Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Things that make you go 'hmm'

Interesting tidbit from the BBC soccer site.

The vice-president of the Ivory Coast Football Federation, Idriss Diallo, has told BBC Sport that he hopes racism will not be an issue when they play Spain in a friendly on Wednesday.


"Most of the Spanish people are more intelligent than those people involved in racism," he told the BBC.

Ironic coming from Côte d'Ivoire, a country where intolerance and xenophobia has become the governing ideology of the state.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Another stain on Spanish soccer

Yet another incident of racist abuse of soccer players hit the headlines in western Europe and yet again it was based in Spain. Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o was viciously abused by 'supporters' of Real Zaragoza. The Cameroon and African player of the year tried to leave the field in protest but was eventually convinced to continue by his teammates and his manager Frank Rijkaard, who is also black.

It was a terrible no-win situation for Eto'o. He could stay on the pitch and continue to suffer unrestrained abuse by a bunch of savages who call themselves fans of the Beautiful Game. Or he could leave the pitch in protest and reward the animals' behavior.

He stayed on the field and set up Barça's first goal, which must've been a stronger rebuke to the imbeciles than leaving the match.

Racism is not unique to Spanish soccer. Eto'o found support from Ivorian player Marc Zoro, who also tried to storm of the pitch when he was racially abused while playing for the Italian club Messina.

I'm not sure if racism is really more prevelant in western European grounds than elsewhere. After all, western European leagues are the most prestigious in the world so any incidents there get more media attention. And being the top leagues, they also attract the top players from Africa and elsewhere outside of Europe.

What's clear, however, is the complete lack of will of European soccer authorities to deal with racist abuse inside the stadia. Authorities have all but stamped out racist chants that were once prevalent in the English game. But they succeeded at this in part because they were willing to do what it took to get rid of this garbage.

By contrast, Zaragoza have been fined at least twice in the last year by the Spanish soccer federation for the racist behavior of their fans.

The penalty each time: an underwhelming $700.

If teams were forced to play home games at neutral sites or had points deducted, I bet that would make clubs take racism a little bit more seriously. The derisory $700 taps on the wrist clearly aren't working.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Shell Nigeria ordered to pay $1.5 billion in compensation

A very significant case is working its way through the Nigerian legal system. Yesterday, a Nigerian court ordered the giant petroleum multinational Shell to pay $1.5 billion to the Ijaw people of the country's Niger Delta region. The Ijaw have been fighting for six years to be compensated for decades of massive environmental degradation and for more of a share of the oil revenues to stay in the region.

In 2000, the country's National Assembly ordered Shell to compensate the Ijaw; Shell countered that the parliament did not have the authority to issue such an order. But a judge ruled that since both sides had agreed to go before the National Assembly, the order was binding on both sides.

Shell has promised to appeal the ruling, which is no surprise. While $1.5 billion may be a drop in the bucket to a company that made a profit of about $40 billion in the last two years alone, the multinational is surely nervous that this ruling will set a precedent that may be repeated elsewhere in Nigeria or in other countries.

If Shell ultimately is forced to pay the money, it would be one of the few times in the country's history that Nigeria's justice system has worked for the benefit of ordinary citizens.

Dire poverty is a significant problem in Nigeria, despite the fact (or some would argue, because of the fact) that the country's is one of the world's leading oil producers. Activists have been campaigning for years for oil companies operating in the Delta to be less environmentally destructive; the most famous being Ken Saro-Wiwa who was controversially executed in 1995 by the then military dictatorship. The court ruling comes in the midst of an esclating campaign of violence by militants in the Delta against oil installations.

It will be interesting to see what the reaction, if any, will come from Nigeria's president Olesegun Obasanjo (presuming he's not too preoccupied with making himself president-for-life). After all, it was only a week ago when he cited the loss of revenue from African extractive industries to foreign banks as a contributor to poverty on the continent... oil being Nigeria's top extractive industry.

Friday, February 24, 2006

What's going on the northern Central African Republic?

It's often in humanitarian circles that when there are serious problems in remote areas, often the first indicator to the outside world is refugee flows. By that standard, something fishy is happening in parts of the Central African Republic (CAR) but it's not exactly clear what.

