Sunday, July 30, 2006

Shame, to feel or not to feel

Some of the Africans stranded in Lebanon have given their various reasons for not wanting to return to their countries. Their reasons can be summed up in one word - shame. They don't want to go back without anything to show for their time in Lebanon. It seems to have escaped them that given the circumstances, they should be forgiven for not taking anything back. Unless I'm mistaken and Africans are a cold callous bunch lacking in human compassion for their war ravaged countrymen.

After all, the news about Middle East crisis is dominating news headlines the world over. There was a representative of Hamas (I think), on Nigerian current affairs programme 120 minutes discussing the conflict. Nobody in the world could fail to know, or at least have heard of what is happening. But Africans still feel that a war is not enough to excuse them for not bringing back a fortune from the neighbours of the original land of milk and honey they left their countries for. Or at least a cow and a beehive. Something. Anything.

This happens all too often, and I can mainly speak for Nigerians. Nigerians abroad sometimes stay in menial jobs which they'd rather not do (often looking over their shoulder for immigration officials), because they're too ashamed to go back home. "What do I have to show for my time here?", they ask. It isn't that they can't reestablish themselves back home in whatever capacity they left originally, because quite often, they can. But they won't go before they've built a house back home, or at least bring back some gold from Dick Whittington's London. Nobody wants to return a loser, which is fair enough. Sadly, it reinforces the notion that "abroad" is heaven, and that it is impossible to fail once one leaves Nigeria's borders.

People end up putting their lives on hold because nobody wants to return in so-called shame. Take the woman who says she left Nigeria when she was 10-years-old. Why on earth should she have to prove anything to anybody in Nigeria? The woman who even says that she doesn't feel like Liberia is home anymore says, "if I arrived back after 37 years - just me and my handbag - everyone will laugh at me." And this isn't even her home. The Ghanaian also refuses to return empty-handed. The people back home are so used to Western Union Money Transfer, that when the source of that cash comes back they're expected to bring the bank with them.

It's an indication of the state of Africa that people would rather stay in a warzone, than return home with just the clothes on their backs.

Whereas some have too much shame, others have very little. The body of Funso Williams has barely gone cold, but the Yahoo boys have assumed his wife's identity and are firing off emails across the globe. The BBC World Service is broadcasting a programme on Monday morning on combating the crime associated with such emails, featuring interviews with Scotland Yard, and EFCC "tzar", Nuhu Ribadu. I'll put a better link up when the World Service schedules website is fixed.

I tried to make some capital out of Funso Williams's death, but failed. (Don't give me that look, I'm a journalist, and we peddle stories). Israel and Hezbollah had taken up all the pages on the Sundays, so a political murder in one of the world's largest democracies disappears into the news ether. During a google trawl for Funso Williams news, I came across his campaign website. Unsurprisingly, it hasn't been updated to display news of his murder. The campaign slogan "Keep Faith Alive" is even more poignant after his death. People's faith Nigerian democracy is precisely the thing that may have died with him.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Child trafficking

An 11-year-old boy Aloysius Abacha has ben found stranded at the international airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh. There are very few details about how Aloysius ended up 6000 miles and 5 time zones away from his home country. But it wouldn't be presumptious of me to say that someone has tried to smuggle him to Europe, and something has gone wrong somewhere.

The person he came with probably has one of two intentions, which would be to

  1. smuggle him to be used as a household serf, or
  2. smuggle him to be with family of some sort. (In some instances this hardly differs to the first reason).
It appears like a circuitous route to take to get to Europe, but as Fortress Europe strengthens its borders and direct links to Africa, going via Asia doesn't seem so daunting. That said, Bangladesh could also have been an intended destination. Why? I don't know, but Nigerians appear to want to go anywhere but Nigeria. Whatever the intentions of the smuggler, an innocent child is being trafficked across international borders, and being left stranded in a strange land.

Who knows if the boy is really 11, or if the name given is real. He might just be giving a pre-planned spiel. Either way, the boy is a victim in this, and we need to stop treating our children like Dickensian pieces of property.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Starting guns

If there was any doubt that Nigeria is having elections next year, the murder of Funso Williams has dispelled those doubts. Welcome to elections, Nigeria-style.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

National purge

Poland is facing a potential national purge. Basically, people who aided and abetted the communist-era secret police could be prevented from public service. This is an acknowledgement of the evils of the communist regimes, and the culpability of those who helped sustain the regime. The measures being undertaken will by no means be fair, but it does two things: it looks at its past, and lets people who made the lives of their fellow citizens miserable know that their actions have not been forgotten.

