Mimi Boateng: How an 8-year-old who went to stadium as a fan ended up hoisting AFCON trophy

The photo of a young Mimi Boateng hoisting the AFCON trophy during the 2008 edition of the tournament in Ghana has gone viral for years. Now, she tells her story…

Do you remember what you were doing at age eight? For Mimi Boateng, it was at this age that she made a giant stride that would be etched in her memory for the rest of her life.

Mimi was just eight when Ghana hosted the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and, despite the Black Stars’ failure to annex the trophy on home soil, she would go on to become one of the most easily identifiable faces from that tournament.

She never kicked a ball, neither was she among the VIPs that graced the final between Egypt and Cameroon. And yet, she was practically one of just two Ghanaians, alongside President John Agyekum Kufuor, to have touched the AFCON trophy before it was taken away by eventual winners Egypt.

It’s been 14 years since, but the photo of a young Mimi hoisting the gold-plated trophy – as she sat in a palanquin resting on the shoulders of a quartet of able-bodied men – remains one of the most iconic and widely-circulated pictures from that tournament.

And the story behind how she was picked to be part of the tournament’s closing ceremony is as interesting as her identity as an adult has become for many Ghanaians.

A former student of SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Tema, Mimi was in class three when the AFCON began. As a curious young girl, she was desperate to be part of the tournament after realising how a lot of Ghanaians warmed up to the games.

As hosts, the streets of Accra, Kumasi, Tamale and Sekond-Takordi were filled with paraphernalia of red, gold and green colours. It was a festival, one that both young and old relished.

So, when Mimi got to know that her father was involved in the organisation of the tournament, she followed him to every game. All that this young girl wanted to do was to watch Ghana’s national team excel. What she didn’t know, though, was that some of the excellence would stretch towards herself.

Mimi was one of many Ghanaians that were disappointed when the Black Stars lost to Cameroon in the semi-finals, a result that ended Ghana’s hopes of winning the AFCON. She was in the stadium that day as one of the 40,000 fans present but went home as the only one picked to perform at the closing ceremony.

“When Ghana lost in the semi-finals, I was very disappointed,” Mimi told Pulse.com.gh. “My father was involved in the closing ceremony, so he came one day and said we’re going to do something to make Ghanaians happy and to lift spirits.

“I didn’t even know what exactly he meant, but when I went to the stadium, they explained everything to me and I agreed to be part of the closing ceremony.”

Interestingly, Mimi’s cameo appearance at the closing ceremony was unplanned. Her presence at the stadium, however, changed everything. As the confident young girl she was, she still felt quite nervous despite all the rehearsals she was taken through before the closing ceremony.

She admits that she was nearly overawed by the huge crowd she saw at the Accra Sports Stadium and, but for her mother’s calming presence from the touchline, she could’ve dropped the trophy.

“I don’t think I realised at the time how many people were in the stadium, because we had always practised in an empty stadium. I don’t know why, but I imagined the stadium may be empty,” she recounted.

“We did the rehearsals, so when the day came, I was looking down because the trophy is very heavy and it was on my laps. There was a South African lady in charge and she was instructing me on what to do.

“So I looked towards my left and I saw her and she was like ‘lift it, lift it!’ The minute I lifted it and looked up, I just saw a stadium full of so many people. I nearly even dropped the trophy because I was so nervous.

“But I turned and I saw my mum on the sideline and she was just smiling and waving at me. I think that made me relax and gave me the confidence to continue. It was at that moment that I realised how grand the whole thing was.”

Three years ago, Mimi moved to England, where she’s currently an undergraduate student studying Electrical Engineering. Until recently, very few people knew she was the girl who hoisted the AFCON trophy in 2008.

There is no doubt, though, that that was a defining moment in her life and, according to her, she feels blessed to have been picked for such a role.

“I think I did [realise how special the occasion was]. I was very excited about Ghana football at the time and I was very excited about the AFCON itself, so when I got the opportunity to be involved in the AFCON, it was something I felt I was blessed to do,” Mimi said.

Since Mimi revealed herself as that girl from 2008, her followers on Twitter have grown 10 times over. But this is no different from how she was celebrated in school after featuring at the closing ceremony.

The icing on the cake was an article published in the national newspaper, the Daily Graphic, with Mimi’s face splashed as its feature image.

“The next day I missed school and on Monday they had released an article in the Daily Graphic,” she recalls. “When I came to school the next day, I remember my friends surrounding me immediately and they were like ‘come and see something that our teacher has.’

“I went to the classroom and the teacher showed me the article in the Daily Graphic. It was an exciting time in school.”

Now 22, Mimi still remembers everything from the 2008 AFCON. Many people who have sighted the photo of her hoisting the trophy haven’t forgotten that moment, either.

She had her first public interview with Pulse.com.gh in late January and, once people recognised her social media handle, her inbox began flooding with one nice message after another.

“I’ve gotten some very nice messages from people,” Mimi said. “I feel very honoured that people would take their time out to send me messages to compliment me and things like that. I’m just very grateful for it all.”

Despite being far away in England, Mimi still follows Ghana football and watches the Black Stars when she has the time. As a passionate Ghanaian football fan, she’s hopeful that the national team will soon return to its previous status as a continental heavyweight.

“I get very passionate when I’m watching Ghana football. Off late we’ve been very disappointing so I tend to not watch many matches,” she noted.

“That said, every time I say I won’t watch a Ghana game, I end up watching. I’m hopeful that, eventually, we’ll pick up again.”

Hoisting the AFCON trophy remains Mimi’s most memorable moment from the 2008 moment, but she also recalls the tears she shed following Ghana’s semi-final defeat to Cameroon.

At that young age, she had been consumed by the ‘host and win’ mantra that was flying around and thought it was a given that the Black Stars would win the tournament. How disappointed she was when it didn’t turn out that way.

“I was very excited about the tournament. I went to all the matches and the people around me admired the fact that an eight-year-old girl was so excited about the matches,” Mimi retorted.

“I remember when Ghana lost the semi-finals [against Cameroon], I cried bitterly in the stadium and everybody around me was just trying to console me. That was the first time I had an experience with Ghana football and I imagined that we were just going to sail through.

“Everybody was saying ‘host and win’ and so I just thought we would win it and when we lost, I was so surprised and couldn’t understand it at my age.”

Mimi is aware of how endearing she has become to Ghanaians and she doesn’t take it for granted. When she looks back, all she feels is gratitude: “I want to thank people for recognising the moment and realising how special it was. I also want to thank them for loving that small girl and I’m very proud of this moment.

“I thank God for everything that has happened since the 2008 AFCON.”

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