The UN's IRIN service reports that: Men, women and children from the Central African Republic are continuing to flee into Chad daily, with at least 4,000 pouring in so far this month to escape violence that refugees say has killed 50 people in February alone, and shows no signs of subsiding, the UN refugee agency said.

The UN News Service indicates that: The northern party of the [Central African] republic is becoming increasingly volatile and refugees report they are being attacked by bandits, government forces who suspect they are supporting rebel groups and rebel groups who raid their villages for food and cattle and recruit young men.

The UN indiciated that already some 43,000 refugees from the CAR are already being taken care of in southern Chad.

The BBC's sources tell them of a nascent rebellion against the CAR government of General Francois Bozize.

The region is already unstable, with genocide in the eastern Sudanese region of Darfur, political domestic turmoil in Chad, hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees in Chad and border tension between Chad and Sudan.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Africa's last colony

The London Review of Books has a review of Toby Shelley's book Endgame in the Western Sahara: What Future for Africa’s Last Colony? which deals with the continent's last major de-colonization effort.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A 'second Marshall Plan'?

The UN secretary-general's representative for the Great Lakes region of Africa has floated the idea of a 'second Marshall Plan' for the area.

Mamadou Bah, special envoy of the African Union Commission for the Great Lakes region, said the time had come to undertake development projects because "on the whole, the political and security environment is improving".

However, good governance should be factored into any massive infusion of foreign cash. Uganda and Rwanda each have serious problems with human rights and political freedom. Burundi is in a precarious political situation. The DR Congo is effectively a country without a government as well as being home to arguably the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

And given the massive corruption in Africa, which wastes a staggering 25 percent of the collective continental income according to Nigeria's president, good governance would be absolutely integral for any 'second Marshall Plan' to have the slightest hope of succeeding.

Oversight would have to be rigorous, lest there be a repeat of the Chad/World Bank debacle.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mugabe wants 'bridges' with Britain

You have to wonder if Robert Mugabe is really mellowing out or if he is finally starting to feel the heat. You'd think he'd be in good spirits considering the fratricide tearing apart the main opposition party, MDC.

So I was surprised when Zimbabwe's famously intransigent dictator recently building bridges between his country and Tony Blair's United Kingdom. The British prime minister has been Mugabe's primary scapegoat for most of Zimbabwe's ills, even the bad weather. Zimbabwe's thug-in-chief has referred to the British prime minister variously as 'unholy,. a terrorist, a 'liar' and compared him to Hitler and Mussolini.

(Of course, Mugabe also called Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu 'evil', not that anyone took him seriously before that tirade anyway.)

I'm sure it's nothing more than a ploy for the Mugabe, who's disgraced internationally even if he's still somewhat revered in parts of Africa, to attempt to regain some semblance of the moral high ground. Or maybe with the domestic opposition split, he feels comfortable enough to ask for international help to revive the economy that he and his cronies have destroyed. I suspect that's where he's headed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The continuing humanitarian crisis in the DRC

I've seen a number of media stories on the seemingly cursed Democratic Republic of the Congo in the last few days. The US' National Public Radio did a story on Doctors Without Borders' (MSF) efforts provide health care to some 20,000 refugees in the country.

On a related note, the United Nations' IRIN news service reports on an effort by the UN and the European Commission to raise over US$680 million to help meet the basic needs of 30 million vulnerable people in the DRC.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs [J]an Egeland was quoted as saying each day more than 1,200 people in DRC die from the lingering effects of civil war: malnutrition, disease, and displacement.

It is surely the most severe, chronic humanitarian disaster in the world. It's been estimated that four million Congolese have died since the country's civil war began in 1998. Most due to the 'side effects' of war rather than the bullets themselves.

Another IRIN article talks about the peculiar terror of northern Katanga, in the east of the country.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ethiopia's food aid addiction

The BBC has a good article on Ethiopia's dependency on foreign food aid. It notes that while aid may be well-intentioned, its effects can sometimes be devastating (and I'm careful to not lump all aid together).

Even good years, some five million Ethiopians need food aid to survive.

