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Success, so the saying goes, has many fathers. But few successes have been as widely claimed as that of the French soccer team, Les Bleus, at this year’s FIFA World Cup. France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia was a win for “immigrants everywhere,” wrote Peniel Joseph of the University of Texas at Austin in an op-ed article for CNN. Articles published across the globe highlighted the diversity of the French team: About two-thirds of the players have immigrant backgrounds. However, the loudest claims came from the African continent, from which half the French players draw their lineage. “Finally Africa wins it’s 1st world Cup but in french colours,” tweeted Sunday Oliseh, former head coach of the Nigerian national team. Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, declared France the “only African team in the finals.” Much of this was said only half in jest. A continent that had its worst World Cup showing in more than a quarter century was eager to grab a share of the spoils. In a Washington Post article, Karen Attiah points out the dangers inherent in the appropriation of the French team as African: that the celebration of black excellence in predominantly white spaces sadly reinforces the idea that “ black immigrants have to be superhuman to be deemed worthy of belonging in a white-majority society.” However, having said that, she appears to suggest that another risk is that those demanding a share of the World Cup spoils do not go far enough. It is not just Les Bleus that is African. It is France itself. She cites Gregory Pierrot who declares, “France owes Africa everything.” The problem with this latter line of thought is not that it is necessarily untrue but that it offers the continent’s incompetent rulers a get-out-of-jail-free card. As Kenya’s deputy president demonstrates, it is easier and much more appealing for African leaders to claim vicarious success in the French team’s victory than to have to explain why Africans need to leave the continent to experience success. There is something morbid about the very people responsible for sustaining the conditions that force many Africans to risk death on rickety, overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean, turning around and claiming the successes of immigrants. Kenya, which is by no means among the great soccer powers on the continent, has nonetheless had a taste of this form of appropriation with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Kenya declared a public holiday to honor the election of a foreign head of state, and Kenyan politicians at the time were falling over themselves to claim credit for helping secure Obama’s victory. All the while, even as Kenyans focused on the “success” thousands of miles away, back home democracy and accountability were allowed to rot. In fact, it was widely acknowledged at the time that had Obama’s father brought his son to Kenya, rather than left him with his mother, it would have been unlikely that, despite all his gifts, the future U.S. president would have been afforded similar opportunities. But beyond the distraction from local problems, there is the horrible legitimizing of colonial legacies when Africans are expected to labor for the glory of Europe. Attiah is right to point out that the continuing pillaging of Africa is crucial to French and European economic success. Basking in the reflected glory of the achievements of immigrants made in the name of France implies that such plunder is benign, or at least something the continent can claim benefits from. This is even more problematic given the scapegoating of immigrants across Europe and the whipping up of anti-immigrant sentiment in France itself. As one Twitter wag put it, “France be like: ‘We will take Africa’s talent but not its culture.’ Africans are always told to assimilate to whiteness else go back to Africa.” So while Attiah is right about the “glee that comes with knowing that racists, nativists and anti-immigrant politicians in France have to contend with the fact that the World Cup hopes of Les Bleus rest[ed] on the shoulders of black African men,” we must remember that this fundamentally legitimizes the exploitation of African labor for Western ends. Racists and nativists may not lose too much sleep over that. In the end, Africa would be better served looking to its own failures, rather trying to ride on French successes. The reasons for those failures lie largely within the continent and its corrupt elites. Just as it did with the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Kenya chose to send politicians to Russia for the World Cup, rather than athletes and event organizers, to supposedly learn about the staging of such events. Across the continent, the corruption involved in the game, as revealed in a documentary aired by the BBC, as well as the chronic maladministration and underfunding of sports, would be good places to start seeking answers.
Thomas Frank, a reporter for “CNN Investigates,” last Thursday appeared to have a compelling exclusive on the story of the year. The Senate Intelligence Committee, reported Frank, was investigating a Russian investment fund — the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) — “whose chief executive met with a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team four days before Trump’s inauguration.” That transition team official is Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Streeter who was expected to take a prominent White House position but did not. Scaramucci met in January with RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev. The CNN exclusive — which hung from one unnamed source — didn’t take long to wither. Breitbart News’s Matthew Boyle bombed the CNN piece as baseless. Sputnik News published a refutation, indicating that the fund was not a part of Russian state bank Vnesheconombank, as the CNN report had claimed. This detail mattered a great deal, considering that Vnesheconombank was listed in a set of sanctions issued by the U.S. government; RDIF itself, however, is subject to sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department. According to the CNN report, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into this matter was linked to the meeting between top Trump adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner and Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey Gorkov during the presidential transition.