It’s a topic that most in Africa find both amusing and vexing, and yet it is hardly talked about even if there is indisputable evidence that it exists throughout the continent. We are talking about Black Magic or the more locally used term, Juju.
All football fans are well versed to the religious goal celebrations that include making the sign of the cross for Christians, the prostration to the ground for Muslims, and pointing to the almighty in the sky for both. Less obvious is the third category that includes affiliation to other local gods and traditional celestials. These, in turn, are broken up into two subcategories. In the first group are players that pay ode to legitimate native deities and seek both protection from injury and success on the pitch, be it to score or not to be scored on.
Then there is the second set. That one is formed by players that use occultism and other various forms of Black Magic to not only enhance their play but also try and impede that of the opposition. These charms are prepared by medicine men believed to possess communicatory powers with the underworld or dark forces and they range from the unusual to the downright absurd.
Let us start with the curious case of TARIBO WEST (above). Capped forty-two times for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the dreadlocked star at his peak was one of the finest defenders from Africa. In a professional career spanning 16 years which began in Auxerre leading to later spells in both Milan clubs, West is one of few players to openly admit to making use of juju to aid his career growth. The now born again Pastor revealed that at one time in his life he along with his Manager paid several native doctors in Senegal to make him invincible. This was to be achieved by cutting special marks into his tounge, hands, and feet. The term used was that he was being cooked.
The good pastor and 1998 UEFA Cup winner used to burn candles and hold a magical stone from Israel before games but he is bewildered that people are reluctant to publicly identify themselves with the practice, saying players and officials are deeply involved in the act. Taribo said, “Of course yes I was involved. I don’t know why people decline to talk about their involvement with charms. Football has to do with a lot of powers. When there are big events, you look at the stadium, you see people, fans invoking all kinds of things; magicians are there, voodooists are there." Taribo went on to reveal how club owners and managers even provided charms for players to tuck in under their shin-pads, socks or contacted voodoo men to predict scores before they played." He ended up by saying that these murky practices still exist today.
Next, we travel next door to Ghana and visit with ANDRE DEDE AYEW. Currently, in the books of Turkish Superlig side Fenerbache on loan from Swansea City, Andre Dede Ayew has an Islamic upbringing, a religion that condemns black magic or charms. The left-footed Ex-Black Stars’ captain was linked to the dark art after being filmed sprinkling what looked like white powder on the pitch. It occurred during pre-match warm-up in Ghana’s contest against DR Congo on January the 29th 2017.
Ayew walked to the sidelines mumbling words under his breath before sprinkling the powder three times in a match that he and his sibling Jordan each scored each in. Though Andrew has remained mum about the event his Father Ayew Snr. has been more forthcoming saying: “I think we must acknowledge that juju is part of the African tradition, and we shouldn't forget our tradition. I don't think any such thing like juju works in football, because it has been proved worldwide that we Africans have more juju than any other people, but we cannot win the World Cup,”
Still, in Ghana, we move to SAM JOHNSON. An erstwhile Black Star with stints in Anderlecht and in the Turkish league, the forty-five times capped midfielder is frank about Juju, admitting he used it. “There is Juju in football and any footballer who says otherwise is a liar. I've practiced it before," he revealed on Happy FM in Accra. “I'm now a born again Christian and won't advise anybody to venture into that because football at the moment has changed a lot from our time, it has evolved.”
Next on our list is JEAN-JACQUES TIZES. A go-to-man for Ivory Coast between the sticks before the rise of Copa Barry.
According to Didier Drogba’s book Commitment: My Autobiography, Tizes is reported to have visited, a cemetery to chase away bad spirits while in the Elephants’ camp ahead of an international game.
However, if there is one player that stands above all when it comes to the confession of the most atrocious acts of a taboo it has to be SHIVA N’ZIGOU of Gabon. The player sparked international outrage that spiralled even into death threats when he revealed that he slept with a man, and then his aunt and sister as well as killing his mother all to improve his game while cleansing his soul at a church confession in Lome.
One could go on and reveal more macabre incidents of Jujuification throughout African football but by now the point should have been made. What now needs to be addressed is as to how early players are roped in to join and believe in this falsehood. Sometimes they join as early and the elementary and secondary school.
Such was the case at the 2005 U17 Caf Final between Gambia and Ghana. Incomprehensibly as the game wore down a Gambian 'Juju apprentice' stormed the Ghanaian goal just as the Baby Scorpions took a set play. He was supposed to be invisible and guide the ball into the net. While the ball did go in, he certainly was not invisible. Not then and not in the clip below.
What is even more shocking is that goal was allowed to stand costing Ghana the cup and giving it to the Gambia.
Then came the Afcon U20 final in 2017 between Zambia and Senegal. Sadly it will not be remembered for the quality play of the Junior Chipolpolo on their way to their first tile but for the absurd antics of the Junior Teranga Lions. Already trailing by two goals the West Africans coyly tried to deposit a foreign object in the Zambia goal hoping that the thousands at the National Heroes Stadium, Lusaka as well as the millions watching on TV would miss it. Needless to say, we did not and all hell broke loose. Mercifully unlike in the U17 case, right prevailed and the more deserving team won.
Africa now stands at a crossroad and needs to decide on what to do properly to set our youth and existing professionals on the right path to obtain success in their careers. We need to teach them that while faith, hard work, preparation and sometimes luck are all vital to progress a dance with the devil is not. We can either all act collectively to address this or turn a blind eye inward while people continue to smirk at us as savage fools in the future.