Nigeria needs a similar purge. When General Abubakar constructed the constitution of 1999, and initiated the birth of political parties for Nigeria's nascent democracy, my heart gladdened. But when I saw the people who were running, my heart sunk. Take the 2003 presidential elections. The three frontrunners had all been disastrous military dictators. Ojukwu had led a secession then bailed at the eleventh hour, leaving Philip Effiong to stew in the juices he had left behind. Obasanjo gave us a toothless and corrupt civilian government in Shagari, not forgetting his soldiers tossing Fela's mother from the second floor of a building in Kalakuta Republic. And of course Buhari, the man who thought that flogging civil servants in public was a good way to instil discipline in Nigerians (check out this ridiculous toe curling panegyric).

In 2007, people who claim to have grey matter between their ears are actively considering voting for Babangida. Babangida has never explained why he annuled the June 12 elections, thrusting Nigeria into five years of a dark marriage with Abacha, spawn of the devil. Why oh why? In any civilised democracy, such people would be too ashamed to run for public office. But in Nigeria, they even get elected. A solution would be to bar these people from running for office. Anyone who has held office in a previous Nigerian government should be barred from being given a second chance at pillaging the country.

This is obviously unworkable, as there would have been some good eggs in past corrupt governments. But these sham governments were ipso facto corrupt, and anyone who served in them, is tainted by association. With these vetting criteria, many talented people would left out. But there are many talented people amongst the multitude that is the Nigerian population, we would barely notice the loss in personnel.

The Guardian has taken a typically leftist view, defending Communism past, and flagging possible McCarthyite witch-hunts. If only they understood how it feels to have the people who violated one's rights in the past, purport to suddenly be the guardians of those same rights. It is undemocratic to bar someone from running for public office, especially when they haven't been convicted of a crime which bars them automatically. However, if we're not smart enough to stop them running, we should be smart enough not to vote them in...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Superman Returns - he needn't have

**Spoiler warning**

A disappointing summer blockbuster. The film itself is the answer to Lois Lane's Pullitzer winning article, "Why the world doesn't need Superman." When the lights dimmed for the start of the film, the mainly adult audience applauded. This was their chance to relive their childhood, but a more effects laden childhood.

Superman is just as geeky as Clark Kent, and the choice of James Marsden (who plays Cyclops in the X-Men series) as Lois Lane common law husband is a bad one. You half expect him exhibit some superhuman strength and save Lois in times of trouble. The silly hairdresser's nightmare S-curl is ever-present. Superman goes underwater, comes back out, curl remains the same. Surely the filmmakers know a 12A audience are old enought not to buy that guff. Besides, no hair spray is that good.

Brandon Routh looks like Superman should, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor is about the best thing in the film, constantly stealing scenes. The relationship between Clark and Lois is as exciting as a wet, bacteria-infested kitchen rag. Lois now has a little sprog, Jason, who is Superman's seed. So they say. There aren't enough clues as to whether Superman and Lois Lane had a proverbial post-coital cigarette, shortly after they supposedly made little Jason. They were in love, they spent a night together, but did they do the dirty? Who knows.

There are also some Christian allusions drawn in the film. Superman is his father's only son, who's been sent to save the world. After his last heroic act of the film, he falls into a deep coma, possibly even dead. He spends some time there. Three days? When the nurse goes back into the room, he's not there. Has his body been stolen? Nah. He is risen. Superman is always there, omnipotent and omnipresent.

My main beef with Superman though, is his costume. In his five year trawl through space, he must have discovered starch. His leather cape always looks starched. It still flutters, but remains solid nonetheless. The shoes look like they could have come from "Shoefayre", the ones where the shop has had a closing down sale for as long as one can remember, and where everything is BOGOF. Underpants on top of tights are a fashion no-no in the noughties, and should be left in the 20th century. Apologies, but no concessions should even be made for the Man of Steel. Above all, where is his crotch? What kind of man wears briefs and his "bits" don't have a bulge. Not even slightly. Where did it all go? Very worrying.

Superman, go back to Krypton.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Yellow Sun

Thanks for all the kind words, I'm recuperating slowly. At least my keyboard is no longer gets covered in nose "water" whenever I hover over it. Typing this, my nose is the driest it's been in a few days. CM, I wouldn't have picked you out as a Michael Jackson back cataloguer! Akin, what can I say, what can I say? Ayoke, isi ewu (more Igbo vocab), thank you very much.

Speaking of Igbo, I went for a New Stateman summer shindig last night. As a former serf, sorry intern (easily mixed up), I was humbly invited by the man who organised it, the good Sam. The party had the great and the good of journalism and politics, Maitlis, Buerk, Hilsum, Hoon, MacShane, and Marshall-Andrews. Couldn't move for hacks and politerati. I met someone who has quite possibly written the first review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new book, Half of a Yellow Sun. The title comes from a short story she wrote. And, probably refers to the Biafran flag, which had a half yellow glowing sun jutting out of the middle black band (see flag) - the Biafran anthem was Land of the Rising Sun. It should appear in the Literary Review soon. I wanted to strangle him, as I'd kill to read the book. Perhaps I should have strangled him.

