Despite concerns about security and safety, tens of thousands of spectators are expected to attend the opening ceremony of the ninth Francophone Games in DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, on Friday.
The games, which bring together athletes and artists from predominantly French-speaking nations, are taking place in the central African metropolis for the first time.
An estimated 80,000 spectators are expected to witness an evening parade of approximately 3,000 flag-waving athletes at the Stade Des Martyrs in the city.
In 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was selected as the host of the Games, an event that takes place every four years, encompassing a blend of sports and culture.
Originally planned for 2021, the games were postponed due to the Covid pandemic and then further delayed last year due to unprepared facilities.
In the lead-up to the opening, concerns about security and safety have been a persistent issue for the games.
Multiple delegations have either canceled their participation or significantly reduced the size of their teams for the event.
In recent weeks, DRC government authorities have consistently emphasized their confidence in handling the responsibilities associated with hosting the event.
Crisis in Congo
Despite possessing significant mineral wealth, the DRC remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
In addition to its economic challenges, the DRC is plagued by militias, and one such group, the M23, has re-emerged from dormancy in late 2021, capturing significant portions of territory in the eastern region.
The DRC has accused Rwanda of providing support to M23 rebels, an allegation supported by independent UN experts and several western countries, including the United States, despite denials from Kigali.
Tensions between the neighboring countries have also extended to the games.
Louise Mushikiwabo, a Rwandan national, serves as the head of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, which is the French-speaking counterpart of the Commonwealth.
Although the DRC government initially announced that Louise Mushikiwabo would attend the Games, her office denied it this week, stating that she had not received an invitation.
While simultaneously increasing military spending to address the conflict in the east, the Congolese government has also had to allocate substantial funds for constructing new sports facilities in its capital.
The total cost remains uncertain, but the government views its expenditure as an investment in the country’s youth, providing them with access to modern sporting facilities for their use.
The games’ organizers have firmly refuted accusations that the event will be unsafe.
Around 4,500 police officers and members of the Republican Guard are set to be deployed in Kinshasa to ensure security during the games. Additionally, a private security firm has been contracted to guard the facilities.
The games will span ten days, concluding on August 6, and will encompass nine sports competitions and eleven cultural contests.
Men’s football, women’s basketball, athletics, road cycling, African wrestling, judo, and table tennis are among the sports featured in the games.
The cultural competitions comprise various artistic disciplines, such as painting, sculpture, photography, song, dance, and more.