Africa, The World Cup and the Danger of Cliché

01/09/2010 02:43 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I went to bed listening to the BBC World Service. After years covering wars in Africa, there are still some stories that are so shocking they make it difficult to sleep. This was one of them:

Players in Togo's national football team have told of their shock when gunmen fired on their bus as they drove to the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Manchester City player Emmanuel Adebayor described it as "one of the worst things I've ever been through in my life". He said the bus was targeted just 5km (3 miles) across the border and the shooting lasted for half an hour. He described how players and other team members were trapped in the bus.

And as I lay in bed listening to preview packages (made days earlier) about how Angolans desperately hoped the championships would mark the end of a miserable time, I thought about how excited the entire continent was for this year's World Cup in South Africa.

The continent might be filled with different peoples: made up of Muslim, Arab countries to the north; its west is sticky with tropical heat and suffused with in-your-face energy; the east is a land of cattle herding nomads, of intermittent drought and a slower pace; while the south has the guitar bands and spectacular jacarandas. But if there's one thing that unites all African peoples it is their love of football.

As more news seeped in of the awful shooting in Congo-Brazzaville, and breathless reporters announced the death of the Togo team's bus driver, I wondered how long it be before before commentators turned their gaze forward to this year's World Cup in South Africa. Not long, as it turned out.

Hill says while the frenzied nature of football in Africa would make the World Cup a wonderful experience for fans, it could also be its downfall.

And this from The Daily Mirror...

Bad for the Nations Cup and a disaster for the forthcoming first-ever World Cup in Africa. The machine-gun attack on the Togo players may have taken place in northern Angola last night but the shots would have been heard around the world. Never mind the fact that Greatest Show on Earth will be taking place in a different country. Never mind the fact that South Africa have already proven that they can host most sporting tournaments.

Never mind the fact that Africa is a continent, let's assume that this tragedy is proof that all its different peoples share the same maniacal bloodlust and are only ever a dozen machetes away from launching a mass murder, is what the next paragraph might have been. Once again the continent is treated as a single country. The problems of one place easily transposed to another, whatever the similarities or differences between South Africa and Congo-Brazzaville.

South Africa has its security concerns, there's no doubt. Rebel groups is not one of them. Nor pirates, famine or elephants marauding through stadiums. The attack on the Togo team bus is an horrific tragedy. But let's forget easy clichés. Let's get a grip.