Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Africa didn't win the FIFA World Cup 2018. France did

Africa was represented in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia by five countries: Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. With the elimination of all African teams from the tournament in the group stages - the last to exit the big stage being Senegal - many Africans, either out of ridicule or genuine support - turned to France, and dubbed the European country's squad an "African team". Others referred to it as the "United Nation of France" or "Africa United" - due to the large number of players of African descent in the squad. Many claimed that there was still an "African team" in the tournament, despite the fact that no side from Africa made it to the knockout stages. France went on to win the World Cup, and the chatter surrounding the French side continued - with some claiming Africa won it for France.

Africa, according to the BBC, suffered its worst World Cup display in 36 years, with no side from the African continent making it to the knockout stages for the first time since 1982. France went on to win the tournament, with nineteen of its 23 players being immigrants or children of immigrants, according to AJ+ on Twitter. According to an article posted on The Undefeated, twelve of the 23 French players are of African ancestry. The BBC puts the number at fifteen out of 23.

Since all teams from the African continent exited the tournament the ethnic composition of the French national team has been making the rounds on social media. After the final, social media was awash with tweets and Facebook posts about the African ancestry of French players. One Twitter user, for example captured it all when he congratulated Africa for the victory.

That was the general point of view of Africans online after the final whistle in Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018.


France, not Africa, won the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is true that on account of personnel, the French national team is made up of Africans but it is, in fact, France's team. The French players - be it Samuel Umtiti whose parents are reported from my home country, Cameroon, or Adil Rami whose parents are reportedly from Morocco, or Paul Pogba whose parents reportedly hail from Guinea, or Blaise Matuidi whose parents hail from Angola and Congo, or N'Golo Kante whose parents reportedly hail from Mali - are French. They are French nationals, and France gave them the training and opportunity they need to play football at the highest level. They wore the French colors and represented France, not Africa - which by the way is not a country.

The way I see it, France takes almost all, if not all, credit for winning the World Cup, and it would be disingenuous to argue otherwise. The only credit I give Africa is ancestry - and ancestry alone, I believe, cannot win tournaments.

The French starting XI at the World Cup final was made up of many players of African descent: Kante, Pogba, Matudi, Mbappe and Umtiti. But Africa's contribution to their success in terms of football is almost non-existent. None of them has ever played professional or academy football in Africa. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that chances are, due to bad governance and corruption, including nepotism and lack of basic infrastructure many of the French star players, including 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe whose father reportedly hails from Cameroon and mother from Algeria would not have had an opportunity to reach their full potential had there been in Africa. As a Cameroonian, I am all too aware of how bad governance has ruined the nation, including sports. Mbappe who won the FIFA Young Player Award would, I reckon, probably not have made it into the Cameroonian national team due to nepotism. He might not even have had an opportunity to play football as a tot due to socio-economic limitations. And even if he beat the odds and made it into the team, corruption would have stunted his development in the trade.  

I would argue further that many Africans who recognize French players now would have probably not embraced them had they not won the World Cup, or if a team from the continent had gone further in the tournament. It would have been interesting to see the reaction if France came up against Nigeria, for example.

The representation of the French Team as an "African team" is opportunistic and intended to divide and provoke France - a country many Africans see as responsible for the sorry-state of affairs on the African continent as a result of colonial and neocolonialism. It is also a somewhat racially divisive point to make -- as it pits people of African descent against the rest of France. It plays right into the hands of racist far-right extremists who hold the view that immigrants or children of immigrants born and raised in France are not and can never be French.

The players who won the World Cup are French. They recognize themselves as such, legally and socio-culturally, and that is what matters. They are of African descent but they are also French. In fact, Paul Pogba, speaking ahead of a the game said, amongst other things, that "we all feel French, we're all happy to wear this jersey".

If Africa wants credit for winning the FIFA World Cup it should start investing in its young people, and, of course, their parents, so that they won't have to leave the continent - sometimes making perilous journeys across the Mediterranean sea - seeking refuge and opportunities elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Push to criminalize forced marriage in Finland

Forced marriage is often presented as a third world problem - a grave injustice in distant lands across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But, in reality, it is a global phenomenon that negatively impacts young girls and women across the globe, including in developed countries like the United States and Finland. In February 2017 the Washington Post reported, for example, that thousands of American children are wed annually. The case of an 11-year-old forced to marry her rapist in Florida was revealed by the New York Times in an opinion piece by Nicolas Kristof. Regardless of where forced marriage prevails it should be outlawed. Those living in forced marriages or those at risk of being forced into marriage should have appropriate legal protection from the harmful practice. In Finland, the Finnish League for Human Rights, known nationally as Ihmisoikeusliitto is leading the charge to criminalize forced marriage in the Nordic country.

