Bombs Stoke Fear Among Africans Watching World Cup in Public

While soccer fans cluster in parks and bars from Tokyo to Tegucigalpa to watch the World Cup, many in Nigeria and Kenya are shunning public places out of fear a night out watching their favorite sport could be their last.

On June 17, a bomb at a viewing center in Damaturu in northeastern Nigeria killed 14 people as they saw host Brazil draw with Mexico, while some of the 60 people killed in attacks in Kenyan coastal towns on June 15 were watching a game. Four years ago, the World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands was marred by attacks on bars in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, that left 78 people dead.

“We don’t want to risk going out until we are confident things are better,” Josiah Langat, a 34-year-old real-estate agent who frequents bars in Nairobi, said in a June 17 interview in the Kenyan capital. “World Cup viewers can be a target for terrorists because we had incidents in 2010 in Uganda.”

Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group that’s fighting Ugandan and Kenyan troops in Somalia, claimed the 2010 bombing in Kampala. A radio station sympathetic to the al-Qaeda-linked movement aired a broadcast in which a man identifying himself as a spokesman for the militants took responsibility for this week’s attacks in Kenya even as the country’s president blamed political rivals. Boko Haram, an Islamist militia operating in Nigeria, is suspected of the Damaturu killings.

Kenya’s government today urged its citizens to watch the World Cup matches at home instead of crowded and unprotected open areas, the Interior Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Outdoor Bars

“Ideologically for Islamist militants, the World Cup and beer is everything they stand against, so this is a way of making their mark,” Francois Conradie, a political analyst at NKC Independent Economists, said by phone from Paarl, South Africa. “We’ll probably see more of these kind of attacks.”

Unreliable electricity and the cost of satellite TV make outdoor viewing areas and bars a popular option in much of sub-Saharan Africa, he said. Many venues are just plastic chairs with fridges stocked with beer in front of a television or projector screen.

This year, Nigeria’s national team, known as the Super Eagles, is competing in the World Cup in Brazil along with the Black Stars of Ghana, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions and the Elephants of Ivory Coast.

Soldiers in the northeastern Nigerian state of Adamawa have shut venues preparing to screen World Cup matches, while national police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement that fans should exercise caution when viewing matches in public. In nearby Yobe state, the police commissioner told people to stay at home.

Militants Blend

“It is extremely difficult for police and security forces to enforce bans on viewing the World Cup, particularly in smaller venues outside of inner city areas,” Ben Payton, senior Africa analyst at Bath, England-based risk advisory company Maplecroft, said in e-mailed comments. “It is relatively easy for militants to blend into crowds and position explosive devices, or to open fire on large numbers of spectators who have no easy means of escape.”

“Terrorists have previously targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in travel advisories for Uganda and Nigeria this month.

A suicide bomber tried to blow up a busy viewing venue in northern Nigeria during this year’s Champions League final between the Spanish club teams of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Huddled Quietly

The threat of attacks is not the only barrier African soccer fans face to their plans to view this year’s tournament.

Lansane Banya missed watching three-time African player of the year Yaya Toure lead Ivory Coast to victory over Japan on June 15 after his town, Kailahun in Sierra Leone, banned public gatherings to prevent the spread of Ebola, a fatal hemorrhagic fever. He’s now taken to attending illegal gatherings at friends’ houses.

“I watched the Ghana versus United States game in a private home,” the 23-year-old teacher said by phone on June 17. “The few of us in the sitting room could not shout or speak aloud as the police were moving all around the area trying to pick out those who violate the ban on public viewing.”

In nearby Ghana, the government has stepped in to try and prevent regular power outages from marring the Black Stars’ support at home. The country’s sole aluminum smelter has been told to cut power use during matches and the national electricity company has placed front-page advertisements in newspapers telling people to turn off air conditioners and deep freezers during games. The national team lost its opening game 2-1 to the U.S.

The ban on watching games in public in Nigeria’s Adamawa state has cut Musa Garba’s income on a match night from his outdoor bar by 80 percent to 5,000 naira ($31).

“This place was a beehive of activity,” Garba, 35, said in an interview. “Now the place is deserted due to the ban. There are no more customers trooping in to buy drinks. We lost our customers.”

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