Juan Obama won the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea this month, not as a player for the champions Ivory Coast, but as a Taxi driver. Juan had his busiest and most profitable month ever.
MALABO, EQUATORIAL GUINEA (REUTERS) – Juan Obama makes his living driving a cab around the streets of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
This January, the 52-year-old father of six says he hit a windfall, cashing in on Africa’s most prominent soccer tournament.
Equatorial Guinea hosted the recently concluded Cup of Nations that saw Ivory Coast take home the coveted victor’s trophy.
But Juan’s tournament win came in the shape of increased business as thousands of football fans poured into the tiny West African country.
“When they organise an event like this one, people from all over the world come here, mostly from African countries; that is why there were a lot of people here in Equatorial Guinea, particularly in Malabo,” said Juan.
Equatorial Guinea stepped in as last-minute hosts of the 2015 African Nations Cup finals, replacing Morocco, who were stripped of the tournament having asked for it to be postponed over fears of the spread of the Ebola virus. With just two months to prepare, the host faced an onslaught of criticism over a lack of proper facilities but that did not deter fans from going there.
Marie Jose is one of Juan’s clients and a fan of Equatorial Guinea’s national side Nzalang Nacional. The team sparked jubilant celebrations around the country as the hosts snatched an unlikely African Nations Cup quarter-final place after a pulsating 2-0 win over neighbours Gabon.
“Well, before it started the atmosphere here was pretty normal. But after the tournament began, moreover, when Guinea started winning all matches, the atmosphere changed and people got really excited; especially when we played against Tunisia; a match that Equatorial Guinea nearly lost. And in which Balboa scored the two goals. Everyone was really happy and lots of people went out. People were euphoric! There were cars all over the city, everything was fantastic,” she said.
But for Juan, the best part of the tournament is the extra cash he made that will help to put food on his family table.
“A lot of money as such I don’t know; what I do know is that when there is a lot of people moving about there is money coming in,” Juan added.
Equatorial Guinea boasts oil and natural gas wealth which meant they couldfoot the estimated $40-million bill for hosting the tournament.
Still, the country struggles with widespread poverty and unemployment.
Some Malabo residents said they would have liked to see the Cup of Nations generate new jobs.
“People suffer a lot here and there is no work. That’s why we wanted Equatorial Guinea to bring the Cup of Nations here, the Cup of Africa,” said this unnamed Malabo resident.
Juan was equally optimistic and hopes the Cup of Nations will return to his country.
“The significance of the Cup of Nations for me is that it should be something normal so that the country can always host an event like this; that is why we wish that the tournament will always come here so life can always be this exciting,” he said.
Taxi drivers like Juan were not the only small business owners to benefit from the Nations Cup event. Hotels, and restaurants also saw increased profits over the duration of the event which ended on Sunday, February 8th.