Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics

FOOTBALL Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics

Festus Chuma 09:03 - 05.03.2024

Several African football icons have moved into politics using their popularity to foster societal progress and development within their nations.

Football, often more than just a game, has been a catalyst for unity and change across the globe, particularly in Africa. 

This continent, rich in talent and passion for the sport, has produced legends whose influence extends far beyond the pitch.

In this exploration, we delve into the remarkable journeys of African soccer stars who transitioned into politics, leveraging their fame and leadership qualities to drive societal change. 

Their stories challenge the notion posited by the legendary Dutch footballer Ruud Gullit that "Politics and football don't mix," showcasing instead how the beautiful game can indeed be a powerful vehicle for political and social transformation.

Roger Milla and 5 other African icons who swapped football boots for political suits

George Weah

At the forefront of this unique blend of sports and politics is Liberia's George Weah, a name synonymous not only with exceptional footballing prowess but also with significant political achievement. 

Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics
George Weah ©Imago

Weah's journey from the dusty fields of Monrovia to the grandeur of European football, and eventually to the highest office in Liberia, is nothing short of inspirational. 

His football career is decorated with numerous accolades, including the prestigious 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d'Or, marking him as the only African to have received these honors while playing for an African nation.

Weah's transition into politics was motivated by a desire to contribute to his country's development.

Despite initial setbacks, including a loss in the 2005 presidential election and criticisms over his lack of political experience, Weah's perseverance paid off.

g His educational pursuits in the United States and continued engagement in Liberian politics culminated in his election as President of Liberia in 2017, making him the first African former professional footballer to become a head of state.

Samuel Eto'o

Similarly, Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o, renowned for his goal-scoring exploits and successes with Barcelona and Inter Milan, has made significant strides in soccer politics. 

Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics
Samel Et'o © FECAFOOT

Eto'o, who has an illustrious record of 371 goals in 764 appearances for club and country, transitioned into a pivotal role in football administration after his retirement.

In December 2021, he was elected President of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT), marking a significant step in his commitment to improve the development of young players in Cameroon and ensure the transparent and accountable management of the country's soccer. 

His vision for Cameroon's football future and his proactive approach in his role at FECAFOOT highlight the impactful role athletes can play in sports governance.

Roger Milla

Roger Milla, the Cameroonian striker who became the oldest goalscorer in FIFA World Cup history, is a name synonymous with footballing excellence. 

His performances in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups are the stuff of legend, with his iconic corner flag dance becoming a symbol of joy across the footballing world. However, Milla's contributions to society extend far beyond his on-field achievements.

After hanging up his boots, Milla took on the role of a UN ambassador for sports in Africa. This position allowed him to leverage his fame for social causes, advocating for sports as a means of development and peace in a continent often torn by conflict and poverty. 

Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics
Roger Milla ©Goal

His commitment to social causes was further recognized in March 2008 when he was appointed the honorary president of the Cameroonian Football Federation. 

In this capacity, Milla worked towards the development of football in Cameroon, focusing on youth programs and infrastructure development, showcasing his dedication to giving back to the community that had supported him throughout his career.

Abedi Pele

Abedi Pele, often referred to simply as Abedi, is another African football legend whose impact transcends the sport. 

Known for his exceptional skill and vision on the field, Abedi's career in Europe, particularly with Marseille, is marked by numerous accolades and championships, including the coveted UEFA Champions League title in 1993.

Following his retirement, Abedi Pele ventured into politics and social advocacy. He was nominated by the Ghanaian government to serve as the Chairman of the FA, a role he later relinquished for a more experienced candidate.

His appointment as the chairman of Ghana's National Sports Council was a testament to his influence and respect within the country. Through this position, Abedi has worked towards the development of sports in Ghana, focusing on creating opportunities for the youth and using sports as a vehicle for social change.

Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics
Abedi Pele ©Ghana Soccer

Kalusha Bwalya

Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia's football legend, not only dazzled fans with his skills on the field but also emerged as a beacon of hope for his nation.

As Zambia's third-highest all-time top goalscorer and the eighth-most capped player, Bwalya's football legacy is unparalleled. 

Bwalya was recognized globally when he was nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1996. His illustrious career saw him winning championship titles with PSV Eindhoven under the legendary Bobby Robson and making an unforgettable impact at Club America in Mexico.

Roger Milla and 5 other African icons who swapped football boots for political suits
Kalusha Bwalya © FAZ

His prowess on the field was matched by his leadership off it, particularly in the aftermath of the 1993 plane crash that decimated the Zambian national team. 

Steering clear of the tragedy by fate, Bwalya became a pillar of strength for his country, eventually donning the dual hat of player-coach and leading Zambia to the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.

Elevating his commitment to Zambian football, Bwalya served as the president of the Football Association of Zambia from 2008 to 2016. 

Under his stewardship, Zambia clinched the 2012 AFCON title, a victory that was as much a triumph over adversity as it was a testament to Bwalya's enduring influence on Zambian football.

Robert Kidiaba

Robert Kidiaba, known for his unique bum-hop celebrations, is another footballer whose career trajectory took a remarkable turn towards politics.

The Congolese goalkeeper, celebrated for his antics on the field and his contributions to TP Mazembe's successes, including three CAF Champions League titles, chose to serve his community from a different platform after retiring from football in 2015.

Roger Milla and five other African icons who ventured into politics
Robert Kidiaba© CAF

Elected as a Member of Parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, Kidiaba's transition from a football icon to a political figure highlights his commitment to his people's welfare and development. 

Representing the Upper Katanga Province under the banner of the National Party for Democracy and Development , Kidiaba's move into politics was driven by a desire to effect change and improve the lives of his constituents. 

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