— Published 26 April 2023

Games of the Francophonie, a national priority

For a long time it seemed that the date would never come closer. Initially scheduled for 2021, postponed for a year and then another, the 2023 Games of La Francophonie in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), took a new step last week. The sporting and cultural event (July 28 to August 6) has slipped under the symbolic bar of 100 days before the opening.

At three months and a few handfuls of hours of the three blows, the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) invited all “stakeholders“, Tuesday, April 25, for a press conference at its Paris headquarters. The first of its kind. An opportunity, finally, to discuss the state of preparation of the upcoming Games, organized in the largest francophone country in the world, and the largest city.

Isidore Kwandja Ngembo, the director of the organizing committee, recognized it without trying to deny the obvious: the preparation of the event was marked by “difficult conditions“. The construction of the infrastructure was delayed for a long time, which was considered unavoidable. The sanitary crisis was invited. The athletes’ village project was abandoned, the Congolese organizers having to fall back on a plan B, a modernization of the University of Kinshasa’s housing.

But Isidore Kwandja Ngembo assures it today without looking for words: “We will be ready. The DRC will be ready. Despite the many challenges, Kinshasa will be ready to welcome the athletes and artists of the Francophone space.”

Félix Tshisekedi, the head of state, has made it a national issue. And even better than that: one of the three priorities of the DRC for the year 2023, after the visit of Pope Francis in early February, and before the presidential elections scheduled for the end of the year. Proof of his interest in the event: Félix Tshisekedi devoted his entire Saturday in mid-April to an in-depth visit to the future competition sites.

Less than 100 days before the deadline (D – 93 this Wednesday, April 26), the building sites still look like building sites. But the organizing committee has assured and repeats: they will be delivered by the end of May.

For the rest, the Congolese are pressing the gas pedal. Zeina Mina, the director of the International Committee of the Games of La Francophonie (CIJF), set up shop in Kinshasa at the beginning of the year. She accompanies the organizing committee on a daily basis. Caroline St-Hilaire, the new administrator of the OIF, made her first official trip to the DRC since her appointment at the end of March.

Isidore Kwandja Ngembo announced at a press conference on Tuesday, April 25, not without pride: the DRC has decided to grant free visas to all participants in the Games of La Francophonie. The athletes and officials, but also the media. “A proof of the will of our country to organize Games for all,” he suggested.

Three months before the event, the DRC has registered more than 4,500 participants, including about 2,500 athletes, from about 40 countries. Often presented as a “springboard” for the young generations, in particular in Africa, the Games version 2023 will also serve as a laboratory. Michel Huet, the delegate of the International Judo Federation (IJF), explained it: a competition by teams of an unpublished kind will be organized at the last day of the judo events. The teams will be composed of athletes from different countries, at the discretion of the judokas themselves.

Security? It has often been pointed out as a risk for the delegations. But Isidore Kwandja Ngembo and Zeina Mina are reassuring. The Congolese explained that 4,500 police officers would be deployed to ensure the security of the sites and accommodation. The Lebanese added that a private security agency, Delta, had been recruited to reinforce the competition sites.

Very trendy: the DRC is already talking about the legacy of the Games of La Francophonie. “We had no indoor basketball hall, we will have three after the event, available to the public,” said Isidore Kwandja Ngembo. We did not have a dojo for judo. We will finally have one.

A project is already written in beautiful letters on the roadmap of the country: the organization of the first Games of the DRC. No less than eight provinces, out of the 26 listed in the DRC, have given their agreement. Isidore Kwandja Ngembo: “In our country, young people travel little or not at all, even from one province to another. With this new competition, young Congolese will be able to use sports to broaden their horizons.”