Gabon prepares to host the 2017 African Nations Cup set to kick off on January 14. For months last year, the build up to the tournament was overshadowed by doubts on where it would be staged, as the aftershocks of Gabons controversial presidential elections continued to be felt.
With only a week to go before the tournament kicks off on January 14, authorities are rushing to put finishing touches on the four stadiums due to host the tournament.
Gabon is set to play the opening game against Guinea Bissau in Libreville, and will go into the tournament with a new coach, after former Spain manager Jose Antonio Camacho signed last month to replace ex-Portugal international Jorge Costa.
This the second time that Gabon has hosted the continental tournament. It had previously co-hosted the event with Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
However, this year’s tournament has been overshadowed by the aftermath of Gabon’s disputed elections held last August that saw Ali Bongo retain power. The vote divided the political class and the country leading to a wave of riots.
Despite the government’s reassurance that the tournament will take place without incidents, there have been ongoing calls in recent months for strike action by the opposition.
Faced with lingering political and social crisis, opinions amongst residents in Libreville are mixed.
“For me, Gabon doesn’t need this African Nations Cup with all the financial problems that we have and seeing that the last elections took place in chaos, Gabon doesn’t need this tournament. It didn’t bring us anything in 2012, so I can’t understand why they are organizing a new one. Meanwhile, they could put this money to good use and improve public housing in order to help a lot of people, but the decision is already taken and we can’t go back,” said one local resident, Fanny.
“This means a lot to us, because we will get a chance to be known internationally. We will be able to also show the world other parts of the country, because the matches will not only take place in the capital city. This event makes us proud, ” added another resident, Tresor Elbaz.
Gabon’s Panthers 23-man squad features the likes of Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong, African Footballer of the year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Juventus midfileder Mario Lemina, who are due to face off with four times winners Cameroon in Group A.
Football fans in the country hope the tournament being held on home soil will boost the Panthers’ chances of winning the trophy for the first time.
“We hope that all goes well with the event, the stadiums are almost ready and we hope that our team will have a good performance this year,” said football fan, Paul Marie.
This year’s edition of the biennial tournament will be held for three weeks and ends on February 05.