African countries vie for top spot at this week’s Francophone World Scrabble Championship in Dakar, Senegal as 600 entrants from 21 countries, more than half of which are African countries, compete in this year’s games.
Now in its 37th year, the francophone competition is incredibly popular among French colonized countries of West Africa, with Africans claiming top honors since 2000. Mali’s Ministry of Sports picked up the tab for 10 players to compete in this year’s championship and Senegal’s Minister of Sports declared the tournament one of the year’s most important sports events, proving Scrabble is more than just a past time for many African countries.
Even though Africans face considerable economic and educational disadvantages, they have proven to be extremely resourceful in their quest for Scrabble dominance. Ivory Coast player Joseph Kouassi, 27, remembers making his first Scrabble set from discarded kitchen tiles because he was too poor to afford the board game. Fellow Ivoirian Elisee Poka, 32, traveled for 5 days in a bus to attend this year’s competition and prepared for the games by studying words in his notebook while his French competitors arrived by plane and used computer programs to generate anagrams.
Senegal holds nine world titles in Scrabble despite a literacy rate of just 40%. Amar Diokh, 53, of Senegal won the one-on-one title from the French last year and says, “French is not my mother tongue. I taught myself French when I was in my teens. So I can’t help but feel enormous pride to be able to beat the French in their own language.”
An African country has yet to nab the grand champion title.
PHOTO: AFP; BBC