The Finnish League for Human Rights is running a petition (in Finnish) to criminalize forced marriage in Finland. The organization defines forced marriage as marriage that is entered into without the full consent of one or both parties, and into which they or any of them is forced or pressured. According to the organization forced marriage in Finland takes many forms. The practice was brought to light by studies by the Finnish League of Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice in 2016 and 2017 respectively but present legislation is not enough to intervene. The government of Finland has to send a clear message that it does not approve forced marriage, according to the Finnish League for Human Rights. The organization urges its supporters and supporters of the campaign to outlaw forced marriage to sign the petition, which is addressed to Minister of Justice Antti Häkkänen.

The Finnish League for Human rights states in the petition, among other things, that forced marriage has been designated a violation of human rights in many international human rights agreements such as the United Nations convention on women's rights and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention -- which Finland ratified in 2015. The Convention  is legally binding on Member States, and demands, among other thing, the criminalization of forced marriage. The practice is outlawed by many countries in Europe such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

My Take

I signed the petition to criminalize forced marriage in Finland. No one should be forced into marriage. Marriage should be entered into freely by both parties - without any form of coercion whatsoever. And, in addition, marriage must be between consenting adults. This explains why child marriage, in my view, is forced marriage since minors - like adults under duresss - cannot give consent.

Finland's current legislation does not go far enough to address forced marriage. According to the Finnish League for Human Rights the practice could be punished under the Finnish Penal Code as aggravated human trafficking or coercion but present legislation does not cover every coercion. In addition, coercion is currently an injured party crime whereupon it is the victim's responsibility to initiate criminal proceedings. This is problematic, in my view, because victims of forced marriage, usually children, cannot be reasonably expected to initiative criminal proceedings against their parents. Forced marriage is a practice rooted in harmful cultural norms and traditions, including patriarchy. Young girls and children, more often than not, cannot challenge long-standing cultural norms within their families and communities by, for example, making police reports against their fathers or family members who force them into marriage. Challenging the norm or tradition could be seen as bringing "dishonor" to the family, and could lead to disownment -- or even death in some cases.

Ala Saeed, vice-chairperson of the Iraqi Women's Association, told the Finnish League for Human Rights that girls go into forced marriages because they do not want to lose their families. I think, in the same vein, victims would not initiate criminal proceedings for the same reason. Victims of forced marriage cannot protect themselves; they need the authorities to protect them. They need civil society to remind the authorities of their obligation to protect them. In order to adequately protect victims of forced marriage the authorities, including police and prosecutors should be able to initiative investigations and legal proceedings on their own initiative. Onus should be on the authorities, not victims. The only way this can happen is by criminalizing forced marriage, and taking it off the "injured party crime" category.

The petition to criminalize forced marriage will be submitted to the Minister of Justice on April 5, 2018. Sign the petition now. When I signed the petition it had garnered 4591 signatures, including mine. As of today, one day before it is delivered to the Minister of Justice, 5468 people have signed it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cameroon: security forces commit war crimes on two fronts

When criminals go unpunished they are emboldened by the impunity they enjoy, and go on to commit more of the same crimes. This is the case in Cameroon where state security forces have, for decades, enjoyed impunity for heinous crimes committed against unarmed civilians. Now, feeling emboldened and beyond the reach of the law, their criminality knows no bounds, and civilians in the Far North and Anglophone regions in the northwest and southwest are paying the price.

In July 2017 Amnesty International published a report that spotlights secret torture chambers in Cameroon. The report documents the cases of 101 individuals who were held incommunicado, tortured, and sometimes killed by state security forces between March 2013 and March 2017 in facilities run by the Cameroon military and intelligence services. In the 73-page report, titled "Cameroon's Secret tortured Chambers: Human rights violations and War crimes in the fight against Boko Haram", Amnesty International states that the use of torture by security forces has become widespread and routine, and is practiced with impunity. Violations documented in the report include arbitrary arrest and detention, incommunicado and secret detention, death in custody, and torture. According to Amnesty International, the actions of Cameroon security forces constitute war crimes and violations of international human rights law. The detailed report, which includes concrete recommendations, a letter to President Paul Biya of Cameroon, and a letter to U.S diplomat Michael S. Hoza - who served as U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon from 2014 to 2017 - accuses Cameroon's security forces, including the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) of torture and war crimes. The report also includes a reply from Ambassador Hoza to Amnesty International in which he acknowledges receipt of Amnesty International's letter concerning allegations of human rights abuses, and affirms that the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde and the Department of State "take such allegations seriously...".

