufulira Wanderers manager and a former player in the 1960s and 1970s, sees this shift as an opportunity to resuscitate the “lost glories” of Copperbelt football.

The opening of a modern stadium in the mining town of Ndola has also injected new life in Copperbelt football. I was in attendance on June 9, 2012, for the inauguration of the Chinese-built 40,000 capacity Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, which hosted a Zambia vs. Ghana 2014 World Cup group D qualifying match (see photo). Thousands of fans clad in green and orange Chipolopolo replica jerseys besieged Ndola. With Vice President Dr. Guy Scott in the stands, Chipolopolo beat the Black Stars 1-0 in the packed stadium, thus renewing their hopes for qualifying to Brazil 2014 after being thumped by Sudan 2-0 in Khartoum a week earlier.

Practitioners and fans I spoke to on the Copperbelt are encouraged by recent developments and hope the mining province will soon reclaim its dominant position in Zambian football after two decades of decline. The political and financial investment that is fueling the game’s resuscitation owes much to Chipolopolo’s international success. The question is whether such support will continue should the national team perform badly at next year’s African Nations Cup in South Africa.

*Hikabwa Chipande is a PhD candidate in African history at Michigan State University. His dissertation research is on the social and cultural history of football in 20th-century Zambia. He can be contacted at chipande [at] msu [dot] edu.

Chipolopolo Champions of Africa

By | February 13th, 2012 | 9 Comments



The room was tense. Zambia and Ivory Coast had played their hearts out in a goalless draw over 120+ minutes and now it came down to penalties. With me, watching a good stream on the big screen at work (on a Sunday), were three Zambians, a Kenyan, two American soccer aficionados, and my family.

Drogba had missed a penalty in regulation so the momentum seemed ever so slightly to favor the underdog Zambians. Chipolopolo prayed and prayed on the pitch, one of our Zambian friends commented wryly: “I didn’t know Zambians were so religious!”

As Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard would tell the media after the game, “I know we’re not the best, but we have a strength and force that animated our team.”

With the score tied at 7-7 in the shootout, Arsenal’s Gervinho shot wide and Sunzu stepped up for Zambia’s second chance to win.

Gooooooool!!!! The Zambians roared.

“I can’t believe it happened in my lifetime,” one of the Chipolopolo supporters exclaimed. We saluted the champions of Africa. Cell phones came out in an attempt to reach Lusaka.

The day after, not many people are at work, or so it seems . . . the Lusaka Times reports that “a thunderous welcome awaits the newly crowned Champions of African football” at Kaunda airport today.

With eight of the Zambian players based in South Africa, a national anthem based on Nkosi Sikelel’, and venerable liberation struggle ties, some of us delight in the fiction that a little piece of South Africa won as well.

That Chipolopolo became champions of Africa in Libreville, where the 1993 air crash killed the greatest Zambian team ever, made this triumph all the more special.

Viva Chipolopolo Viva!

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Babylon Fútbol Café

By | September 12th, 2009 | No Comments



Rafik Saidi’s 59th minute winner in Algiers this past weekend looks to have ended Zambia’s hopes for South Africa. Rwanda must beat Algeria and Zambia must beat Egypt for Zambia to have any chance. The Phoraohs will be praying for Rwanda too.

Algerians can get busy securing their various vantage points for the tournament. Save me a Spec at the Babylon Fútbol Café!

One…Two…Three…Algérie !!!

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The Classics: Italy vs Zambia, 1988

By | June 23rd, 2009 | No Comments



In the 1960s African teams were not taken seriously by FIFA, which denied them a single guaranteed place in the World Cup finals until 1970. Yet African sides performed well in Olympic football tournaments. Ghana reached the quarterfinals in 1964 and Nigeria drew with Brazil in 1968. But most impressively, Zambia demolished Italy 4-0 in 1988. Led by Kalusha Bwalya—the greatest Zambian player ever—Chipolopolo (The Copper Bullets) proved that African national teams could hold their own on the world’s stage. Tragically, many of the stars of that game died in a plane crash on 27 April 1993.

Read the report about the plane crash here. Football historian, Paul Darby, has written about these tragic events in a book about disasters.

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