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Azubuike Ishiekwene: The long, hard road to South Africa

The World Cup may be six months away, but soccer fans in some African countries may already be playing the match of their lives against fear and prejudice. These days, unfortunately, it’s hard to tell which side will win. After a series of xenophobic attacks erupted in South Africa in May 2008, the country’s ability to convince its continental brethren that this is, indeed, not just South Africa’s, but “Africa’s World Cup” suddenly got all the more difficult. The image of the burning Mozambican man and those of hundreds of immigrants fleeing their neighborhoods tend to linger on the brain. The authorities in South Africa will, of course, argue that they are doing more than talk to bring healing and turn the page. Resettlement programs and national soul-searching are ongoing. In the spirit of true African brotherhood, the legendary Cameroonian footballer, Roger Milla, was in the spotlight during Friday’s draws in Johannesburg. (Cameroon is among the handful of African countries to qualify for this year’s 32-nation tournament, along with Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, and Cote d’Ivoire.) When the competition finally gets under way, thousands of policemen will be deployed to make the streets safer, while special event visas will be available to cope with the influx of an estimated 480,000 fans. But a star-guest appearance and more policing will not necessarily make the event a continental celebration. The feeling outside South Africa that those responsible for the xenophobic attacks were handled with kid gloves—when punished at all—leaves many with a sense of foreboding. The attacks, which left over 62 foreigners dead and thousands homeless, sparked concern among ordinary Africans as to whether there is, indeed, such a thing as African unity. Those who think that soccer offers any hope of brotherly redemption must have been shocked during the qualifying rounds in November when violent clashes between Egyptian and Algerian supporters in Zamalek, Cairo, left 35 people seriously wounded. As sports often imitates politics, the search for unity may be just be as elusive to fans in Cairo as it is to the Beninese trader who has to cross at least 63 checkpoints before he arrives in neighboring Nigeria to sell a basket of fruit. As for the Nigerian who wants to travel to South Africa for the World Cup, she might have better luck reaching Aburdistan than securing a bona fide South African visa. Only last month, a Nigerian traveler to South Africa set a Nigerian-based discussion forum ablaze with tales of his “woeful” experience at the hands of immigration officials in Johannesburg. The officials, he said, seemed more interested in preventing him from crossing the border than in whether or not he had the correct entry papers. It reminded me of an incident a few years back, in July 2005, when Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was detained for nearly eight hours by immigration officials who didn’t seem to care one bit about the difference between a laureate and a loony.

Jonathan Power: There Are Many Irans

Let’s exaggerate. Iran has been singled out for persecution over its alleged nuclear bomb making program because in 1979 its Revolutionary Guards took the staff of the U.S. embassy hostage, causing outrage in America with even the esteemed Walter Cronkite ratcheting up the tension, putting up on the screen, as he read the nightly news, the number of days they had been incarcerated. The sitting president, Jimmy Carter, was deposed, tarred with the brush of utter failure. Something of an exaggeration that this was the sole or even the most important factor in building a pro bomb lobby in Iran. Still it has a grain of truth: Iran has been singled out unfairly. The West and Russia are engaged in discriminating against it. Brazil has had a nuclear enrichment program for decades (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant, several laboratory-scale facilities, a reprocessing facility to make plutonium, and a missile program). In the 1980s it built two nuclear devices. Three years ago I asked the chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Brasilia if Washington was worried about Brazil. “Not at all,” he replied. “In the early 1990s Brazil dismantled its nuclear weapons program, and Argentina, its supposed enemy, has done the same.” “But,” I insisted, “Brazil still has its enrichment program and a reprocessing facility”. “We have no worries about Brazil,” he answered. “We see eye to eye.” However, Brazil still resists, in part, the probing eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog. In 1979 the attitude of the Carter administration toward Pakistan, then attempting to build its own bomb, was almost as harsh as is the attitude of the United States toward Iran today. All American military aid was suspended, even though the Taliban were a lurking potential threat. However, when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December of that year, Carter persuaded Congress to restart a large-scale arms program. For the next decade, in return for Pakistan’s help building up the anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan (who later went to work for Osama bin Laden), Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s effort to build nuclear weapons.

THE INDEX — September 9, 2009

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