Tag Archives: Africa

Politics also plays in the African Cup of Nations

By Francisco Centauro of Grada Roja

There are two faces to this beast; on the one hand the clamor that represents a continental tournament organized by FIFA, which brings together different countries in Africa to share the values that football transmits. On the other hand, also visible are the many factors that have led to the social and economic decline of the whole continent. In the 19th and 20th Centuries it was the shared experience of the imperialist yoke that gave the African nations the by-product of a fighting heritage. Now FIFA and those in political power in Africa try to provide cover for the continuing poverty and inequality of the continent with showcase tournaments. Nothing to see here, move along please…

The host country for the 2017 edition of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations is Gabon. Similar to Brazil at the last World Cup, a large percentage of the population of Gabon lives in dire poverty. The dissatisfaction at the amount of money invested in organizing the tournament permeates the population and has manifested itself in widespread discontent and protest on the streets.

The riots in Gabon commenced in the aftermath of the re-election of Ali Bongo of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) whose victory is widely considered to be corrupt and fraudulent. Gabonese opposition candidate Jan Ping leads the protests and the social upheaval is ongoing, in spite of the African Nations Cup tournament. The capital Libreville, is the epicenter of both the sporting event and popular discontent. But the Cup must continue because the economic interests of the organizers in this era of commercialised soccer are a priority – they have match timetables to fill and profits to make, because ‘time is money’.

The first game of the Cup, on January 14, saw host Gabon play Guinea Bissau. Inside the stadium the encounter takes place with a certain normality, contrary to the scenes on the outside, where the population is immersed in episodes of violence, culminating in the protesters setting fire to the National Assembly as a sign of their discontent. Revolts, riots and mass arrests are the reality of the African Cup of Nations that is not reported by the mainstream media. It is obvious that, as in Brazil, the interests pursued by the government, the African Confederation and FIFA, is considered to be more important than responding to the demands of the protesters. No matter that public resources have been diverted to fund a lavish opening ceremony, the basic needs of the population can wait, because it is the priority of those in charge to show the world that Gabon is up to the task of organizing an event of this type. Most likely, after the tournament, stadiums will become abandoned properties, due to the inability of the government to finance their maintenance. Just look back and observe the countries that have hosted a tournament of similar character in other continents. In Brazil, those stadiums that were built after long days of exploitation and brutal effort for the workers, now lie abandoned. They remain as the silent witnesses of the socioeconomic consequences of being a World Cup host, Gabon will be no exception to this rule.

Looking beyond the facade of this tournament, it is important to celebrate the tradition of resistance that is demonstrated by the protests on the streets of Gabon. These protests recall the examples of struggle that led to the national liberation of several African countries, as well as the heroic characters who fought colonialism and achieved independence for their nations. Today these achievements are overshadowed by interventionism and betrayal.

So we remember Thomas Sankara and his legacy in the liberation of Burkina Faso, President Nasser’s Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the revolution of Patrice Lumumba. The many liberation struggles in southern and central Africa that saw the colonialists overthrown. And, of course, the Algerians as authentic warriors both on the pitch and on the barricades of the National Liberation Front. The revolution in Africa continues because, as has been proven by experience, national liberation in and of itself does not automatically lead to social liberation and freedom from poverty. Football and Politics remain intertwined and reflect the social context of the time and we will continue to report the political as well as the sporting.

This article first appeared in Spanish on the Grada Roja website.

Translated & Edited by Talman, with thanks to F.C. and Grada Roja

Slavery and Freedom

BandaSalmondThe recent celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of missionary and explorer David Livingstone and the visit to his birthplace in Blantyre by President Joyce Banda of Malawi to acknowledge Livingstone’s opposition to the slave trade gave rise to some discussion about the role of Britain and other European countries in the international slave trade of the 18th and 19th Centuries. TAL contributor HAL gives his view of the history of the slave trade.


by Micheál Mac Giolla Houlihan

Recent research into the slave trade bolsters the argument that industrialisation in Britain to a large extent was paid for with blood money extracted from slave labour on Caribbean sugar plantations. Profits from the burgeoning Caribbean sugar industry were reinvested in Britain’s domestic economy by absentee landlords and slave trading merchants. Following the Slave Emancipation Act in 1834 £billions (estimated to be as high as £50 billion) in modern day terms was paid in compensation to slave-owning families (see article in Independent on 24 February – Britain’s colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition). Slaves were regarded as the personal property of the slave-owners who were therefore compensated for their loss. Needless to say the slaves on the plantations received no reparation and indeed were ‘apprenticed’ to work for food and lodging for an additional five years as part of a transition process.

david-cameron-slave-historyPresent day descendants of the slave-owning recipients of this enormous wealth paid for out of the public purse include high-ranking politicians such as Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of the elites such as the current chairman of the Arts Council Peter Bazelgette. The scheme was partly financed by raised duties on sugar with the costs passed onto the domestic British consumer – sugar became part of the staple diet of the ordinary man and woman in the 1800’s. Sugar was imported from the slave plantations in the Caribbean so the slaves were effectively paying for their own emancipation in blood, sweat and tears.

