By Eval Edu

What have you heard about Africa? That people live on trees? That Africa is a country? Or its world is ruled by ‘Black Magic’ or ‘Black Blood’ runs through its veins? We’ll leave the answers for yet another day.

It’s just a day to the start of the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon, and the lifelong struggles of the continent have once again dominated discussions; denial of players of African descent a chance to represent their nations, Sebastian Haller’s outburst during an interview in Holland, and Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp referring to Africa’s biggest showpiece as a small competition somewhere are just a few cases of the hydra-headed monster; no wonder Arsenal legend Ian Wright said the coverage of the AFCON is ‘tinged with racism.’ The championship kicks off on Sunday, January 9 in Cameroon, and for Africa and Africans the competition has always been about more than ‘just’ football.

Maybe, Ethiopia’s Yidnekatchew Tessema, one of CAF’s founding fathers saw the future in 1974 in Cairo when he made a strong statement by referring to African football as a force to unite the continent. In Tessema’s words;

I’m issuing a call to our General Assembly that it affirms that Africa is one and indivisible, that we work towards the unity of Africa together. That we condemn superstition, tribalism, and all forms of discrimination within our football and in all domains of life. We do not accept the division of Africa into Francophone, Anglophone, and Arabophone. Arabs from North Africa and Zulus from South Africa, we are all authentic Africans. Those who try to divide us by way of football are not our friends”.

If Tessema’s speech is anything to go by, surely African football has many enemies.

To brace up to the many problems confronting the continent, African football national teams have awful aliases and unapologetically so, choosing nicknames that echo positive identities and pride, while passing a specific message, and emboldening collective capabilities and extraordinary attributes – the dance, the attire, the people, the place, their football; I call it the unique sights and sounds of Africa, and we will take a look at the nicknames of the 24 teams in Cameroon.


Photo Credit: The BBC

Cameroon’s reputation precedes them, roaring into every competition with strength and vigour. Previously known as the Lions, however, after a disappointing third-place finish in the 1972 edition on home soil, then President Ahmadou Ahidjou decided to tweak the nickname to ‘Indomitable Lions,’ in a bid to give the team a more impressionable status. In an absolutely magical turnaround, Cameroon has gone on to win five AFCON titles since the renaming, dominating in the early 2000s. Strong, physical, imposing, and intimidating; these are the attributes of the Cameroonian national team, a replica of Lions in the wild.


Photo credit: CNN

Stallions are quite symbolic to the people of Burkina Faso; the nickname is derived from a folklore or legendary story of a Princess (Yennenga) who was saved by a horseman on the back of a stallion. It is no coincidence that Burkina Faso’s coat of arm carries a symbol of a stallion (horse), in fact the most coveted top prize of Ouagadougou’s pan-African film festival is the Etalon d’Or (Golden Stallion). The Stallion signify nobility, royalty, and strength, and have come close to winning in 2013 and 2017 editions.


The Island nation, Cape Verde is home to over 60 species of Sharks, hence, the water predator is a national symbol of the people. Nicknamed the Blue Sharks, the young and dynamic Cape Verdean loves to attack just like sharks; just like in the 2013 and 2015 editions, many will love to see the Blue Sharks show their teeth in Cameroon.


Ethiopia is a country with rich history when it comes to African football. It was one of the three participants at the first edition of the competition in 1957 in Sudan. It is surprising that the national team was nicknamed after a species of a wild goat instead of more intimidating animals. The team has made a miserly three appearances at the showpiece since 1970, and a return in 2021 may be trying to make up for lost time.


Nearly every African country boast of warriors to defend their territory, they all had strength, and spirit of unity to conquer enemies. Away from the conventional way of naming, the Zimbabwean national team nickname was coined by a former coach of the team called Mick Poole. After watching a 1979 Hollywood blockbuster movie titled ‘The Warriors,’ Poole caught the inspiration and christened his team with the name, likening them to warriors. Against all odds, Poole led Zimbabwe to their first major silverware in 1985 at the CECAFA Challenge Cup. The Zimbabwean national team is brave and strong, and will hope the warriors tag lead them far in Cameroon.


Photo credit: BBC

Lions are native to Senegal, just as they are to Cameroon. Teranga translates to ‘Wolof’ in local tongue which means hospitality; apart from being hospitable people back home, there’s nothing hospitable about the Teranga Lions on the pitch. The Senegalese national side is strong, domineering, and subduing in their play; they attack and defend in numbers just like the Pride.


It is absolutely nonsensical to nickname a football team ‘Elephants,’ this is same like going with the moniker ‘Tortoise,’ but thank goodness the Guineans are nimble-footed on the pitch, boasting of players like Pascal Feidouno and Titi Camara in the past, some of the best dribblers in African football. However, the nickname the National Elephants is as a result of Elephants being a symbol of strength and unity in the Guinean culture.


The Malawi national team was formerly referred to as the Nyasaland Flames, before the nickname was rebranded to just ‘Flames.’  The name Malawi is derived from a Bantu dialect Maravi, meaning Flames. Lake Malawi transcends the length of the country, and gives off a shimmering, silvery, sparkling, flashy effect when hit by the sun, hence the nickname Flames. The Flames have failed to fire with just one appearance in the AFCON in 1984, and asking for fireworks in Cameroon will be asking for too much.  


Photo credit: BBC

The Atlas Lions also known as Barbary Lions are subspecies of lions native to Morocco and North Africa. Strong and heavily built the Atlas Lions are gradually facing extinction, and like the football team, with only one nations cup title to their name, the Moroccan national team must roar back again in Cameroon.


