A few months ago, France won the World Cup and Africans everywhere rejoiced.
A huge proportion of the winning team are of African descent, a number of them were not even born in France. Seeing all the Africans on the pitch must have been nice, especially as none of the African teams made it past the first stage. France was quickly adopted as the last African team, and when they won their victory was a victory for Africa. Needless to say, this caused a bit of controversy.
Comedian Trevor Noah of the Daily Show made a joke about this on his show; saying something to the effect of “Africa won the World Cup“. This struck a nerve with the French ambassador who wrote:
“Unlike the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on its race, religion, or origin. To us, there is no hyphenated identity.”
Trevor replied saying: “When I am saying, ‘They are African’, I am not saying it as a way to exclude them from their Frenchness, but using it as a way to include them in my Africanness.”
Trevor’s reply perfectly summed up the feelings of the Africans celebrating this proxy win. Everyone was just trying to “feel among”.
I watched all of the commotion, and as always I had a different feeling about all of this. What exactly are we celebrating? What is the inspiration here? That one day little African children can move to France and also win the World Cup? That one day African children can emigrate overseas and finally be able to become a success? I agree that this is inspiring for the African immigrants in France, and perhaps even in other Western countries. For those who have struggled to be accepted in their surrogate countries, this win will definitely be helpful in making them feel more welcome. But what does it mean for Africa as a whole, and Africans still in Africa?
People were reaching for the stars in their attempts to establish even the most tenuous links: “This player is from Cameroon but his father is originally from Nigeria so in a way Nigeria won the world cup.” I found this to be equal parts cringeworthy and pitiful. Pitiful because the inefficiencies and selfishness of those in charge means that we always have to live vicariously through the exploits of others. Pitiful because a couple of years ago the Nigerian delegation to the Olympics was left stranded due to unpaid bills, and had to rely on the charity of a Japanese businessman. Pitiful because these French players could have chosen to play for their African countries but instead chose to play for France because of course who wouldn’t? Pitiful because there are so many African athletes who are now representing non-African countries because that’s the only way for them to progress. Pitiful because there are so many Africans who have to emigrate abroad in order to succeed. And Africans are there clapping madly like wild seals.
Those who defend immigration always think of it from the point of view of the adoptive country. Look what immigrants can do for you. This immigrant doctor just saved a life. Welcome immigrants because blah blah. There is nothing wrong with this per se, and in a world that holds so many negative stereotypes about Africans (and immigrants in general), this is perhaps a welcome change. Still I always wonder: Yes immigration is so good for the adoptive country, but who spares a thought for the country left behind and its citizens? We talk of all the immigrant doctors, but these doctors are more needed in the country that they emigrated from. “Immigrants have built America”, great, while leaving their home countries in a state of despair; but fret not because that only means more immigrants to help further build the West. Yay!
It is sad enough when it is well meaning natives who makes these arguments, but even more tragic when Africans celebrate immigration; Let us into your country and see how much we can contribute to your country. It seems everyone is trying to get out and for good reason. Lots of people emigrate in search of greener pastures and those remaining are forever frustrated by the system. The consequence of this is that no improvement is made to the home country, leading to more emigrants and the cycle continues.
Let’s look back at the Trump shit-hole debacle; Trump allegedly referred to some African countries as shit-holes and everyone was understandably outraged and defensive. But then something strange happened: African immigrants started showing off their degrees and achievements; “I am from a shit-hole country in Africa and I have five degrees and twenty jobs”. Soooooo is Africa a shit-hole or not? Because I do not see how the degrees you earned in America negate Trump’s alleged statement. If anything it seems you agree with him. What about the Africans without a plethora of degrees? Does his statement only apply to them? I know fully well that a number of the outraged people have the same opinion of Africa that Trump (allegedly) has. The outrage is perhaps more that a man in his position would be so undiplomatic. But yes a lot of people, Africans included, see Africa as well, a shit-hole. This brings me to my next point.
Black Panther came out in 2018, and ever since the imaginary world of Wakanda has become a utopia for Black Americans and really Black people everywhere. There are 54 real African countries home to hundreds of millions of Black people, and yet this fictional one is the oasis for Black people everywhere, because the actual countries are nothing to be proud about. Even actual Africans now claim to be from Wakanda and use this fictional place to describe Africans. Never mind that in the movie, the people of Wakandas cared only for themselves and did nothing to further the advancement of the black race.
If we had more reasonable governments, rather than celebrate this African world cup by proxy, we would be putting in the work required to actually win the WC. Rather than living vicariously through these immigration success stories, we should be looking for ways to stem the bleed of human capital and instead harness the talent for the benefit of the continent, not just the West. The success of Africans abroad is a win for other African immigrants NOT for Africans in general. If anything it should be a source of shame that Africans have to go abroad to realise their gifts; it should be saddening to realise that there are tons of Africans who will never realise their talents simply because the system they are in works actively to hinder them and they cannot afford to move.
Alas, there seems to be a dearth of common sense in these lands. We will continue to ignore our local talent, until they move abroad and become a success, then their success will become ours. Those who cannot make it out are almost certainly doomed, but for the grace of God.
The win was a win for France, a win for the French people, a win for the French people of African descent; it was not a win for Africa, we will have to wait a little longer for that.