Lionel Messi’s trip to Gabon, which is set to stage the 2017 African Cup of Nations, has caused an uproar for a number of reasons, the first of which being the Barcelona star’s decision to show up slightly (read: extremely) under-dressed to meet President Ali Bongo Ondimba. It’s common knowledge that Messi is a man with a distinct (and often absurd) sense of style– one need not look past his unforgettable Ballon d’Or ceremony outfits to come to this conclusion– but meeting a country’s leader in jorts and a t-shirt is perhaps peak fashion failure.
Late last week, Messi was criticized by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) for far more severe reasons. In an official press release on the HRF website, president Thor Halvorssen accused the Argentine international of displaying “enthusiastic support for the dictatorship,” stating that “whereas Messi claims to support children’s rights, and even serves as a UNICEF ambassador to promote youth education, he has endorsed a kleptocratic regime that refuses to investigate the ritual murder of children in Gabon.” He added that Messi had “seriously undermined the credibility of his own charitable foundation” in providing PR services to the Bongo family (his journey was broadcast on Gabonese state television).
Ali Bongo has been in power for six years since succeeding his father, Omar Bongo, in 2009. The Bongo family’s reign dates back almost half a century to December 2nd, 1967, when the latter became president.
Messi’s visit was used as a form of internal propaganda by the dictatorship, who aim to promote the 2017 AFCON at any and all cost. The tournament will go on at the tremendous expense of the suffering Gabonese people, “despite the fact that the Bongo family’s embezzlement has left 20 percent of the population to live on less than $2 per day.”