Tuesday, October 20, 2009



By Tidiane Sy
BBC News, Dakar

From Nelson Mandela to Muammar Gaddafi, national leaders have long dreamt of a united Africa. Now, the developers of a new board game are promising to help realise that vision.

Scattered about are 25 small squares, each of which covers a little piece of Africa.

The aim is to make the African youth be aware of the need to work closely together and to quickly achieve the United States of Africa
Salif Tidiane Ba

Players use a dice and banknotes in the traditional African currency of the cowry, and they have to answer questions on the challenges facing Africa, or on Africa's history.

An example: "Which African country used to be called Dahomey?"
The answer, for those who could not guess, is Benin. As they answer the questions, the players gradually fit the map of Africa back together.

This is Jekaben, a board game designed by committed pan-African Salif Tidiane Ba.

Huge challenge

Mr Ba thinks it could breed a new generation of pan-Africanists across the continent.
The game's name, Jekaben, is a term in the Bambara language which he says means "let's unite and decide together".

Some of the trump cards may surprise the players "The aim is to make the African youth be aware of the need to work closely together and to quickly achieve the United States of Africa," he says. Although he concedes it is a huge challenge which many leaders have failed to meet, he is confident it can become a reality. Well, within the limits of the game at least.

As well as answering questions about the continent, players of the game can also grab some of the new opportunities offered to the continent, such as mining concessions.
And they can collect trump cards - from a pack entitled "Wise leaders of Africa".

The statesmen - including Col Gaddafi, Mr Mandela and Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade - are regarded by Mr Ba as symbols of pan-Africanism. "Their cards are used as trump cards, they allow the player to move faster towards the United States of Africa," he says.
But he is aware that not all of his "wise leaders" will meet with universal approval.

Included in the pack is Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military strongman.
The late Omar Bongo of Gabon, who was accused of massive embezzlement of his country's oil wealth during four decades in power, is also featured.

And Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, who was overthrown in a coup after his rule descended into authoritarianism, also gets a card of his own.

Mr Ba admits that the choice is a very personal one.

Not child's play

But he hopes that the end justifies the means.
At the end of the game, an African map should be drawn on the board.

Could a board game really succeed in uniting Africa?

The players then get their African passport - the final step and ultimate reward.
The game already exists in English, Arabic and French and is also being translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

Mr Ba also hopes African languages will soon be catered for."We are planning to have it translated by next year into Swahili, Mandingo, Hausa, and other African languages," he says.

So far, the game is being made in local workshops but Mr Ba is hoping to produce it on an industrial scale and sell it across the continent.One of his main challenges will be to generate enough interest to popularise the game and reach the masses.
Not all of the questions are child's play.

Another example: "Which African author wrote Things Fall Apart?"
Perhaps pan-Africanism will not prove so easy after all.