I thought this type of thing only happened in South America (or Cuba)…
This just happened this morning, so there’s not a lot of details, but it seems that the entire Eritrean soccer team has just up and vanished after a loss in Kenya to the Tanzanian national team, which knocked them out of the Council for East and Central Africa Football Association competition for East & Central Africa. Apparently when the team plane returned home, the only people on board were two pilots, a coach and an official.
Strangely enough, despite the Eritrean Football Federation confirming to CECAFA head Nicholas Musonye that the players had either gained the ability to turn invisible or were in fact obviously not there, the official government stance? Nobody’s missing! The really crazy part? They might be right.
Here’s the thing – apparently, this is the THIRD TIME the Eritrean national team has pulled this trick. It’s even gotten to the point that traveling athletes have to deposit 100,000 nakfa (approx. $6,700) before leaving the country AND have to stick with their official “entourage” while on foreign soil.
If any Eritreans happen to read this, you know what I’m talking about when I say this is essentially highlighting a crisis that’s been percolating for over a decade now: namely, the growing friction growing along a number of fault lines throughout the country, from generational-gap type conflicts to inter-class issues. A couple of years ago, I spent a summer writing for the national paper, the Eritrean Profile, and the level of disconnect between the official government stance and the reality of the situation is grave. The country is hemorrhaging citizens at a ridiculous clip, but the government not only denies that Eritreans are abandoning the country but accuses the United Nations of fabricating their figures. Seriously!
You know, when I was a kid and I accused my mom of lying about whatever to me, she always said the same thing to me – “What do I get out of lying to you? What do I benefit?” What does the UN get out of making up figures exaggerating the amount of Eritreans leaving the country?
Older Eritreans (like my parents) cite the same conspiratorial claims as the Eritrean government: since Eritrea is a country doing its level best to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, without Western aid, its enemies use both armed tactics and propaganda to try and destroy the country – the West over the insult of having its aid rebuffed, and neighboring countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia so that they can help themselves to Eritrea’s national resources, not least of which is one of the most important points in the region, the Port at Massawa, which is the largest natural deep water port in the Red Sea. Other arguments are that rival governments and factions may have paid off the athletes in an effort to discredit the government, or that the whole thing is a distraction meant to draw attention away from Eritrea’s border disputes with Ethiopia and Djibouti.
The truth is, they could very well be…well, if not absolutely correct, at least partially true. International politics, for all the parliamentary polish and luxurious veneer, is a world of dirty tricks, deceit and lies. It’s a world where people put on their fanciest clothes, sit down amongst luxurious surroundings and opulence, and essentially decide whether or not thousands, if not millions, are going to die over things such as oil rights and border demarcations, and the idea that people who live in that world would be willing to use something as seemingly prosaic as a football team in order to try and attack a perceived chink in an opposing country’s political armor is miles from far-fetched.
But at some point, we have to assume that Occam’s Razor will take effect; that the simplest explanation tends to be the likeliest one. Isn’t it possible that these men were simply taking a chance on finding a better life in a country that hasn’t been wracked by poverty since it gained independence in 1993? Isn’t it possible that the reason there’s less people in the entire country than there are in New York City is because young people are leaving the country in droves, mainly because many of them don’t want to be forcibly conscripted into the national military? Isn’t there at least a grain of truth in the idea that a government that has been in uninterrupted power for over 15 years, not even holding an election, after declaring themselves to be a force for democracy in Africa, can be called repressive? Aren’t all these things at least feasible, if not completely likely?
The truth of the matter is that the Eritrean government has been fighting the same battles for the last 30-plus years, and without new blood, new energy, new ideas, it’s going to stay locked in the same spiral of violence that keeps the majority of African nations from forging a new future for themselves.
P.S. – Oh, and check out this quote from Musonye:
“I am saddened by the whole scenario. It is not good for the players to disappear because it gives a bad impression for the region,”
Really? “It’s not good” for an entire team to just up and ghost? I’m shocked. Hey, Musonye, a tip: maybe you should switch from decaf.