By Onochie Anibeze
I knew what the words meant but I still didn’t understand them. She sent me a document March 18, and thereafter took ill, and three days later, she was dead.
A friend had sent me a text message that read ‘Foussena is no more.’ I replied, asking ‘what do you mean?’.
It didn’t make sense to me. On the day she sent me the document from Accra, Ghana, she raised concern over network problems that had disrupted her calls to me.
We cracked some jokes, discussed 2022 World Cup in Qatar, CAF and FIFA politics and the emergence of Patrice Motsepe as CAF President.
Foussena Djagba was a Togolese who adopted Accra as home. Hostilities from the Gnassingbe Eyadema government against opposition had heightened after President Faure Gnassingbe succeeded his father.
Foussena’s father was in the opposition. He was said to have tasted police brutality before he died. Foussena took up activism and for years before her sudden death on March 21, 2021 couldn’t return to Togo.
She had been declared a persona non grata in her country.
Her fight for true democracy in Togo was her offence. She fought doggedly for any cause she believed in. Her passion for football knew no bounds. It is the beautiful game that brought us together.
I met her in Doha, Qatar in 2010 when Qatar launched a campaign to host the World Cup. Journalists from all over the world had been invited to see what the country could offer if it won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
After the presentations and a brief tour of Doha I said to Foussena ‘the only way Qatar will lose this bid is if FIFA takes their decision before inspection. There’s no way they will see all these and say no to these people.’
Foussena reminded me that FIFA inspection team had already visited and would likely score their bid highly.
EXPECT AMAZING was their catchword. It was their slogan. They were telling the world to expect amazing things if FIFA gave them the nod. They wowed everybody that visited. The only thing that appeared a strong setback was weather.
For temperature that goes up to 42 ‘C degrees in summer, hosting a carnival was going to be an uphill task, if not impossible.
But Qatar had an answer to even nature. If they won the bid, the stadiums would be air-conditioned to make them conducive not only for the players but also for the fans.
For the doubting Thomases they took us to Khalifa Stadium where the technology to cool atmospheric temperature was already in use. It was unbelievable. Nothing appeared strong enough to stop Qatar from winning the 2022 World Cup bid. Aside their determination and the facilities, they won the hearts of many developing countries especially Africans.
With a population of about 2.8 million, then they would not need all the facilities they would present for the World Cup. Capacity of some stadiums would be reduced after the World Cup, and the structures donated to developing countries. ‘Isn’t this amazing to Africans.’ Foussena asked me as we left Khalifa Stadium where we experienced the cooling of stadium atmosphere. ‘Surely, it is,’ I answered. ‘I don’t see any African country not supporting this bid’, Foussena added. We were full of expectations. Eventually, on December 10, 2010 FIFA announced Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup and amazing things began to happen with regard to building of facilities, labour reorientation, development of World Cup culture etc.
The slogan changed to DELIVER AMAZING. Truly, Qatar started delivering infrastructure including railways that will make it possible for fans to watch two matches in one day. Their planned compact World Cup delighted Foussena who deployed energy in supporting them.
The strong African football woman granted interviews not only supporting Qatar 2022 World Cup bid, but also, urging the world to be in Qatar to experience amazing things in 2022.
Qatar 2022 united us and we never looked back. While watching the 2019 Club World Cup which Liverpool won, Foussena said ‘I think these people are ready. If the World Cup were to hold today, I think they are ready.’
What impressed were not only the facilities but also the football culture the Middle East country was beginning to imbibe. The volunteers were at the beck and call of everyone. The media team was tremendous to us, the shuttles to the stadium and back to media hotels were timely, the rail facilities were fascinating and the atmosphere smelt World Cup which was still three years away.
Foussena and I returned to Africa, hoping to visit Qatar for the 2020 Amire Cup and later the World Club Cup in 2020. Pandemic struck the world. COVID-19 changed the world. Tourism and sports were most hit. We all stayed put in our homes. On March 11, Foussena posted this on her Facebook wall: ‘My household and I just took COVID-19 jabs. It’s painless. Let’s encourage all to do so, Let’s stay alive.’
What a world. Ten days after this advice Foussena passed on. I don’t know when I’ll get over this. Tears have been flowing since she passed. Many are in sorrow. The comments in the social media are touching. Foussena was caring. She was a lovely woman whose passion for football was stupendous. Africans celebrate CAF Awards today. It was her idea and CAF under Issa Hayatou bought it. She was a strong media woman.
Those who set up Minaj Television in Nigeria will tell you the role she played. She was also in charge as Editor-In-Chief of SportsDay Newspaper in Ghana.
She was a strong voice in politics of the game in the continent. She knew many top people in football and was waxing strongly even in her country’s local politics. She had a hand in many of the protests and agitations for true democracy in Togo. It may not be wrong to say she was a thorn in the flesh of the current government in Togo.
The last time she made plans to go home, policemen invaded her house at about 1 a.m., thinking she was home.
She had actually sold them a dummy. She had no choice but to make Accra home . And she was truly at home in Ghana. And that’s where she passed on. Same Ghana of great Kofi Awoonor Williams whose SONG OF SORROW largely captures the current condition of many Foussena came across.
The friend that informed me about her passing described her this way: ‘Foussena worked for humanity, She worked for others. Just in February she celebrated her mother’s 87th birthday lavishly. She said it was better to celebrate people when they are alive so that they will appreciate how much they are loved. And now Foussena has gone before her mother? Oh! My God …”
The man cried. It hurts. I felt it. Grief was all over me. Once I was in hospital outside Nigeria, Foussena heard and rallied support for me.
‘The affairs of this world are like Chameleon faeces into which I have stepped when I clean it cannot go … The firewood of this world is for only those who can take heart. And that’s why not all can gather it …’ Kofi Awoonor Williams wrote in his poem, Song Of Sorrow.
I know that the sun and rain have beaten people with the passing of Foussena. But let all her friends and loved ones especially her mother take heart and graciously continue in the race to gather the firewood of this world.
May the soul of Foussena, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. For her mother who is a devout Catholic, take heart. May God be with you.