"The best book I've read all year", he said. Apparently, apart from the merits of the book in literary terms, it doesn't shy away from the politics. This is music to my ears. People don't want to talk about Biafra, the pink elephant in the cubicle. How on earth can Nigeria avoid it? But we trundle on, as if the fissures of 1966-70 have been mended. I also spoke to someone else who helped her with the book, and is acknowledged in it. "In twenty years time, she'll be talked about in the same breath as Chinua Achebe." Not my words. People don't make such comparisons lightly. So if this book is as successful as is anticipated, the whole world will be asking about Biafra. While we look at the pink elephant and hope it shrinks and disappears.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sniff, sniff

Blasted summer flu...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

International Diplomacy for Dummies

No doubt you guys may have heard about Bush and Blair discussing international affairs, and the poor fellas didn't realise that a live microphone was picking up their words. The language with which Bush spoke about the Middle East crisis was fruity to say the least. One would have thought that both men were school prefects presiding over a petulant playground spat. The classic line is of course, " get Syria, to get Hizbullah to stop this shit and it's over." It almost equates to "tell Johnny to to tell Bobby to stop throwing stones, and no windows will be broken anymore." And "yo, Blair"? Is that Ali G underneath a Bush mask? International Diplomacy for Dummies:

Bush: Yo, Blair. How are you doing?

Blair: I'm just...

Bush: You're leaving?

Blair: No, no, no not yet. On this trade thingy ...[inaudible]

Bush: Yeah, I told that to the man.

Blair: Are you planning to say that here or not?

Bush: If you want me to.

Blair: Well, it's just that if the discussion arises ...

Bush: I just want some movement.

Blair: Yeah.

Bush: Yesterday we didn't see much movement.

Blair: No, no, it may be that it's not, it may be that it's impossible.

Bush: I am prepared to say it.

Blair: But it's just I think what we need to be an opposition...

Bush: Who is introducing the trade?

Blair: Angela [Merkel, the German chancellor].

Bush: Tell her to call 'em.

Blair: Yes.

Bush: Tell her to put him on, them on the spot. Thanks for [inaudible] it's awfully thoughtful of you.

Blair: It's a pleasure.

Bush: I know you picked it out yourself.

Blair: Oh, absolutely, in fact [inaudible].

Bush: What about Kofi? [inaudible] His attitude to ceasefire and everything else ... happens.

Blair: Yeah, no I think the [inaudible] is really difficult. We can't stop this unless you get this international business agreed.

Bush: Yeah.

Blair: I don't know what you guys have talked about, but as I say I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is, but you need that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral.

Bush: I think Condi is going to go pretty soon.

Blair: But that's, that's, that's all that matters. But if you ... you see it will take some time to get that together.

Bush: Yeah, yeah.

Blair: But at least it gives people ...

Bush: It's a process, I agree. I told her your offer to ...

Blair: Well ... it's only if I mean ... you know. If she's got a ... or if she needs the ground prepared as it were ... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.

Bush: You see, the ... thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hizbullah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

Blair: Syria.

Bush: Why?

Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing.

Bush: Yeah.

Blair: What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way ...

Bush: Yeah, yeah, he is sweet.

Blair: He is honey. And that's what the whole thing is about. It's the same with Iraq.

Bush: I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to Assad and make something happen.

Blair: Yeah.

Bush: We are not blaming the Lebanese government.

Blair: Is this...? (at this point Blair taps the microphone in front of him and the sound is cut.)

Thanks to the Guardian for the transcript.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why do they do it?

The phone rings, I don't recognise the number. Maybe it's an incredible job opportunity, perhaps Larry King has retired. But no, it's long lost family. My dad's cousin to be precise. Apparently it's amazing to know that my father has a manchild lurking in some corner of the earth. So after all, little ADC's loins were not solely for weeing by the huge iroko tree in the village square at night when nobody was watching. The ultimate act of rebellion in a pre-independence Nigerian village. Pee on the iroko tree, and the gods will make certain body parts fall off. You can see the attraction for a young rebel.

Little ADC's loins brought forth a child, many in fact, of which African Shirts is one. She was incredulous. She didn't tell me any of the weeing story, but she might as well have. I'd have blushed, and chuckled, and smiled, without uttering a word. Maybe the occasional "really!" Long lost family know how to make a grown man feel like sucking his thumb, and assuming the foetal position. You feel yea high.

A few years ago, on holiday in Washington DC, I had one such encounter. Nigerian wedding party setting, you know the type: abuse of dollars, abuse of gold, abuse of rims, abuse to make P Diddy skulk in inferiority. Who's the handsome (allow me artistic licence) young man with the funny accent? ADC's son. You don't mean it! So this woman asked me, sorry, told me, to dance with her. She'd known my dad since when men had lots of inches of hair and lots of inches on their shoe soles, the collars were large, and the trousers were tight. Except for the excess left-over material they added to the feet. Flares, they called it.