Photo credit: BuzzGhana

Black Stars is more than just a moniker to Ghanaians. After the first world war, Marcus ‘Black Moses’ Garvey set-up the largest African-American consortium with a main agenda to instill black economic self-reliance and black people’s right to political self determination and pride, as well as  promote the return of Africans to their native lands. It is more than just soccer; players who wear the Ghana jersey do so with a consciousness of bearing Africa’s pride, freedom, equality, and justice, an idea that resonates with former leader Kwame Nkrumah.

GABON – THE PANTHERS (Les Pantheres)

The Panther is the national animal of Gabon, and awakens some form of self pride. The big cat symbolizes the strength and courage of the people of Gabon; no wonder captain, Pierre Emerick Aubemayang once celebrated a goal in the Europa League cup (Versus Rennes) with a Black Panther mask and a Wakanda forever demonstration. The big cat will be looking forward to hunt in packs in Cameroon.

COMOROS ISLAND – The Coelacanths (Les Coelecantes)

The Coelacanth is a giant fish that was thought to be extinct about 66 million years ago, but was rediscovered to inhabit the waters around the Comoros Island. The species is 6-foot and weighs over 200 pounds; such is the strength that has been displayed by the little Island nation to qualify to their first ever nations cup in Cameroon.


Photo credit: Getty images

The Pharaohs is a quite straightforward moniker. The Egyptian national team is christened after the country’s ancient monarchs. Pharaohs are thought of as direct messengers from the gods engraved with the divine right to lead others. Well, this has worked well in their favour, as Egypt remains the most successful team in the AFCON with seven titles; they were the inaugural winners in 1957, first African nation to participate in the world cup in 1934, and harbours CAF’s headquarter in Cairo. They failed to lead all through on home soil in 2019; can they do it in Cameroon?


The Super Eagles is one of the most famous nicknames in African football. Since pre-colonial era, the national team has changed from ‘Red Devils’ to ‘Green Eagles’ to signify the country’s green and white colour flag, and then to the Super Eagles after the 1988 Nations Cup. The team is known for speed, trickery, flamboyance, and strength, similar to the eagle.


The Falcons are making a return to the Nations Cup for the first time since 2012, coincidentally only their third appearance at the continental showpiece. The secretary birds as they are also known are native to Sudan. With eagle-like features, the falcons signify strength.


Guinea-Bissau is home to the African wild dog, the vicious animal represents an intimidating presence and a sense of national pride. Cunning, quick, and strong; the attributes exemplifies the Guinea-Bissau national team, who are in Cameroon to make an impression.


It’s ironic how Algerians have settled for a subtle moniker against more intimidating nicknames as chosen by other nations. However, the Fennec fox is part of Algeria’s national heritage, the fennec fox are a subspecies of foxes native to the Sahara Desert. The foxes are cunning, full of trickery, and resilience, this is how the Algerian national team plays; more will be expected from the defending champions in Cameroon.


Photo credit: Bleacher report

The Ivory Coast national team derives its nickname ‘The Elephants’ from the huge herds of Elephants that once roamed the country and made it a leading producer of ivory. Big and intimidating, the golden generation swept to the title in 2015, much will be expected to be seen from this new look Elephants in Cameroon.


Nicknamed after the country’s national currency and second word of the country’s identity, the Leone Stars are making a rare appearance at the African Cup of Nations.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA – National Lightning (Nzalang Nacional)

Interestingly, this is the only nickname inspired by nature, the National Thunder or National Lightning is a moniker coined in respect to the vicious storms experienced in the rainy season. Quite symbolic to the people of Equatorial Guinea that its national team is after it. The Nzalang Nacional have been quite an impression in their last few outings at the AFCON, and will love to repeat same in Cameroon.


The nickname of the Tunisian national team is gleaned from their ancient history of civilization; Carthage was the coastal capital of the Carthaginian settlement, a flourishing ancient civilization that resided in modern day Tunisia. The city is left with ruins after it was destroyed by the Roman Empire. Tunisia has taken a well-known animal and added some flair, as indicated by their play. They finished fourth in 2019; a better finish in Cameroon will be most welcomed.

MAURITANIA – Al-Murabitun / Almoravids (Lions of Chinguetti)

The Mauritanian national team is nicknamed “Almoravid”, referring to Almoravid dynasty which was an imperial Berber Muslim dynasty emerged in the 5th and 6th AH in the Islamic Maghreb region. The Lions of Chinguetti will have their work cut out in Cameroon.

MALI – THE EAGLES (Les Aigles)

A Mali supporter gestures behind an eagle statue in reference to his team’s nickname “The Eagles” during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Mali and Egypt in Port-Gentil on January 17, 2017. / AFP / Justin TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Photo credit: Getty images 

Just like in Nigeria and Tunisia, the eagle itself has always been a symbol of power, grace, agility, strength and, like a number of other African national teams; Malians want to see those characteristics in their players in Cameroon.


The Gambian national team struggled to find a suitable moniker for itself just like its other counterparts. It was first known as ‘Gambian Eleven,’ and sometimes the team was fondly called ‘Groundnut Boys,’ which resonate Gambia as a leading exporter of groundnuts in the 1970s till date. It was a tough job to get a nickname for the national team, and the plan was thrown to the public who made varying suggestions until ‘Black Scorpion’ was picked. Black connotes negativity and could have some implication; hence it was dropped for a more straightforward ‘Scorpions’. The nickname had nothing to do with Gambia; in fact Scorpions aren’t a symbol of any kind in the country.

Have your say. We'd love to know what you think.