Also included in the list of present day descendants of the slave-owning beneficiaries of the compensation scheme is Douglas Hogg, 3rd Viscount Hailsham to give him his full title, a former Tory cabinet minister under both Thatcher and John Major and exposed by the Telegraph in 2009 as having claimed in excess of £2,000 of taxpayers’ money to clean the moat around his country estate and have his piano tuned (MP’s expenses: Clearing the moat at Douglas Hogg’s manor). Where would such scions of the establishment be without the taxpayer? It was Douglas Hogg who declared in a speech to the Commons in 1989 that “certain solicitors in Northern Ireland were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. Less than four weeks later the prominent Civil Rights Lawyer Pat Finucane was assassinated.


The Independent article refers to a research database on the slave-holders compensation scheme run by University College London. The database tracing the payouts and the recipients is significant as it roots the wealth of the British establishment in the bloody business of slavery and exploitation. It is worth pausing to reflect on the nature of the slavery business. In the course of the 18th century 820,000 West African men, women and children were transported to an early death in Jamaica, the biggest of Britain’s Caribbean colonies. Thousands more died at sea on board slave ships en route to the Americas on the so-called ‘middle passage’. On average 20 per cent of slaves died en route.  Other European countries were also involved. The Portugal-Brazil connection transported the largest number of slaves but Britain dominated the trade at its height in the early period of industrialisation between 1760 and the early 1800’s. France was the next biggest slave trading nation until a prolonged revolt in its colony St Domingue culminated in the establishment of the slave free Republic of Haiti in 1804. Britain ended the slave trade in 1807 but did not abolish the slavery system. Already existing slaves remained slaves.

Slave_Auction_AdIn the course of the slave trade a total of 12 million Africans were transported to the Americas including the West Indies. Slaves were traded at auctions or ‘scrambles’ where plantation owners grabbed the slaves they wished to buy. New slaves had to be ‘broken in’ which was known as ‘seasoning’. There were high mortality rates among seasoned slaves mainly from disease and illness (the tropical West Indies was rife with disease), overwork and depression – many slaves just simply lost the will to live. There was also high infant mortality so there was a continual demand for fresh supplies of African slaves. High demand meant high prices. Slavery was a very profitable business.

Flogging and mutilation were routine punishments for absconding from the plantation. There was no discrimination between the sexes. Twelve hour shifts were the norm. There was a small window for the harvest of the cane sugar – only a few days before the sugar cane became unusable. The most arduous task involved turning the cane into unrefined sugar a kind of syrup by a process of boiling. The boiling houses were the scene of frequent accidents. During harvest time if a slave’s hand became trapped in the crusher it was cut off with an axe rather than shutting down the factory to extricate trapped limbs and losing valuable time for processing the sugar cane. Such was the hunger for profit.

Non-conformist and evangelical Protestants in particular Methodists, Quakers and Baptists who believed in ‘justification by faith alone’ and ‘the priesthood of all believers’ viewed slaves not as objects or as property but as souls in need of redemption and were influential voices in the abolitionist movement and Anti-Slavery Society. Thousands of missionaries left England in the early 1800s to work in the British Empire and many arrived in the Caribbean where they were met with suspicion by the plantation owners. slavetrade-end-slogan

In the end emancipation was precipitated by the slaves themselves with literate slave leader Sam Sharpe orchestrating the Great Jamaican Slave Rebellion in 1831/32. Hundreds of plantations were burned to the ground and hundreds of slaves were killed in the fields by local militia and Crown forces. Hundreds more rebel slaves were captured and the plantation owners were determined on vengeance. 320 rebel slaves were sentenced to death and the executions were carried out in Montego Bay, today a holiday mecca for affluent Westerners seeking a good time. The rebel leader Sam Sharpe was the last to be hanged on 23rd May 1832. The Protestant missionaries were chased out of the island by angry planters who accused them of spreading sedition. The crisis provoked by the rebellion expedited emancipation.

Much of this account resonates with the Irish experience of ‘punitive slavery’ or penal servitude especially in the 17th century following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The transatlantic voyage, the ‘mid passage’ carrying slaves from Africa to the Americas also brings to mind the harrowing experience of the starving Irish fleeing An Gorta Mor in ‘coffin ships’ en route to America in the 1840’s and of course Irish rebels were no strangers to rolling gallows. That is why it is senseless, worse self-defeating, for any Celtic fan sympathetic to the Irish struggle for freedom to harbour a racist or sectarian outlook. Celtic fans should continue to stand firmly in the proud tradition of anti-racism and non-sectarianism.

To continue the discussion on twitter:  @michael_hal