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Gabon Gears Up for Africa Cup of Nations


Ivory Coast players celebrate with the trophy after winning their African Football Cup of Nations final against Ghana in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Feb. 8, 2015. The tournament returns to Gabon for the second time in five years beginning Jan. 14, 2017.

Fans are streaming into Gabon's capital for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations football tournament that kicks off Saturday. While many visitors are complaining about the long entry process at Leon M'ba International Airport, most talk is about the tournament, the biggest on the continent.

One of the travelers Wednesday was Idrissou Abbo, a 45-year-old official from the Chadian ministry of sports. He says long visa procedures are making it difficult for people to travel to Gabon.

Abbo says he expected to be given some preference because his country, like Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo, is a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, yet he was asked to pay a $100 visa fee at the airport.

Taxi driver welcomes tournament

On the streets of Libreville, discussions are about the tournament. Taxi driver Meyang Andre says he has already increased his daily earnings from $40 to $100 and is still expecting more.

Andre says the whole of Africa will focus attention on Gabon because of the football tournament and as such he is ready to receive visitors and increase his income. He says his wish is for all participating teams and their supporters to embrace the virtues of fair play.

Popular spots are receiving face lifts. Here at a night club called “Pause Administrative” at the Liberty Avenue, businessman Etoga Elvis has bought two giant flat screens. He says he expects to accommodate fans who cannot afford to watch the games in person.

“Many people prefer watching their matches in drinking spots because there is a lot of ambiance and they share their experiences,” Elvis said. “For instance when a goal is scored people jubilate together and they are so happy. They support players that they love most, sometimes when the player does not perform the way they expect, they sometimes argue. At times you feel as being on the football field.”

Zambia's captain Christopher Katongo, right, and Zambia Football President Kalusha Bwalya, second right, hold up the Africa Cup trophy after their victory over Ivory Coast in Libreville, Gabon, Feb. 12, 2012.
Zambia's captain Christopher Katongo, right, and Zambia Football President Kalusha Bwalya, second right, hold up the Africa Cup trophy after their victory over Ivory Coast in Libreville, Gabon, Feb. 12, 2012.

A showcase for Gabon

The tournament was originally scheduled to take place in Libya, but in 2014, the Confederation of African Football changed the location due to the ongoing conflict there.

In Gabon, a disputed presidential election in which incumbent Ali Bongo was declared the winner cast a shadow over the country's readiness for the tournament.

The spokesperson for the local organizing committee, Snella Ange Pambo, says the group wants to use the occasion to show Gabon's unity to the world. He says they are expecting 40,000 people to fill the Libreville stadium on match days while the three other stadiums at Oyem, Port Gentil and Franceville will hold 20,000 people each.

He says they will also sell Gabon as a tourist destination.

Pambo says Gabon has over 40 ethnic groups with a diversity of cultures and traditional practices that visitors and viewers all over the world will discover. He says the world should get set to discover the density of Gabon's rich cultural heritage and ancestral cultures and traditions.

Confident hosts

Supporters of Gabon's team, like Obang Paolo, say they are sure the home team will claim the championship.

Paolo says no country should think that they will make Gabon panic. He says they are impatiently waiting to lift the trophy.

Gabon co-hosted the 2012 AFCON with Equatorial Guinea but came up short on the field, losing in the quarterfinals. The Gabon squad plays its first match in this year's tournament against Guinea-Bissau on Saturday.

Gabon fans cheer during their Group A match against Equatorial Guinea at the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Bata, Jan. 25, 2015.
Gabon fans cheer during their Group A match against Equatorial Guinea at the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Bata, Jan. 25, 2015.

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