20 years after winning the World Cup, France again made history in Russia. In a World Cup competition full of surprises and emotions, the world was glued to the television screen for 20 days. In this World Cup tournament African representatives fell short at the World Cup, again. The five African teams were among the first to leave, all five countries – Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal – were knocked out in the preliminary round. The continent found consolation in the adopted team, ‘the sixth African country,’ France.
In another article, I will address why referring to France as an African country is problematic. But for now we must know that Africa has economically carried France so much on its back. France has exploited minerals and other resources from its former colonies in Africa that it will probably be not as developed if it were not of Africa’s resources. So whose win is this France’s or Africa’s, and should Africans be basking in the achievement of France?
France’s World Cup team featured no less than 15 players with African roots, no other team had the same diversity. However, there have been concerns from African players of descent that their contributions are only appreciated on condition of success, and their citizenship is questioned in failure. Romelu Lukaku in his Player Tribune story said, “When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker. When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.” But for Lukaku, he says, “I’m Belgian.”
Due to its colonial policy of assimilation and association, France was perceived to be more welcoming of black immigrants. By keeping its extended colonies in check, a strategy which France still employs, economic hardships forced many Africans from Francophone Africa to migrate to France. The Algerian War forced many Algerians to migrate to France.
One can not disassociate the faces of those that played for France in this World Cup from France’s colonial past and current role in African countries. But the question remains, why do Africans claim what they did not have a hand in building? The truth will always remain; these players were brought up in a French system, through French football academies. As much as we would like to trace the roots of these players down to Africa and claim a stake in their success, we had no role in their remarkable story. Our claim is only skin deep, based on the heritage of the French players with an African connection. The victory though offers great lessons for other countries worth emulating, lessons about immigration, assimilation, multiculturalism globalization and citizenship.
Unlike Nigeria’s Victor Moses who chose to stop playing for England and chose to play for Nigeria instead, the case is not the same with these French players, they chose to play for France, although some of them could have played for their respective countries of descent. Malian immigrant, Mamoudou Gassama, popularly referred to as ‘Mali Spiderman’ took the dangerous journey to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. After his heroic display in which he save a baby that was dangling from a storey building, Gassama was made a French citizen. Gassama however rejected an offer from the Malian President Ibrahim Baoubacar Keita to return to Mali and become a Captain in the Malian Army.
After Senegal’s painful exit from the World Cup, instead of reflecting on how African teams could possibly do better in 2022, the focus was thrust on who can represent us. We can only be joyful that players with ties to the continent have proven to the world that the possibility of Africans winning a world Cup is possible if infrastructure is put in place. However, the World Cup won’t cross any sea to the continent.