Feature: Africa Cup of Nations brings joy, hope

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by Arison Tamfu

YAOUNDE, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Augustine Ayissi stood arms akimbo, smiling with satisfaction and pride before a massive television screen as he watched his country, Cameroon impressively dominate Gambia in a football match that will qualify them for the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

A fervent football fan, Ayissi thought it was, for all intents and purposes, a significant moment for the Central African nation that is hosting the tournament after 50 years and then win game after game, raising hopes of lifting the trophy.

"This is big history, it's unbelievable. I am so happy witnessing Africa Cup of Nations in my country," the 32-year-old told Xinhua, with three drops of tears rolling on his cheek.

For a while separatist fighters succeeded to create panic, detonating improvised explosive devices and killing two civilians and a soldier in clashes with government forces in Buea, chief town of the Southwest region, 25-minutes' drive to AFCON Group F host town of Limbe.

Ayissi, a government worker who had received death threats from gunmen and remained indoors for most of the tournament mustered courage and stepped out to watch the match in a popular fan zone in Tiko, a municipality in the Southwest region where AFCON matches where projected on the massive screen.

He witnessed with amazement how Cameroonians were united for a while watching the match. They waved the country's green-red-yellow flag, sang, danced and drank beer together. Strangers hugged spontaneously as they watched football that has become a religion in the country.

And so, for Ayissi this was about more than just a game.

"I am a francophone and just see how happy I am interacting happily and freely with my anglophone brothers. We are one family, one nation and football is bringing us together in joy and happiness. Can you see that?" he said, pointing at a group of young boys and girls blowing their vuvuzelas, pouring, throwing and spraying beer in all directions when Cameroon scored the first goal of the game.

The cacophony of hooting, the pulsating chants of traditional songs and the blasting of plastic horns echoed across the country.

"In Tiko municipality when you come you meet diverse cultures and all Cameroonians. We've gone through so much as a country and football is something positive we can celebrate together. It can reunite and reconcile the country," added Peter Mesoso, Mayor of Tiko Municipality who sat beside Lyonga and was watching the game with other dignitaries.

That message was heard loud and clear by fans across the country.

In the crowds, though, Benedict Tabe stood out. The 37-year-old carpenter, who had been displaced by the fighting, lost four of his siblings in the early days of the armed conflict.

"Why should I be happy? They have killed hundreds of my brothers and several others have escaped the country because of the (separatist) war. No we're not (united). Only our football team is a symbol of hope," Tabe said as he followed the game, stressing that he was fully supporting Gambia against Cameroon.

For years critics and domestic pessimists said Cameroon would never pull off Africa's most watched sporting event; that its stadiums would be incomplete, COVID-19 pandemic would cause disruptions and organization would fail.

But the opening ceremony and match at the Olembe Stadium in the capital, Yaounde replete with boisterous and singing fans dressed in amazing traditional costumes and blowing vuvuzela trumpets, lived up to all the expectations.

In Yaounde and commercial hub of Douala, when night falls it's time for football and fan zones go crazy. Scenes of celebration have flooded social media since the Indomitable Lions began their campaign.

"I love the energy. It makes you want to be Cameroonian and stay here forever," Mohammed Said, a 32-year-old Tunisian football enthusiast who was in Cameroon to support his country told Xinhua in Douala.

The Cameroon vs Gambia was tough and exciting, and in the end the host nation prevailed thrashing debutants Gambia by 2-0.

Barefoot children kicked football nearby, some wearing home-made team jerseys, while hundreds of fans danced after the final whistle of the game.

"This is wonderful, we are in the semi-finals," said Ayissi. "Everyone in the world is watching us and we want to show them what Cameroon is really like." Enditem

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