She was also emotional at seeing me, staring at me funny. Too many thoughts were in my head. "Dad, I hope you dumped her in the politest way possible," I thought. I wasn't ready for the sins of my father to be visited upon me with a handbag to the head. She had given no indication of any liaison with my dad whatsoever, but my doubly inflated ego (one ego for me, the other for Dad) was working overtime. As I boogie to whatever was playing, the deejay decides to go all highlife on us. My dad likes highlife, and I vicariously put on a few moves. Deadly moves, you're talking blood on the dancefloor moves. Suddenly she stops dancing. This is after she's been staring at me curiously throughout the dancing. "I can't believe it," she quips. "You even dance like your father."

Apples falling. Tree standing. Distance between them. None. So Daddy Was a Good Dancer. Song title of the year. Someone record it.

As a brief aside. I have an uncle in Nigeria who tells this one story every single time. "Nkem, you don big now o! I fit remember that time wey you piss for my hotel bed for London." When I have children, I will not be taking them to visit that particular uncle lest he embarrass me to death. No siree, I ain't having that.*

The thing that always makes me want to curl up and hide under a shrub is the frightful, "Ina nu kwa Igbo?" Do you understand Igbo? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. But because I know five Igbo phrases, I say "obele, obele." Small, small. I know "je waru" - go and bath, "je chi eze" - go and brush your teeth, "ina nu nte" - your ears don't hear (or something like that). Basically, issues of bedtime discipline. Quite how this is useful in adult conversation, I don't know. I'll brush my teeth when I damn well please. In fact, I won't brush 'em. Cane me if you dare. Yes that's three phrases, and in case you're wondering what the other two are, well, each "obele" counts as one individual phrase. Sue me.

However, the fact that you even say "obele, obele" is cue enough to start rattling away in Olumo Rock solid Igbo. Once they've started, that's the end. How do I tell them I haven't got a clue what they're on about? I listen in, trying to pick out words. It's like playing linguistic Su Doku on zen master level.

So my dad's cousin has insisted on speaking to me in Igbo. I should be visiting her soon. It will be an interesting conversation, as I have all my (English) responses worked out. No, Yes, I don't know. And for variation in Igbo, Mba, Ee (can't spell it), Amarom. Six responses in two different languages which mean just three things, for just one conversation. Chomsky, eat your heart out.

*caveat. I was a baby when this hotel bed thing happened...

Man with urges

Emmanuel Milingo has absconded again. Why doesn't he just confess that he has urges, and he can't deal with them?

Seven Eleven

Conspiracy theories are the stuff of cranks, bored geeks, and the Daily Express (which prints Diana conspiracy theories till this day). But some things are too obvious to overlook. Yesterday, July 11, 2006, the Indian city of Mumbai had to deal with a simultaneous bombing of its municipal rail network.

The first thing I noticed was the date, which was similar to three previous Al-Qaeda related bombings. First, the New York and Washington attacks took place on September 11, 2001. When the trains in Madrid were attacked on March 11, 2004, it was noted that it had happened exactly two and a half years after the Twin Towers went down.

And then came London, July 7, 2005. After July 7, I wondered what Al-Qaeda's obsession was with dates ending in "en". There was 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, and now, in Mumbai, a perfect date of 11/7. Or to use non-US date writing style, 7/11, cornershop par excellence Stateside. What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing. There have been other bombings on drab and ordinary dates, so these aren't necessarily part of an overarching pattern. If they were, I'm sure the authorities would have sussed it by now, and Al-Qaeda would be looking for different bombing patterns. On the first of the month, every third Tuesday, or some such pattern.

However, I also noticed that the first time Al-Qaeda came to wider world attention was on August 7, 1998. I was back in Nigeria for a long and memorable summer holiday when the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were gutted by truck bombs. That was the first time I heard of Osama bin Laden and his not-so-merry band of followers. The Lewinsky scandalised Clinton reacted with cruise missile strikes on a possible dual use factory in Sudan, a factory the Sudanese said was a pharmaceutical plant. These strikes caused Mr bin Laden to up sticks from Sudan and move to Afghanistan, where he probably remains to this day. Or does he?

My theory is that Osama bin Laden is in Nigeria. He's in a Shari'ah state somewhere in the north of the country, probably in Jigawa or Yobe. Nigeria does have its Taliban, self-styled on the resurgent former regime in Afghanistan. People in a country like Nigeria (land of many names) choosing to call their children Osama, should also count for something. Bin Laden also cites Nigeria as one of those countries that are "most qualified for liberation". Any sensible person really should agree with bin Laden, with a caveat of course. We pray "deliver us from evil", but we don't presume that we'd be delivered into a different kind of evil. Mr bin Laden, if you want a chance for a rebuttal stating that you won't deliver us into evil, drop me an email. I'm sure we can work something out.

