- Souleman Gamanba, aged 34, a Missile FC player in Libreville, has unintentionally become one of the leading figures in the protest movement which has driven several dozen Gabonese players to “camp” in front of the Ministry of Sport for nearly two weeks. They are demanding payment of salary arrears, covering a period of three years in most cases.
- It is already several years since Souleman, faced with the inertia of the Gabonese federation and the silence of the political authorities, and weary of having to fight every day to practise his profession as a footballer and not be able to make a living from it, first retrained as a house painter and then broadened his range of activities, still in the building trade. “Since I chose this path, I’ve been getting a regular salary… Twice as much as I made when I was playing football, in fact. Well… when I was paid!”
- Being determined, like all his fellow players, to do whatever it takes to recover his due, as well as to call for the respect and dignity he deserves, Souleman confided in FIFPRO.
“None of it was premeditated; nobody pushed us into acting the way we decided to. A number of us had gathered at the headquarters of our national players’ association, the ANFPG, to discuss our unpaid salaries yet again… At that very moment, our federation announced that the championship, suspended since March 2020, was about to resume. Everything was already planned, just like that… That announcement acted as the trigger: how could our leaders decide on a return to competition like that when several hundred of us are barely surviving and insecurity is the norm among Gabonese footballers?
The idea of gathering in front of the Ministry of Sport and staying there day and night until our salaries are paid very quickly won the support of most of us. We got a bit of money together and bought some stocks of food on the way. We knew that that first night would be followed by others…
There are at least twenty of us at the weekend, when some people go home to their families, but most often between sixty and seventy. There’s a turnover that occurs naturally. The most important thing is that we’re strongly motivated… We know that some players have been threatened and daren’t join us. Rather than inhibiting us, these practices, which are so common in Gabon, encourage us. Similarly, the campaigns orchestrated against us in the media and on social networks don’t affect us, even when they’re carried out by footballers like us. We’re not fooled, we’re only too familiar with the system in place in our country.
I’m not going to comment in detail on everything that’s wrong with Gabonese football; that would take too long. Well before the health crisis our football was in serious trouble, and nobody wanted to listen to the players who raised the alarm and suggested solutions, particularly through the ANFPG… I prefer to talk about the debt to the players, those salary arrears since 2016.
In June 2021 we had high hopes. In front of FIFA, CAF, FIFPRO and our Ministry of Sport, the president of FEGAFOOT had made a commitment to cover this debt. But nothing happened. No doubt it was too good to be true. It’s no surprise that our federation doesn’t respect either its commitments or the players.
But the fact that it can get away with flouting an agreement made in the presence of its supervising ministry, CAF and FIFA is something we find totally incomprehensible. And what is equally so is not the silence of the continental authority — the president of FEGAFOOT, one of the worst federations in Africa, if not the worst of all, is a member of the Executive Committee of CAF — but the inaction of FIFA, which cannot be unaware of what has been happening for so many years in Gabon and is not obliging our federation to keep its commitments.
This very same international federation, which is capable of threatening this or that federation with suspension at the drop of a hat, but is not lifting a finger to give several hundred players back their dignity and take action so that they are duly paid for practising their profession as footballers. What is FIFA up to? What is it waiting for to react?
In spite of everything, we’re still hopeful. We’ve been able to have our say to the minister’s office. We know that the Ministry of Sport has asked the club presidents to calculate the total debt, which amounts to 1,500,000,000 CFA francs, or 2,513,000 dollars, to us. We know that the clubs are now seeking to negotiate with the players individually. Downwards, obviously. For my own part, I know that in that case I won’t be able to hope to get more than half of the 8 million CFA francs (13,400 dollars) that I’m owed. No way! So we’re advising the players not to accept and to wait for the conclusions of the auditing firm which has been called in to give an opinion.
They’ve been making a mockery of us for too long. Settling our salary arrears before the start of the championship is a precondition for resuming competition. We won’t compromise, let’s be quite clear about that.
Personally, I’m not planning to play football again here in Gabon. I’ve seen and been through too much. Today I’m fighting for all my brothers… And if I have the chance to practise my profession tomorrow, for a few more years, it will be abroad. And yet I love my country, I love Gabon. I hope a day will come when our football will be saved and our footballers will be respected. Tomorrow…”