Nigeria celebrate reaching their first AFCON final since 2013. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images ​



ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Congo DR players opted to make a show of solidarity instead of singing their national anthem ahead of Wednesday's Africa Cup of Nations semifinal vs. Ivory Coast in Abidjan.

Their country is affected by domestic instability and political strife after contested elections at the end of 2023, with the government now also contending with an armed insurgency by rebel group M23 in the east of the country.

The Leopards camp had already spoken of their desire to offer solidarity with those affected by violence ahead of the match, and they opted to draw awareness to the plight of the Congolese by refusing to sing their anthem pre-match.

Instead, the players clasped their right hands over their mouths while holding two fingers of their left hands to their temples. The gesture, which has been used as a goal celebration by Congo DR striker Cédric Bakambu since 2022, is to signify that people are being killed in the country but that no one is speaking out to stop the violence. The Congo DR players also wore black armbands in recognition of the lives lost in the conflict.

"It was a message to show support to the victims, to notify [people] that there are indeed things happening in the east and that it is necessary to shed light on it. People are disappointed about that, too," Congo DR's French coach Sébastien Desabre said after his team's 1-0 loss.

"The players are disappointed about this as well; we fought for all of the Congolese people, and we would have loved to have given them a smile this evening and to do the maximum in this competition," Desabre said.

"A national football team is a driving force for a nation, and this evening, it was also our duty to share what's happening in the East."

Eastern Congo has struggled with armed violence for decades as more than 120 groups fight for power, land and valuable mineral resources, while others try to defend their communities. The armed groups have long waged campaigns of violence in the mineral-rich region, and have been accused of mass killing

"Of course we're aware of what's happening, it's sad," midfielder Charles Pickel said on Tuesday. "It's very close to home, but we and journalists can help by speaking about what is happening."

Congo DR's run at the Cup of Nations came to an end at the final whistle, with hosts Ivory Coast riding a Sébastien Haller goal to victory and setting up a final against Nigeria on Sunday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Keywords: Ivory Coast Nigeria  Africa Cup of Nations AFCON

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