The feeling that Nigeria is on the brink of Islamist implosion is shared by some think tanks and journalists. Jeffrey Tayler, writing in April's Atlantic magazine, implies that Nigeria is potentially worse than Iraq... I know. I felt disdain after reading the article, and I won't respond to it until I've got the disdain out of my system.

Back to Mumbai. I've been to Mumbai before, and it is a poverty stricken city. It might be India's financial hub, but the world's largest democracy still has a long way to go. One of the sadder elements of these attacks on countries like India and the US embassies in East Africa, is that these are the very countries that do not have the resources to deal with terrorism. But they are the countries constantly being attacked. A country needs sophisticaed technology, human intelligence gathering, man hours to prevent such attacks. But when (rather than if) an attack takes place, one at least needs an emergency operation system to swing into action. Once people have been treated and bodies have been removed from the wreckage, you now need to catch the culprits. Nigh on impossible.

Even though the West is in a perpetual state of panic over terrorist attacks, most of them occur in the developing world. The Indonesian resort of Bali has been bombed twice in three years, in Egypt, Sharm el-Sheikh was bombed in 2005 (shortly after July 7 in London), Dahab was bombed this year, and Sinai was bombed in 2004 (October 7). These are just countries that have had to deal with multiple attacks, but there's still Istanbul, Lebanon, and Iraq. Compare this to the three attacks in the West (New York, Madrid, and London), and compare the responses of the emergency services to these tragedies.

In Mumbai, the scenes were of utter chaos, meanwhile in July last year, I distinctly remember a police squad car being filmed by BBC News 24. The car was arriving at one of the bomb scenes; it looked for a space to park, and then reverse parked into a space it found. Parallel parking? You'd be hard pressed to find any calmer, mundane, and organised behaviour under such circumstances anywhere in the world.

Islamist terrorism has its roots in the developing world, and anyone who's serious about tackling it needs to look to these regions. The bombers of July 7 may have been "homegrown", but Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer both went to Pakistan, possibly for training. The Hamburg cell of September 11, had its roots in the Middle East, the Madrid bombers had ties to the Casablanca bombers. How do we solve this problem? I have no idea. But we know where to look.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back in Blight-y

Back in Blight-y. What a low-tech country... Access to plantain though, top class.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Zidane ruined the World Cup

This was supposed to be his swansong, his sign-off, his final defining moment. It started off being his defining moment, but the reasons changed after the headbutt. He had scored an audacious penalty, threatened a repeat of the 1998 final when Buffon saved his header from point black range in extra time. He bestrode the pitch like a colossus, along with Henry, and Malouda, who played his best game of the tournament. The previously impenetrable Italian defence kept being carved open Christmas turkey style by France, and Zidane looked like doing it again.

And then the red mist descended. What did Materazzi say to him? One hopes that he insulted his mother, father, children, spat on the tricolour, and called him an Algerian camel to boot. But hold on a second, even that isn't enough. When you hear the phrase "unprovoked attack", you automatically think of a street thug assaulting an innocent person going about their daily business. Today, Zidane was that thug, and his attack on Materazzi was an arrestable offence. If that incident had happened anywhere other than on that pitch, he'd have been clapped in the stocks by the German Polizei.

On the day, France deserved to win, but in the grand scheme of the World Cup, Italy deserved victory. But what was shaping up to be the best World Cup final since 1986, ended as a ruined final, and probably ruined the World Cup for me. The most anticlimactic day of my life. More than a billion people were watching that madness on television. If he wasn't already retiring, he'd have been banned for a long long time. I was kicking myself for not making it to the match in Berlin because of a paucity of media tickets, but afterwards, I was glad not to have been there. I'd have been too downcast.

The World Cup was incredible, but I fear Zidane's behaviour might have ruined it for me. Zidane has showed his madness in the past - suspended for a stamping incident in 1998, suspended for the final group game against Togo this year, after picking up two yellows. Jean Marie Le Pen must be thinking, "I told them not to let that Algerian racaille play for Les Bleus". But Zidane is fallible. Zidane is a mere mortal. If he wasn't fallible, he wouldn't be human - he'd be God. Alas, no man is God. Congratulations to Italy, but what happened on that pitch?

Thabo Mbeki fancies me

Forgive the in-your-face red-top tabloid headline, but a sensational story requires a sensationalist telling. Like I said in my previous post, the unveiling ceremony was heaving with football glitterati, but if you look at the picture, you’ll see that the African politerati were there. (Do you like the “-rati” theme?) Alpha Oumar Konare, Chariman of the AU Commision, Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, and Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa.

