JOHANNESBURG – From Johannesburg townships to Ghana’s sprawling slums, millions of Africans danced in the streets and beamed with pride as the continent’s first World Cup kicked off.
Only Somalia’s Islamic militants tried to spoil Friday’s party, telling people not to watch the “mad men” in shorts.
In Uganda, people watched the world’s most popular sporting event on large screens, and any visitor could be forgiven for thinking the country was hosting the event.
In Botswana, people waved South African flags and performed the diski dance based on soccer moves.
“Africans are proud that South Africa has been able to put the continent on the world stage by hosting the tournament,” said Ghanian Information Minister John Tia. “It is a moment that we all feel good about.”
The feel-good effect has spread across the rest of continent, even to poverty-stricken and war-torn areas.
“I may not be there, but I would be joining people around the world to watch my heroes from all over the world play the game I enjoy,” said Inusah Wahab, 15, from a vast slum in Ghana’s capital Accra.
Zimbabweans, impoverished in their ailing economy, thronged sports clubs, fan parks, bars and soccer stadiums, watching the game on giant screens.
“You can feel the excitement,” said Kudzi Sande. “This will take our minds off our own troubles.”
The 40-year old Amdaou Fall skipped his Friday prayer in Dakar, Senegal, to join revellers in watching the opening game between South Africa and Mexico.
“Senegal is a country of Muslims but it is also a country of football,” Fall said. “Here young people love religion, but they believe in the god of football.”
In Swaziland, 19-year old Lungelo Seyama wore a Spanish team jersey, and was wrapped in a South African flag.
“It is just like being at the Soccer City,” where the opening game was played, Seyama said. “It has been special, not only for South Africa but for the whole of Africa.”
In Uganda, thousands of large screens have been put up in fan parks. Taxis and buildings have been painted with World Cup logos, and betting men were playing the odds. Tens of thousands of fans flooded the streets and parks of Johannesburg, where the ubiquitous sound of vuvuzela horns created a carnival atmosphere from the morning hours across the city.
In Rustenburg, where the United States-England match doesn’t kick off until Saturday night, it looked like a game day. Almost everyone was dressed in Bafana Bafana T-shirts or jackets, and many people wore tall, fuzzy hats or puffy wigs in the colours of the South African flag. The blare of vuvuzelas provided a festive soundtrack to the crowded streets, where people smiled and traded handshakes, and most cars were decorated with South African flags.
But Somalia’s hard-line Islamic militants declared the tournament un-Islamic.
“We ask them not to dare watch the World Cup matches,” Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Aros, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam militant group, told The Associated Press. “It is a waste of money and time.
“There is no benefit … from watching mad men jumping up and down.”
Ahmed Santos used to live in an area of Somalia run by militants, but now is in a government-controlled area.
“I can now freely watch the matches,” Santos said. “I am so sorry that some of my friends who are now living where I was once don’t have that chance to watch the World Cup. I really feel sorry for them.”
In Uganda, another group of World Cup skeptics worried about the impact the games will have in their private lives.
Housewife Winnie Namaga said husbands will likely be coming back late “and give excuses that they have been watching World Cup matches.
“They often do so when there are big matches. Even those who go for extramarital activities use football as an excuse of not returning home in time,” she said.
Associated Press reporters Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Somalia; Nancy Armour in Rustenburg, South Africa; Godfrey Olukya in Kampala, Uganda; Sello Motseta in Gaborone, Botswana; Sadibou Marone in Dakar, Senegal; and Phatizwe-Chief Zulu in Mbabane, Swaziland, contributed to this story.