"We import huge amounts of grain from abroad. So this will inevitably affect the internal production and markets," said the Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legesse.
When foreign aid lands, local prices collapse, and farmers who have managed to produce a surplus find their crop is virtually worthless.

They have no money to pay for seed or fertiliser for the following year.

And the cycle continues.

The article also notes that while droughts have always been a fact of life in that region, they occur four or five times more frequently than they used.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rewarding incompetence and corruption

Some years ago, Brazlian soccer legend Pele predicted that an African country would win the World Cup before the end of the 20th century. Unfortunately, that prediction did not come true. The main thing that has held back African powers from international success is not the quality of players, but the quality of organization. From governments meddling in the affairs of soccer federations, to federations meddling in team selection, to often lamentable training conditions for players and coaches, to poor youth development programs. In African soccer, much like Africa as a whole, incompetence and corruption are too often rewarded instead of punished. So much so that you'd think it was run by appointees of US president Bush.

A great example of this has occurred at African soccer's show piece event.

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has announced that 43-year-old Mourad Daami will officiate the final between Egypt and Ivory Coast in Cairo.
He was banned in 2001 after being found guilty of trying to influence the referee at the 2000 African Champions League final in Ghana between Hearts of Oak and the Tunisian club Esperance.

Daami, who as at the match as a member of Esperance's delegation, entered the referee's change room to try to persuade colleague Robbie Williams of South Africa to call off the match because of rioting by spectators at Accra's National stadium.

The Nations Cup final is the most high profile match administered by African confederation. Why would CAF confer responsibility of this most important match to an official who botched his previous Nations Cup final AND was banned for improper conduct shows? In doing so, they are rewarding both incompetence and corruption... in a single individual.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sanctions slapped on Ivorian xenophobes but will it prevent genocide?

The situation in Côte d'Ivoire is something that one could describe, hopefully erroneously, as pre-genocide. The international community (UN, African Union, ECOWAS and France) seems baffled as to how to deal with the situation. And I am too. There are UN peacekeepers in the country but not content with merely attacking Ivorian Muslims and other 'impure breeds,' the xenophobic militias and mobs have made the UN a target as well.

Ever since a pompous ass masquerading as head of state named Henri Konan Bédié started using a term called Ivoirité in order to bolster his flagging credibility, the country has gone downhill. Ivoirité is a nationalistic, xenophobic, racist term used to denounce anyone whose 'Ivorianness' is not sufficiently pure. Genocide is the logical conclusion of this hideous mentality. Tragically, once a Pandora's Box like this is opened, it's darn near impossible to close. But trying Bédié for treason would be a start.

Another good step is the recent UN sanctions imposed on three militia leaders, including the infamous fanatic Charles Blé Goudé, a radical who's been stirring up trouble for 15 years. Goudé is a master of whipping up young, unemployed men into a hysteria against his demon of choice. In the past, it was the regime of the dictator Félix Houphouêt-Boigny. Now, it's against the French and the UN. Anything to keep him in the spotlight. I'm not sure how much good it will do as the three leaders reportedly do not travel much or have foreign assets, but it's a start.

I really don't know how the crisis can be resolved. Normally, I'd say the international community and African Union need to put pressure on the regime of President Laurent Gbagbo (with whom the xenophobic militias are nominally aligned) to reign in those militias and to push through legislation to end discrimination against northerners, which is the cause of the civil war.

However, Gbagbo is in a virtually impossible situation. Such actions are the only way the country can ever hope to truly re-unite. Northerners (the main target of Ivoirité) have been treated like second-class citizens for too long and aren't going to return to a situation where this is likely to continue. He also needs to crack down on the xenophobic militias who are acting in his name. Frankly, I don't think Gbagbo has the least bit of influence over the militias and I don't think he has the backbone to stand up to them. But even if Gbagbo does push through such changes and effectuate such a crackdown, he will be seen as a traitor by the fanatics and will be at serious risk for assassination. He only needs to look at what happened to Rwandan strongman Juvénal Habyrimana when he signed a power sharing peace agreement with his country's rebels: the xenophobes nominally in his camp killed him and started a genocide.

Rwanda's hate radio was instrumental in the execution of that country's genocide. Côte d'Ivoire's hate media is already active.

