Home > Politics > I thought this type of thing only happened in South America (or Cuba)…

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.

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  1. Simon
    December 14, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    You said [Quote]
    “What does the UN get out of making up figures exaggerating the amount of Eritreans leaving the country?”

    Why did you think the UN monitoring group falsified their report to say 2000 Eritrean soldiers were training the Somalis, before Ethiopia and US invaded and found not a single Eritrean dead or alive in Somali soil ?

    Why do you think the very plane that was falsely claimed by UN monitoring group to be owned by Eritrea and transporting arms, ended up crashing in lake victoria while chartered by Dyncorp ?
    http://crossedcrocodiles.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/africoms-lake-victoria-secret/

    Why do you think the hawk of hawks John Bolton was so exasperated with the skulduggery that goes on in the UN, he thought it worthwhile in mentioning his refusal to be part of the boundary distortion in his memoir ?
    http://www.slate.com/id/2178793/

    Why do you think UN was quick to stop shipment of arms from China to land locked Zimbabwe by warning all African nations not to receive the shipment, while it was facilitating massive arms from North Korea to Ethiopia, courtesy of uncle sam ?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/08/world/americas/08iht-arms.4.5191534.html

    I think you need to give your parents more credit, than you currently do. The writing and proof is one the wall, only you need to open your eyes.

    Have you asked yourself, why Ethiopia receiving more than $3billion/yr for the past 8 years, to help it claim above 10% yearly economic growth, yet year after year suffering from famine, while Eritrea is managing better with out much outside help ?

    Have you asked yourself why Ethiopia just ordered 10 Boeing 787s’ and 12 A350s’ Airbus worth $5billion while half of Ethiopia is starving , just conveniently at a time when aircraft manufacturers were suffering from unprecedented order cancellation even from the richest oil kingdoms ?
    http://tinyurl.com/y9dgojx

    I can go on, but I will leave it for you, it is all out there just waiting for you to connect the dots.
    The tactic is nothing new, it is as old as “Medieval Siege Warfare”.

  2. December 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    OK, so…

    As far as these examples of “skullduggery”, or whatever, let me say this – I never said that the UN is some sort of paragon of political virtue. It suffers the same inherent problem that every venerable group encounters – the very fact that it is an institution created and maintained by very falliable human beings means that its standards will always de-evolve to the meanest of means. In fact, I believe I said this right here:

    “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.”

    My point was, at some point a responsible government looks at its track record and its current position, and says “OK – what are we doing or not doing that is preventing us from moving forward at a faster pace?” Because it’s an undeniable fact that, despite advances made by the government, the country has stagnated over the last few years. You can’t just stick your head in the sand over something like that, and hope that the tide will turn.

    Also, John Bolton “refused” to get involved in the demarcation issue because (a) he couldn’t be bothered to deal with anything that wasn’t in the Middle East, which leads us directly into (b) before President Obama’s election, Africa issues weren’t “sexy” enough.

    And I don’t know enough about Ethiopia’s government to say how they finagled $3 billion/year out of the UN (I suppose), much less the mentality it would take to spend that money on airplanes when your country is admittedly starving, but that really shouldn’t have anything to do with the Eritrean government. The truth is that military conscription is making huge chunks of Eritrean youth flee the country – I have family members who have personally done this – and even if a country was run more perfectly than any other country without a steady influx of youth your country won’t be able to compete.

  1. December 22, 2009 at 11:32 pm

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