Sunday, August 19, 2012


Kiprotich meets family at Entebbe International Airport on Wednesday. PHOTO by isaac kasamani By Timothy Kalyegira Posted Sunday, August 19 2012 at 01:00 In Summary The unheralded long distance athlete Stephen Kiprotich took the sporting world by surprise on Sunday August 12, 2012 when he won the men’s Marathon race at the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London. It was only the second time Uganda had won an Olympic gold medal in its history, the first coming at the Games of the XX Olympiad in Munich, West Germany, on September 3, 1972 when John Charles Akii-Bua won the men’s 400 metres hurdles in a new Olympic and world record time of 47.82 sec. A Ugandan public, cynical in the extreme, used to winning nothing, the national psyche deformed by decades of seeing before them a self-image of failure and mediocrity, was taken unawares by Kiprotich’s unexpected victory, but lost no time in expressing grateful emotion and the Kampala political and corporate establishment lost even less time in doing the predictable --- making declarations of intent, making pledges, waxing philosophical about this gold medal achievement. This is the problem with basing our estimate of the country on individual examples, on token gestures, on occasional flashes of brilliance, on achievement in a few areas. Lost amid the hype and temporary excitement is the structural problem in Uganda’s national life. Cameroon’s national football team established itself at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain as a force in Africa. Historic glory The 1990 World Cup saw Cameroon become the first African team ever to reach the quarter-finals. So far, the Indomitable Lions have not been able to repeat their Italia ’90 performance and even for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament have been inconsistent. Senegal also reached the quarter-finals in the 2002 World Cup and, like Cameroon, have since returned to relative football obscurity. Ghana reached the same quarter-final stage in South Africa in 2010 and it is possible that achievement will remain unattainable for another 20 or 30 years, if it’s recent Africa Cup of Nations performance is an indicator. And even where there is consistent Olympic, World Championships and Diamond League athletic achievement, as with Ethiopia and Kenya, the familiar sound of their national anthems during the victory celebrations since the 1960s has not prevented deep-rooted social and political tensions from affecting these two countries. Cameroon has been reduced to one-man rule and kleptocracy. Zaire hosted the 1974 Boxing World Heavyweight title fight between defending champion George Foreman and challenger and former champion Muhammad Ali. Within years, Zaire (later Democratic Republic of Congo) was en route to becoming a failed state. Share This Story In other words, while Ugandans have every reason to celebrate Kiprotich’s historic Olympic gold medal --- for context, making Uganda one of only a dozen African countries ever to win an Olympic gold medal --- sporting glory is an exciting experience but also tends to be perishable. The USSR regularly topped the Olympic medal table, even when many Soviet Republics lived reluctantly in Moscow’s tight grip. It is a lesson for the Western and Chinese media and a crop of urban middle class Africans who lately have taken to a false sense of optimism about an “Africa Rising” and “It’s Time for Africa” theme. The Western world’s new obsession with the rights and dignity of minorities or the downtrodden or the threatened (women, gays, Blacks, the O-Zone layer, Rhinos, Amazon’s rain forest, Africans, Syrian “activists”) has inevitably turned to a new, deliberate effort to focus on the “positive” side to Africa. It started in 1994 with “Proudly South African”, went to “Proudly Kenyan”, added “Proudly Rwandan”, at one time fawned over a “new breed of African leaders” and now has come Africa-focused TV programming by CCTV of China and the BBC. Rather than look at the total picture of an African country’s GDP, GDP per capita, political stability, infrastructure, social harmony, and so on, what we now see is a tendency to ignore the broad pattern and instead focus on trying to find a few needles in haystacks of dysfunction and poverty. It is now the era of feel good optimism and the abandonment of the realistic and the sober. The media reporting now chooses to highlight the few “inspiring” and “uplifting” examples of “African success stories”, be it of the baker in Mogadishu, Somalia who has started supplying bread to the war-weary population or the Zimbabwean candle stick maker who makes his candles from a certain gum found near Bulawayo woodland. Nominated individuals These examples of individual effort, perseverance or brilliance are then held up for the world to see, nominated for awards in London or New York, and often are patronised by a visiting British Rock star Bono, an American actress Angelina Jolie or a former US president Bill Clinton. This neo-liberal, politically-correct, multicultural worldview now shapes everything from World Bank loans to Africa to US support of certain questionable African regimes, to nominations of the first African to head this or that international body. Completely glossed over in this new, quirk-seeking, post-racism political correctness are the fundamental problems that still hold Africa by its throat. Yes, the recent London summer Olympic Games were an overall success; but let’s not forget that athletes from Guinea, Eritrea, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo absconded from the Olympic village and stayed behind in London. Yes, Kiprotich won Olympic gold, but the Luzira Prison where he is employed is a congested, undignified, lice-infested place. I’ve spent a night there and know it. Prison warders often come to court hearings, often without taking breakfast or having lunch all day during prisoners’ court sessions. Yes, President Yoweri Museveni gave Kiprotich Shs200 million as a reward and yes Kiprotich was driven from Entebbe International Airport to State House, Entebbe in a sports car with the number plate “UG Gold”. But we’ve seen that sort of posturing and grand-standing before. (There was talk last week that certain promises made by the government to double Commonwealth 5,000m and 10,000m champion Moses Kipsiro have not yet been fulfilled.)

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