The event was organised by the South African LOC, and it’s obvious that they were trying to stress that SA 2010 will be a decidedly African affair. Hence they trotted out the who’s who of African politics today. There should have been a concert later in the evening which would have been graced by Madiba (via satellite link), but the concert was called off due to a freak storm. Wyclef Jean, Youssou N’Dour, Sean Paul and a few others would have performed. I was gutted personally, because it would have been my one opportunity to be starstruck. I would have grabbed Wyclef by the leg, and not let go, until some burly bodyguards shot me with a taser gun. Good thing the heavens opened up and saved him.

Sepp Blatter. The Twit. Blatter’s introduction/speech was first. Blatter is a twit. I used to think that FIFA was the guardsman of football’s conscience, but after this World Cup, I’m forced to think again. During his speech he looked directly at Thabo Mbeki and said, “the market trusts Africa”. How does the market trust Africa? Well according to Blatter, “the contracts we have already signed are higher than the contracts for 2006 in Germany by about 25%”.

The BBC has done some calculations on the figures, and this puts SA already on £443m, while Germany secured contracts worth just £376m. I don’t have an MBA, and I’m not sure how he’s pulled this off. Several things don’t tally. The majority of the expenditure will be on transport, stadiums, and security. My worry is of personal safety and security in SA, but four years is a long time, so we'll see. South Africa has 4 times the area of Germany, but has half as many railway lines, and the same goes for paved roads. The GDP per capita of Germany is £18,409 while that of South Africa is £2,768. This automatically means that South Africans don’t have as much spending power as Germans. It isn’t cheaper to buy steel in South Africa than it is in other parts of the world. Labour costs for building railways and roads might be cheaper, but by no means cheap enough to compensate for the expense of commodities. How will the investors recoup their money? Surely they don’t expect to get everything back within the one month of the World Cup. Mbeki rejects the notion that his countrymen are too poor to make the World Cup in SA a success.

Blatter has also admitted that this World Cup was too commercial, evidenced by the truckloads of corporate spectators coming into the stadiums to watch games. FIFA will regain control of ticket allocation from 2010, as this year's was dealt with by the German LOC. Sponsors were allocated 16%, while corporate hospitality got 12%. Compare that to the mere 8% given to the teams playing. Teams such as England would have appreciated extra tickets when you consider that when England played Trinidad in Nuremberg, there were 70,000 fans in the city, and 70,000 in Frankfurt. FIFA will apparently reduce its corporate partnerships from 15 to 5 for 2010. Since the 5 partners for 2010 have coughed up more money than they did before, they will surely demand more power. In that case, one might as well give them the keys to Union Buildings in Pretoria. See what happened when Bavaria breweries tried ambush marketing. If Coke is one of the remaining partners, you’ll be looking at a situation where Pepsi would be banned from the airport as you land.

The condescending Blatter then went on about how the World Cup in Africa will be about “the drums” and “the music” in his annoying Swiss accent, shimmying for emphasis. And he kept referring to the dignitaries wives as “his woman”. “Kofi Annan and his woman”. His chauvinism is nothing new - in 2004, he said women footballers should play in "more feminine clothes." Imagine. I felt like getting up on stage and slapping his bald pate, but I wasn’t brave enough to withstand a potential Peter Tatchell from his minders.

Kofi Annan. The Diplomat. He delivered what was effectively his article in the International Herald Tribune of 9 June. Not terribly exciting, which might explain why he’s a diplomat. Unduly exciting a warring faction during disarmament talks couldn’t possibly be a good idea.

Issa Hayatou. The Disappointment. Like the embodiment of the disorganised CAF that he heads, didn’t have a speech ready. And this is the man, who’s about to oversee the greatest show on earth. He did okay winging it (in French), but on such an occasion, one cannot afford to slack. And he slack he did. Blatter even managed a sly dig at him, saying he had been CAF President since forever (1988).

Alpha Oumar Konare. The Orator. He was the most impressive of all. It is easy to see how this former president of Mali became AU Commision Chairman. Remove all negative connotations associated with demagoguery and you have Konare. His speech in French was buoyant, rousing, and emotive, all at once – a layered gateau of a speech.

Thabo Mbeki. The Statesman. The president promised that SA would host the best World Cup ever. This is no faint promise, but there were many journalists there, so he knows he’ll be quoted. However, in 2010, it’s likely that Jacob Zuma will be in his seat, taking all the heat. He was calm and assuring, and for me, possibly the clincher in convincing me that SA can do it.

On to the reason for the title of this post, if you’re still reading. After they gave their speeches, they was a question and answer session with journalists. The grandees were on stage answering questions, while the World Cup ambassadors (former players) were doing up close and personal interviews with cameras and mics shoved in their faces. The type of which I’ve become expert in the past month.

At this point a journalist has to choose what to do. Does he get a proper interview with the lesser mortals, such as the players? Or does he ignore the former players, raise his hand to ask the grandees a question which will have them quaking in their kaftans? Also considering that there might be too many hacks trying to ask questions, their turn may never come.

