Thursday, July 15, 2010

Diamonds in the Rough: After World Cup, Africa remains the same.

What was your most emotional football World Cup moment? Mine happened in the game Ghana – Uruguay, when Asamoah Gyan failed to convert the penalty given to Ghana in the very last second of the game and kicked the ball against the cross bar instead. Unbelievable! How can you miss such a golden opportunity? I was lying on the floor, devastated, helplessly watching Uruguay winning the ensuing penalty shootout, earning them a spot in the semi finals. There you go again, Africa, I thought. This match was the story of Africa in 120 minutes. Always trying hard, but never quite succeeding.

When one talks of Africa, one talks plenty about golden opportunities missed. Vast resources, big hopes, unfulfilled dreams and a never ending story of exploitation – and in 2010 a football World Cup that should have changed everything, giving Africa the reputation it was searching for so long. About every conceivable raw material there is you find in Africa. Among them are diamonds, mined for instance in the Southern part of the continent, in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Now, as everybody knows, the diamond mining and trading has been tarnished by blood diamonds, gems used to finance armed struggles and civil wars in Africa. To prevent diamonds becoming bloody, the diamond industry started the Kimberley Process, the goal being to set up a reliable system meant to regulate raw diamond transactions more strictly in order to keep conflict diamonds out of the system.

The Israeli diamond industry is a major contributor to Israel’s economy. And for this year, 2010, Israel has accepted the chairmanship of the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley annual conference held last June in Tel Aviv was welcomed by the Israeli Trade minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer with nice words: "Israel is proud to head the Kimberley Process, which affects and improves the rights and lives of millions of people." (Hell yeah, improving the lives of millions could be a worthy Israeli goal. But why look so far, Israel? Gaza and the West Bank are right at your doorsteps. But then again: Dominating and regulating the diamond trade is far more profitable then easing the lives of millions of Palestinians and conceding them some humanity.) The main stepping stone at this year’s conference was the case of Zimbabwe, where the Kimberley Body failed to take a decision whether this country's stones should be certified as conflict free.

The trouble with Zimbabwe, the trouble with Robert Mugabe: In 2006, a British diamond company (Africa Consolidated Resources, ACR) discovered a huge diamond field in Marange, projected to yield more than $1.2 bn per month! Not surprisingly, shortly after the discovery, Zimbabwe nationalized the mine; ARC and Mugabe representatives are now seeing each other in court. The opinions on who’s right and who’s wrong are of course divided. For the monitor of the Kimberley Process in Harare, Tiseke Kasambala, most of the profits from the diamond industry now go to an exclusive group within the country. For the Zimbabwean mines minister on the other hand, Obert Mpofu, the moves of ARC and the Kimberley Body are a colonialist attempt to disparage the country and control its natural resources. Zimbabwe, the Mugabe regime, needs the money from the diamond mines badly. Shun by the international community (except Iran, it seems), accused of human rights abuses, the country has lost all its value in the tourism market. Zimbabwe is a hard sell to tourists these days and hopes that a spill over of World Cup tourists from South Africa could help the Zimbabwe tourism industry hadn’t materialized. 

So why did the African teams underachieve in World Cup 2010? Not because they have bad players, but because they have had bad teams and bad governance backing up their efforts. African players like Drogba, Eto’o and Essien are like raw diamonds, only shining when they are cut and honed with European (football management) skills, in top teams such as Chelsea in England and Italy’s Inter Milan. And the various African national football associations seem to be run by authoritarian Mugabe-like figures, more concerned for their personal benefit than for the success or their teams as a whole. We find even politicians getting heavily involved in football affairs: Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan for a short moment dissolved the Nigerian football association after their failure in South Africa, until FIFA talked him out of that. (But hey: Also in France, the abysmal performance of Les Bleues became a national topic with Sarkozy intervening personally...) In football just like in many other fields, Africa has the potential, has the raw material, but not the organization and the necessary structures to make it a sustainable success. 

But are we Europeans tree of guilt when we look at Africa’s still dire situation? Everybody in Europe was rooting for the African teams in this World Cup. Why is that so? Is it because they are the underdog, beautiful but unsuccessful, and we would like to see the underdog win? Or is it because after all, they are not an existential threat to us, to your teams (to our politics)? Had we easily accepted if one African team had thrown Germany, Spain or the Netherlands out of competition? It seemed to me that us rooting for Africa being successful in football was like a new form of colonialism and patronizing: Let’s shout out for Africa success in football – the poor guys have nothing else to boast about!