Are you afraid for the country's future? I know I sure am.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Shame on the DRC soccer federation!

My condolences to Portsmouth and DR Congo striker Lomano LuaLua, whose 18 month old son died a few weeks ago of a mystery illness.

The DRC's soccer federation withheld the tragic news from LuaLua for over two weeks. The striker was facing with life and death matters like the African Nations Cup and the federation surely didn't want him to deal with trivialities like his infant son's death.

To refuse to tell someone their son died for two weeks simply so he can play in a soccer tournament is nothing short of sickening. If I were LuaLua, I would refuse to play for the national team again. At the very least until they apologized and groveled for forgiveness for this shameless behavior.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Are you now, or have you ever been, a homosexual?

Wherever activists fight to ensure that gays are afforded the same human rights as everyone else, the inevitable backlash follows.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of a hideous attempt by the Nigerian government to ban not only gay rights, but any form of expression in favor of gay rights.

Now, tabloid newspapers in neighboring Cameroon have started a gay witchhunt to 'out' prominent homosexuals who engage in 'deviant behavior,' according to the tabloids.

"We could not remain silent. We had to ring the alarm bell," ranted the editor of one of the rags.

His paper offered the headline (insert menacing music): 'Gays are among us.'

But the campaign has been condemned by the state communication council for invading people's private lives.

The country's communications minister was one of those named.

Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon are three of the most corrupt countries in the world. But while Kenya is in an uproar over graft scandals, Nigeria and Cameroon are scapegoating gays and those who support human rights for gays.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Share your football/soccer story

I was recently contacted by a woman involved with a project entitled Everyone Has A Good Football Story, which will be published by Café Diverso, multi-media travel publisher based in Barcelona, Spain, in time for the 2006 World Cup. She sent me the following email, the excerpts below being republished with permission:

Café Diverso represents a new generation of travel publishing, exploring peoples and cultures through stories and photographs. We offer a forum for cultures to connect, communicate and interact creatively, and publish the works of emerging artists and writers, because we believe that “everyone has a good story”.

We are currently compiling a book to coincide with the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which will contain short stories and images from each of the 32 nations that will be competing. Everyone Has A Good Football Story is aimed to be a celebration of the cultural diversity of the participants, rather than a football book. We are looking for stories or articles of participating countries' unique culture, and experiences of living in these countries, through the theme of football. The book will be published worldwide and in different languages and contributors will earn royalties based on book sales. We provide an opportunity for emerging talents to be published alongside established authors. We contribute 1 euro from each book sale to UNESCO-endorsed literary programmes.

We are still looking for stories/articles from the competing African Nations - Angola, Ghana, Tunisia, Togo and Ivory Coast. The stories should provide readers ith a uniqe insight into the author's people and culture (or the people and culture the author is writing about). We are seeking short stories (700-1,800 words) that are personal, entertaining and that contain suspense, humour and/or sadness. We are looking for emotions and true-life characters that will grab readers' attention and arouse curiosity.


We are also looking for images (photographs, illustrations, drawings, sketches) based on the theme of football, so if you have any suggestions or contacts, they will be very welcome.


If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me, and please also take a look at our website www.cafediverso.com.

Unfortunately we have a very tight deadline and will require stories/articles by 15 February at the latest as the book is being published in time for the 2006 World Cup, so I would appreciate any feedback.

Thank you in advance.

Best wishes,

Bridget Vranckx


You may contact Bridget at the email address listed above, but as she mentioned, the deadline is 15 Feb. And please remember that the story must in some way involve one of the five African teams participating in the 2006 World Cup: Tunisia, Togo, Angola, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Jury: Besigye not guilty

Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni's attempts to disqualify his main opponent on charges many think are trumped up is falling flat. First, the country's high court ruled that opposition leader Kizza Besigye can not be tried for terrorism charges in a military court. It ruled that the accusations could only be heard by the constitutional court. That the charges must be heard in a civilian court, which has shown an independance streak that irritates Museveni, is a blow to the strongman.

A civilian jury also found him not guilty at another trial for alleged rape.

The flood of charges against Besigye were controversial because he is widely seen as the leading contender to Museveni in this year's presidential election, to which his candidacy would've been barred by a guilty verdict.