Here’s what we did. We talked to the players first. Since we’re doing television, exclusivity is important. One player talking to our camera is worth more than a public sit-down chinwag, where one can’t even tell where the questions are coming from because of the great media junket. After the grandees finished their an audience with, it was time for them to leave. At this point we stand in front of the stage, trying to get Mr Mbeki’s attention. Hopefully, he’ll thrown some words towards our way. But as he headed for the exit, his bodyguards set up suited, mobile ear-pieced rugby scrum around him. Nobody would touch Mr President. We kept getting shoved along as he walked, stopping to shake the odd hand. I tried to shout, “Mr President, Mr President”. “You’ve had your chance”, the bodyguard would bark.

We’d almost been squished like little moths, when I made a final attempt to get his attention. “Mr President, for Nigerian tv!” At which point he turned towards me, and I blurted out a question. For the life of me, I cannot remember what I asked him. It was all a blur. Thabo Mbeki then came to me, shook my hand, and gave me a lengthy answer (while still holding my hand). I said, “Thank you, Mr President.” “Thank you, my brother”, he smiled. And the scrum continued.

I felt like a billion rand. Still do. In that moment, when he stopped to grant me a few words, it felt like I was floating on something. The next time a mother faints when Bill Clinton kisses her baby, I’ll understand what she’s experienced. Thabo is no Bill, but power is an aphrodisiac, and when harnessed right, it could create supernovas. Afterwards, someone asked if I was related to Thabo Mbeki, because he'd given me so much attention. Well, we did go to the same university. But that wasn't it - he fancied me. That brief moment was a flirtation of sorts, and I was tooken.

The emblem. I like the emblem. It’s better than the one for this year. It is very organic, represents South Africa, Africa, football, and even more specifically, the vibrancy of African football. I spoke to a German woman at the launch who didn’t like the man, saying it was a default clichéd symbol used to depict Africa all the time. As far as she was concerned, if there was any time to avoid stereotypes, this was it. But the image transcends clichés. Rock art is as old as art itself, and South African heritage is connected to those early depictions of man. If the world didn’t already know that, now is their chance to learn. South Africa in 2010? It can happen.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

South Africa 2010

The circus moves on. I went to the unveiling of the South Africa 2010 emblem in Berlin yesterday. You couldn't move for football glitterati: Hadji, Abedi Pele, Roger Milla. If you haven't seen the emblem yet, that's what it looks like (right). I'll write down my thoughts on the event later today, but my initial reaction (after much scepticism) is that South Africa can pull it off.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Theo's Diary

Woke up this afternoon after getting an overnight train from France v Portugal in Munich, and saw this in my inbox. A tad harsh on Sol Campbell perhaps, but such is the nature of satire.

What I did on my summer holiday
By Theo Walcott Esq aged 8 1/2

I went to a place called Germany with my Uncle Sven and some other grown ups. It is a country in Europe where a bad man called Adolf used to live with his nazties, he does not live there anymore, Uncle Owen does live there, and the grown up's say I can't talk about the bad man as it will make Uncle Owen cry if I do. In Germany there are lots of castles and some mountains. We are staying in a place called Baden Baden that's a silly name, Uncle Frank has the same name as his dad, that's silly too, his mum must get their underpants mixed up all the time.

On the airplane Uncle Sol sat next to me, he got me some toffee and wants to be my friend, he works at the place where I do my YTS, so does Uncle Freddy but him and Uncle Sol are not best friends anymore.

Uncle Owen met us at the airport, he talks foreign, Uncle Wayne, Uncle Steven and Uncle David also talk funny, my mum says Uncle David talks like Orville, he is a duck, Uncle Sol say's uncle David wears dresses and knickers, and asked me if I had ever worn them. Uncle Sol got me some pop.

In Germany the grown ups are going to play football, my granddad says we beat them in the olden days before my mum was born. That is a long time ago.

While the grown up's went to play football so I went shopping with Auntie Vicky and some other girls she bought me a big ice cream and got herself a little one but she said she was full before she had eaten any and threw it away. She bought lots of shoes and handbags and let me play with Brooklyn. She say's she used to be in a pop band and sang me one of her songs, I think she was telling fibs.

I told Uncle Sol about my day out with Vicky and he sulked, then he bought me an even bigger ice cream with lots of hundred's & thousands on it.

All the other grown up's have a girlfriend except Uncle Sol so he plays with me while they go out. Uncle Sven says I must keep Uncle Sol happy, that's why I got taken on holiday.

The grown up's went to play Football against somebody called Sweden, Uncle Sol was crying as Uncle Freddy played for them and would not talk to him. Uncle Sol bought me lots of toffee today and some crisps. Uncle Sven is from Sweden and I heard him on the phone to their boss last night. Uncle Michael hurt his knee and had to go home to his mum for a plaster. Uncle Peter is a giant, a proper giant like you see in books, he is rubbish at football though.

