Jun 07 2010

African Beauties and the Beasts

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:35 AM

Iman’s lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America is an occasion to remember the “original sin” of her superstar modeling career: that despite her vast education in Nairobi, and despite her family’s priviledged social background, and her very father’s sophistication as a Somali diplomat, Iman permitted herself to be presented as a gorgeous beauty plucked right out of the African jungle. The canard, presented by her “discoverer,” the photographer Peter Beard, could partly forgiven because of the stupidity of European and American fashion establishments. After all, there are no jungles in Somalia; the czars of fashion should have grasped the error in Iman’s PR bio. Or perhaps they did. Iman’s faked jungle progency pandered to white presumptions that the only “:authentic” Africans come from the bush. Yet time and again, in truth, successful Africans in Europe and the U.S. — and not only in the realm of beauty but in the terrains of brains too — hail from ultra-urban environments, priviledged schools and relative wealth.

Class analysis, however tired and predictable, remains an imp0rtant tool in understanding what works in Africa.

Jun 04 2010

Drogba, ouch!

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:10 AM

Ouch! Africa’s best scoring threat suddenly seems out of the World Cup.

Did Ivory Coast have the strongest chance of winning the World Cup of any African team, and how does the entire footballing continent recover from the crushing blow of his injury?

Might Drogba still play with a broken arm, as his national coach has suggested? How effective might he be? Will he even want to risk sub-par performances — and further injury — by taking the field?

With Ghana’s Michael Essien also beset by injury, can Africans now expect much from their six national teams participating in this long-awaited tournemant? Will the Nigerians, my wife’s beloved Super Eagles, rise to the challenge? Must Africans resign themselves — as the Japanese and the Koreans did when they co-hosted the World Cup — to not producing the ultimate winner?

Jun 03 2010

South Africa World Cup reinforces “football imperialism”

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:30 AM

Hooray for the World Cup, the first set on African soil. But recognize the limits. The World Cup will bring attention to soccer in Africa, but won’t change the reality that Africans – from players to fans – are regularly subject to a form of “football imperialism.”

To a greater extent than any of the other regional powers in global “football,” African star players leave their countries and sub-regions to play for higher-paying clubs elsewhere in the world, usually in Europe, which has the best and highest-paying club teams on the planet, and increasingly in Asia and the Middle East. The exodus of football talent from Africa mirrors the general “brain drain” from the world’s poorest continent. The outflow of footballing talent from Africa is singular; it impoverishes African sporting life – and civil life generally — in a more profound way than when Brazilian joins the Italian league, a German plays for Chelsea or a Japanese suits up for a Spanish club. Ghana has a great club league, for instance, and the league has its version of the NY Yankees (Asante Kotoko in Kumasi). And yet all of these local allegiances get ignored during the World Cup, which is too bad because the club leagues also must contend with competition from European leagues, especially the English Premiere. The most popular team in Kenya for instance is either Chelsea or Arsenal or Man United; and I don’t mean the most popular foreign team either.

Anyone who follows football accepts that footballers are now as thoroughly international as any other skilled profession. African footballers, as individuals, are of course rewarded for going with the flow, for pursuing the best personal opportunities they can find in the “beautiful game.” The deeper question is to understand the extent of the damage because, after all, football is a team game in the same way as social development.

So what’s the damage from “football imperialism.?” I’d argue that even elite Africans in Africa still suffer from an inferiority complex, around race and place, which fuels brain drain and a lack of a “stake” in their own countries, where many talented people – from doctors to goal keepers to university professors – feel under-appreciated because they are under-appreciated. So club football is a kind of proxy for a dysfunctional modernization process in Africa, and in African cities especially.

I realize that the connection between sports and society is never easy to make, and I am aware of course that Africado get to root for their respective national teams in the World Cup. But robust national symbols are not the same as vital civil society, so I still wonder about the missed opportunities in South Africa’s approach to staging the first World Cup in Africa, ignoring the soccer grassroots is the biggest. The current setup reinforces the perverse notion that imports are the best in Africa — and that even super stars such as Drogba are “re-imported” in to gain status in their home countries. The whole process represents the “debasement” of African-ness in microcosm. This judgement is of course harsh but I think not unjustified. To repeat for emphasis, only this time in “American” English: Africa suffers gravely from “soccer imperialism.” The World Cup ought to give club teams in Africa a boost, though the event might do so remains a mystery to me.

Jun 01 2010

Is (outer) space in Africa’s future? Ask Spock.

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:03 PM

Dr. Spoke and Captain James Kirk, leaders of the most clever science fiction series ever created for the small screen, counted Africans among their crew.

The creators of Star Trek obviously foresaw the future. Read all about South Africa’s ambitious space program. The country is about a lot more than World Cup football!

Jun 01 2010

Skateboards are a start

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:48 AM

The magazine Guernica has a fetching photo essay on skateboarding in Uganda by the Swiss photographer Yann Gross. That Westerners find exotic novelty in East Africans building a skateboard rink, and diligently carrying skateboards, is interesting for what it says about the persistence of the myth of a wild Africa immune from global lifestyle fashions. Uganda society does at times to merely copy American and European lifestyles, especially in regards to mania for hip-hop in Kampala. In this regard skateboarding is among the least popular of American imports.

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