“Africa’s World Cup” is over, but many of us know that on the continent, the games will continue. Such is the all-consuming passion for football in Africa, a fact that Antwerp-based photographer Jessica Hilltout aimed to capture in her just-released book on grassroots football, Amen. The project was first brought to our attention by the team at Aid Watch, and Hilltout’s book has since been profiled in the New York Times’ Lens Blog, as well as in a recent piece by the Times’ Jo’burg correspondent, Celia Dugger. It’s nice to see these stunning photos make the rounds because they really highlight the passion, ingenuity and creativity of the players Hilltout met, from some 30 villages across 10 countries in west and southern Africa—players that don’t necessarily have access to expensive equipment.

And yet.

In her introduction to the book, Hilltout writes:

Africa is a world like no other.  The people have simple needs and huge hearts. They accept their lot in life with a supreme calmness. […] Africa is a land where the superfluous and superficial seem stripped away, a place where the fundamentals shine through.  What makes it so special is that this vast continent accepts its fate with elegance and grace, head held high.  Here, I was constantly amazed at the strength of humankind. Here, nothing is a problem, despite money always being one. Yes, Africans may be poor, but poverty does not bring misery. A state of mind alone can bring happiness.

Oh, those simple Africans. Forever destined for lives of misery and poverty. And yet so happy.

I suppose this is what happens when the objects of your photos (Dugger writes that Hilltout “photographed [the players’] balls resting on cracked earth or cupped in hands with nail-bitten fingers”) become more important than the subjects who made them. In  fact, looking through all the photos (which you can see here), the book and the accompanying videos, you’re hard pressed to hear the voices of the players themselves come through. In the end, it is only Hilltout who gets to speak.

I would have preferred that she let the photos speak for themselves.

h/t Siddhartha Mitter



  1. Another pernicious aspect of such rhetoric is the way attributes like "courage" disappear and become unthinkable. "Acceptance" is fatalism while its opposite number is "despair." What gets lost in the middle is what one actually finds, the courage to refuse to accept one's fate and work to change it, which is neither despair nor acceptance. But the narrative is so wedded to the idea of simple people with" simple needs" that Africans who would like to have refrigerators and cars and so on literally become unimaginable.

  2. American Indians and Africans need to join up, and not just in my family. The Noble Savage Club? Teepees, lions, and buffalo oh my? Photograph Our Poverty Anonymous?

  3. Time for a Settlers vs. Savages tournament to be held every odd year the Latin Americans don't hold a Copa America.

    The Central African Republican can host the first fixture. Can you think of a more savage place on earth other than…Stoke?

  4. I guess if the pictures were allowed to speak for themselves, they may tell the truth, which is quite inconvenient.
    Oh, the pain and heaviness of the white man/woman's burden!

    "What makes it so special is that this vast continent accepts its fate with elegance and grace, head held high."

    Oh, how twisted a sentence, let me count the ways. Each word clashes with the next, but it is a beautiful sentence, no?

  5. Once more, like it almost always is, Africa gets to be looked from an ignorant, messianic point of view. Ignorance that masquerades as an informed deduction of reality, but painfully so because it's based on stereotype.

    Only Africans will tell their story like they want it told.

  6. ''Oh, those simple Africans. Forever destined for lives of misery and poverty. And yet so happy.''

    Woah! I guess I can rant till the cows come home but seriously, what is it we are doing to change such a world view of AFRICA?

    Here is how they see it:

    AFRICA= (MiseryxPoverty)+Happiness
    AFRICA=Happiness- (MiseryxPoverty)
    AFRICA=(MiseryxPoverty): Happiness

    My question to you my brothers and sisters is how do we see ourselves?

    Oh yeah, I forgot we are so Simple we can't even recognise that is high time we refuse to be portrayed this way.
    India has some of the worst slums and poor people I have come across, please let me not even touch on the issue of the ''untouchables'' I don't see them portrayed as simple!

    Why oh why are we forever walking backwards?

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