Uncle Wayne had a sore toe at the start of out holiday but it got better so they let him play football. Uncle Sol got me a present but I do not like it. He says all Germans wear leather underpants and I should while we are here, they are too tight for me.

All the grown up's started to call Uncle Wayne a potato head who stood on somebody’s spuds. He got shouted at by the referee. They are all saying that we have to go home now. Uncle Sol was crying again and I had to sit on his knee to make him stop. He had his mobile phone in his pocket, I think.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Before France played Brazil, I told my mum that France would win. I was proved right. And before Germany played Italy, I told her that Italy would win. Why did I think a scandalised Italian team would beat an invigorated Germany? Because the Italians are the kings of the soccer punch, pun intended. The Italians are the most ruthless in world football, and if any team would beat Germany in Dortmund where the German team had never lost before, it would be Italy. They might not have the Ronaldinhos or the Zidanes of this world, but boy they can make an opponent cry.

In Dortmund, the Azzuris sang the national anthem like no other team at this competition. To them, the words weren't just sweet nothings about how they love their country, but a battle cry to smother the Teutons to the north. It was difficult to believe the vast majority of the 65,000 capacity crowd were supporting the other team. They were so brazen. Cannavaro did what he's done all tournament, defended like his life depended on it. He organised the defence like Caesar would have organised onslaughts on the rest of Europe. His tackling and presence must have been intimidating for the German team.

And then there was Pirlo. Pirlo ran. And ran. And ran. The man was a dynamo with the Energizer Bunny cranking his internal wheels. We had to leave the stadium before the final whistle, so we didn't see anyof the goals. But we could feel the sigh when Germany lost. 2-0. 119th and 120th minute. Ouch. "Shaizer Italien" replaced "Fahre nach Berlin" (going to Berlin), which has become the chanson du jour. Instead, they fahre nach Stuttgart for the third place play-off match. A bit of despondence, but nevertheless a proud nation. The flags kept flying and a song was never far from their lips. And after a four weeks of the German Woodstock, the clichés trickle in. It's only football. You can't win them all. We'll be back. All good things must come to an end.

Monday, July 03, 2006

World United...

In 1969, during the Nigerian Civil War in Nigeria, the secessionist Biafra and the Nigerian government sides signed a temporary ceasefire so that people could watch the legendary Brazilian, Pelé, as he toured with his club side Cosmos. Today in 2006, football still has the ability to mend bridges, bring peace to warring factions, and unite divided nations. Despite their first round exits, the Ivory Coast and Angola are two nations who will be offering thanks to the gods for their unlikely qualification for this year’s competition.

As Ivory Coast won admirers for their tenacity and attacking verve, Angola have now become a byword for the never-say-die attitude characterised by the lesser teams in Germany. While the rest of Africa watched in solidarity with their continent’s representatives, the Ivorians and Angolans watched as one nation, a feat which has eluded both nations in the recent past.

Ivory Coast, formerly the proverbial light on a hill in West Africa, descended into a civil war which cut the country in half. South fought against north, indigenes pitted against so-called étrangers. The civil war was fuelled by the matter of identity and the concept of Ivoirité, i.e. who is a true Ivorian. It was sparked when the electoral authorities barred Alassane Outtara - who had previously served as Prime Minister – from running for president, on account of him being a “foreigner”.

Fans here in Germany all had much the same thing to say, “there isn’t a single Ivorian without foreign blood”. The football team is made up of Christians, Muslims, animists, northern, southern, indigenous, and of Malian, Burkinabe, and Guinean immigrant stock. Les Éléphants (as the team is known) represent a true quilt patchwork of what Ivory Coast is, and their unity on the pitch is the ultimate aspiration of Ivorians as they try to mend their country.

Angola on the other hand, has only just emerged from a 27-year civil war. The war, which was fuelled by Cold War allegiances, ended in 2002, more than ten years after the rest of the world parked their mutual destruction weapons. Their first round match with Portugal should have been a chance to give a black eye to their former colonial masters, but Angolans were more preoccupied with their being part of a “lusophone brotherhood” at the World Cup, along with Portugal and Brazil.

“Ten years ago, we were in the middle of a civil war, and now we’re at the World Cup. We are very proud, this is a good enough for us”, noted an Angolan woman who lives in Portugal. Part of the legacy of the civil war is anti-personnel landmines, a cause which became popular after the late Princess Diana visited Angola in 1997 (see picture): there are estimated to be between half a million and one million landmines in Angola. As de-miners risk their lives by day, and watch the Palancas Negras (Black Impalas) by night, they can take succour from knowing that the Black Impalas will soon be able to gallop free on the savannahs of Angola, just as they do on the verdant football pitches of Germany.