The Commonwealth is a collection of fifty three countries which encompasses a quarter of the world land area and over 2.2 billion people – almost a third of the world’s population. The member states are all previous colonial nations, mostly British colonies, which have no obligation to one another, but are united by the Commonwealth Charter which includes history, culture, language, democracy, human rights and rule of law. Queen Elizabeth II sits in the position of Head of the Commonwealth.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games were held in Glasgow in Scotland. This richly cultural city of over six hundred thousand people on the River Clyde is passionate about hard work and success and invited the world in to celebrate their love of life and sport. This was the third time Scotland hosted the Commonwealth Games. The first two times the Games were held in Edinburgh, which is only forty miles to the east of Glasgow.
The 20th Commonwealth Games showcased the skills and talents of just under five thousand athletes from seventy one nations who competed in seventeen different sports. The African nations who competed at the 2014 Games were:
Botswana made their debut at the Games in 1974 and claimed their first gold medal at the Delhi Games in 2010 for the ladies 400m on the athletics track. Nigel Amos (the flag bearer at the 2014 Opening Ceremony) won a silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012, which was Botswana’s first Olympic medal. On his return to Botswana after the London Olympic Games he was presented with six cows as a gift of gratitude from his nation for his athletic success.
Republic of Cameroon
This is one of the wettest lands on earth. The delegation of forty seven trained in Aberdeen in Scotland as they did for the London Olympics and the city welcomed the Cameroon team with a civic reception before the Commonwealth Games started.
Republic of Ghana
In 1957 Ghana was the first country from colonial Africa to gain its independence. They always have a very large group of loyal supporters that follow the Ghanaian sporting teams around the world.
Kenya brought almost two hundred sports men and women. Their strength lies in athletics where they had sixty six world class athletes on the team at the Games. Athletes from around the world have been training in Kenya at altitude in a determination to overthrown Kenyan international long-distance athletic dominance.
This landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa had a team of twenty one athletes. They prepared for the Games in north Wales. The two countries have a reciprocal arrangement, so Welsh athletes are able to go to a high altitude training center in Lesotho to add to their training regimes.
Malawi is known as the ‘Warm heart of Africa’. Scotland has very strong ties with Malawi. Blantyre, Malawi’s second city and commercial center, is named after the birthplace of the nineteenth century Scottish explorer-missionary David Livingstone who played a huge role in fighting slavery and introducing trade and education to Malawi.
This beautiful country is known for its beautiful beaches, warm and tropical summers with cool and wet weather in the highlands, which helped their athletes in similar Scottish climatic conditions during the Games.
Mozambique was a former Portuguese colony and only became a member of the Commonwealth in 1995. Their athletes draw their inspiration from Maria Mutola who is their middle-distance track legend.
At these Games Namibia made its sixth appearance as Namibia after previously named South West Africa gained its independence from South Africa twenty years ago. Their track legend is Frankie Fredericks, who still holds the Commonwealth 200m record from 1994.
Nigeria is the economic powerhouse of Africa. It has the largest population on the African continent with 177 million people. Their first medal was at their debut in 1950 when they got a silver medal for Mens’ high jump and since then most of their sporting success at the Commonwealth Games has come from athletics and boxing.
Adrian Niyonshuti is a remarkable Rwandan mountain bike athlete. He lost six brothers in the genocide in the 1990s at aged seven and sport helped him ‘block out the trauma’. His story is now the subject of a documentary. He has opened his own cycling academy where twenty five children train with him. He has also supplied over two hundred bicycles to ten year olds since his project was launched in 2013. Adrian is a true inspiration which represents the spirit of the Games and the spirit of sport.
This island nation gained independence in 1976. Much of the land is made up of nature reserves. During the global baton relay before the Games opened in Glasgow, the baton travelled through all seventy one member states and was taken underwater in the reefs around the Seychelles – a first for the Commonwealth baton.
Sierra Leone merged after a decade of tragic civil war in 2002 with a drive to rebuild and take advantage of its economic potential. Their inspiration comes from Abdul Rashid Bangura, a policeman who protects the president. He represented Sierra Leone at the Games as a boxer. H won many regional contests but sadly he had no money to attend the regional qualifiers in Namibia for the Beijing Olympic. He has never left Africa and this trip to Glasgow has been funded by benefactor as well as a fundraising campaign.
The ‘Rainbow Nation’ has a long and strong sporting culture. Although it was one of the founding nations of the Commonwealth, it was expelled in 1964 due to its policy of Apartheid. South Africa was readmitted after their first democratic elections in 1994. Nelson Mandela was remembered in the Opening Ceremony. Pumeza Matshikiza, the South African soprano, sang a tribute to the late statesman.
Swaziland is another landlocked country which is surrounded by Mozambique and South Africa and is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. They made their debut at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and have since won four medals which include three in boxing and one in athletics.
Tanzania has a very complication and yet interesting history. The country today is a unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar and is home to Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 19,341 feet above sea level. Although they participated in five sports at the Games in 2014 their successes come on the athletics track and on the streets of the host cities in the marathon.
Since February same-sex sexual activity in Uganda is punishable with fourteen years in prison. The Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games featured a male-male kiss to celebrate equality in Scotland and a Ugandan coach was reported in the Times newspaper as saying, “Where we come from it is illegal to kiss a man, but here you can have it on the TV, right in front of the Queen. To me that is so great.”
The country takes its name from the Zambezi River. David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer was the first European to see the waterfall on the Zambezi and he named it Victoria Falls, but locally it is known as Mosi-oa-Tunya which means, ‘the thundering smoke’ or ‘the smoke that thunders’.
It is hoped that the 2014 Commonwealth Games will inspire the next generation to participate in sport to help transform their communities. In Africa there are many sporting role models who play an important part in the future of the African continent, and their appearance at the Commonwealth Games will not only highlight their passion, their commitment and their talent, but will also give others belief that they too can become whoever or whatever they dream to become.