Now, with a crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, state security forces have moved south -- deployed by the government to quell a popular uprising in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Their modus operandi remains the same: arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, extrajudicial killings, and torture and cruel and inhuman treatment of civilians.

Since the closing months of 2016 Anglophones in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon have been protesting against what has been described as "Francophonization" of the region. But what started as a call for reform in the educational and judicial system in the region has morphed into calls for secession and outright independence. Anglophones, who make up 20% of the country's population, feel marginalized and discriminated against by the Francophone majority for decades. Many now want an independent state of their own. In response to the calls for independence the government sent in security forces, and numerous, widespread human rights violations have been reported ever since. According to Amnesty International, unlawful killing of several people in the the Anglophone regions coupled with blocks on Facebook and WhatsApp have been reported, and represent an escalation of the government's campaign to silence any form of dissent.

My Take

It is clear to me that gross human rights violations and war crimes have been committed by Cameroon's security forces in the fight against Boko Haram in the Far North. The violations are well-documented and should be investigated and prosecuted. The only question that remains is whether or not same crimes have been committed in the governments effort to quell the Anglophone uprising in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

In order for war crimes to be committed there must, first of all, be an armed conflict. Reports on the ground suggest that there is an armed conflict, albeit in its early stages.

According to Sky News three security forces were reported killed by "separatists" in the city of Bamenda in November 2017, and a source said the security forces were ambushed by armed men on motorbikes. At the time of this writing it was reported by Reuters that three soldiers were killed and four wounded by "separatist fighters" during an overnight attack in Kembong, a village in the Southwest region. According to Reuters, 25 soldiers and policemen have been killed in a series of raids over the past year. More than 15,000 Cameroonians have fled their homes for refuge in Nigeria, according to Reuters. On January 11, 2018 UNHCR reported that 8,050 Cameroonian refugees had been registered in Nigeria, mainly in Cross River State. According to BBC News Pidgin, the governor of the Northwest region, Adolphe Lele Lafrique, banned firearms and ammunition, and ordered the local population surrender any local or imported gun to the authorities. He also ordered a curfew, restricting the movement of persons and property between 8 pm and 6 am for a period of one week from February 10, 2018. BBC News Pidgin reports that the Northwest looks like a military zone.

The way I see it, based on the above, the Anglophone crisis has escalated into an armed conflict. The armed conflict is in its early stages but it is nonetheless an armed conflict - with killings on both sides. Civilians and security forces are being killed. Social media reports of frequent gun shots in towns, villages and cities in the Anglophone region, support this assertion.

Source: Facebook
Faced with attacks against security forces, the forces ramped up attacks against civilian suspects and perceived secessionists. Circulating on social media are gruesome videos and photographs of the crimes security forces reportedly leave in the wake, including a video of an interrogation of two suspects. The video, reportedly captured in Belo in the Northwest region, shows security forces interrogating suspects after a reported attack on gendarmes in the area. A state security personnel can be clearly heard in the video threatening to shoot one of the unarmed suspects. What appears to be at least one of the interrogated suspects later shows up dead in other photographs. The most gruesome photograph of them all shows a member of the military cutting off the head of a civilian. Another photograph shows an armed member of the military stepping on dead civilians. I have been unable to independently verify the videos and photographs but they are worth investigating. If Cameroon is truly a state of law as claimed by government officials including the Head of State and the Minister of Communications such allegations of serious crimes would be investigated. The Anglophone crisis spiraled out of control due to the government's unwillingness or inability to dialogue. Rather than address grievances raised by Anglophones in peaceful protests in 2016 the government cracked down heavy-handedly on protesters - killing and imprisoning many. The government's brutal response radicalized many, forcing some to take up arms.

Human rights violations and war crimes are, in my view, being committed on two fronts by Cameroon's security forces. The armed conflict with Boko Haram in the Far North is full-blown while the conflict in the Anglophone regions is in its early stages. The military operates on two fronts but the M.O. in both conflicts is the same.

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