By Dylan Bettencourt
Football is often used as a pawn in the game of politics worldwide. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is no different.
The political elite use football as a method to gain the support of their citizens.
There are several ways to use football for political advantage. Joseph Kabila, who was president from 2001 to 2019, financially supported football clubs to improve his tarnished image.
While Kabila’s tenure was often contested, his support of clubs that had no state funding gained him several thousand supporters.
However, football as a political tool often works both ways. As much as it gives, it can also take.
Football grounds around Congo offered opposition supporters around the country a chance to protest against the Kabila regime, with anti-Kabila songs often heard at matches, The Conversation Africa reported.
But it doesn’t only happen in the DRC. The sport played a major role in challenging power in Zanzibar and Zimbabwe, and even during the Arab Spring.
Football fans are often not as blind as politicians think. While many fans appreciated the financial backing it didn’t necessarily change their political thinking.
Most fans were willing to back Kabila only for as long as he financially supported their beloved football team — a double-edged sword indeed.
And even better than the financial backing is success on the field. Gabriel Amisi was a close ally to Kabila and now serves as an army general and inspector general for the Congolese army.
Despite being accused of several cases of human rights abuse, from 2007 to 2020 he served as the president of the AS Vita Club, where he gained a loyal following.
Before his tenure as club president, the club from Kinshasa underperformed, but Amisi grew the club to win three national titles.
His success was so grand that when he attempted to resign from his role the fans protested and pleaded for him to remain on board.
Amisi was so popular that when protests erupted against Kabila fans of AS Vita protected Amisi’s house for several days.
Football as a political pawn has the ability to swing the pendulum for and against those who attempt to wield its power. It is a slippery slope.
Pictured above: Football in the streets of Congo
Image source: Khmer Times