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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

An invisible line and two Presidents

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Cote d’Ivoire: The World urging calm

After more than four years of delay, the citizens of Cote d’Ivoire have gone to the polls to vote in the first free and fair elections since the end their ethnoreligious civil war in 2007. After the first round of voting, neither of the two prominent contenders, current President Laurent Gbagbo and the main opposition challenger Alassane Ouattara, gained the percentage needed to avoid a runoff. That second-round election took place on November 28. Since then, the country has moved from pre-election tension to post-election dystopia. As the world watches and springs into conflict-avoidance, the precarity of the political landscape threatens to pull another generation of Ivorians into civil war.

The first dramatic salvo was fired on Thursday when Mr. Gbagbo’s representative at the Electoral Commission grabbed early results from a Commission official, who was about to read them to awaiting media, declared them fraudulent and ripped the result slip to pieces. When the Electoral Commission was able to avoid the reigning President’s political followers (re: lackeys), it certified Mr. Outtara to be the winner. (Confirmed and backed by countries across the world, as well.) Almost immediately, the Constitutional Court (in a preposterously partisan move) challenged the Commissions’s legitimacy and both players, respectively, swore themselves in as the new President of Cote d’Ivoire.

This all leads us, once again, to watching Cote d’Ivoire teeter on the proverbial high wire. From a pragmatic standpoint, it was hard to imagine the country’s return to democracy to be anything less than tumultuous. For all intensive purposes the civil war has never ended. The Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) Rebels still control the northern part of the country and the two most insidious issues, religious marginalization and ethnic tensions, are still simmering below the surface. So have any of these grievances been assuaged since the laying down of arms in 2007? No, not really.

Cote d’Ivoire is divided by an invisible but steadfastly unbreakable fault line. It is drawn between the Muslim, migrant-infused north and the “Ivorian,” Christian South. This election highlights the continued tension surrounding ethnicity and religion. Predictably, President Gbagbo, from the south, is Christian. Mr. Ouattara, from the north, is Muslim. It is problematic dichotomy personified. The mistrust that both sides are seeded with, due to past deeds committed by the villainous “other,” will be exceedingly difficult to overcome peacefully.

The international community, for its part, has not sat on its collective hands as the clock to chaos ticks away.  The African Union immediately dispatched former South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki to broker a quick fix solution and the World Bank and African Development Bank have urged calm. Unfortunately, as I sit here, I am unconvinced that there is an expedited, agreeable-to-all solution to the mineral-rich country’s woes. Trust, fair distribution of wealth and equal political access for all will get all Ivorians there. Hopefully, for its citizens’ sake, the country will not get pulled in the opposite direction. That invisible line is looking all but impassable at the moment.

Broken Promises

July 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Gleneagles - Location of broken promises?

At the 2005 G8 Gleneagles Summit, the international community pledged – among other things – a $50 billion ramp up in official development assistance (ODA) to reduce poverty, foster productive governance and fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in the world’s poorest countries; $25 billion was to be specifically earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa. Driven by a renewed sense of urgency to complete the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, Gleneagles represented a massive recommitment by the world powers in the fight against poverty and treatable/terminal illnesses. Now we’re five years on from those promises and staring a certain reality in face: the promises made at Gleneagles have not been fulfilled. This is obviously an expansive, convoluted and important topic that will not be done justice by a 500 word blog post; but I will try my hardest to flesh out the most important parts of this undeniably tricky situation.

The BBC ran an article this past week looking at how the Gleneagles commitments have fared in way of their fulfillment. According to the piece, the ODA commitments made at Gleneagles to sub-Sarahan Africa have only been 44% realized; only $11 billion of the $25 billion has made it to ground level. Less than 50% implementation is nothing to be proud of. Last time I checked, in fact, it was a point away from a failing grade. Now this, of course, must be qualified in a couple of ways. First, as we all so intimately know, the past three years have been marred by the newly termed “Great Recession.” Massive job losses, gargantuan governmental bailouts and austerity measures have inevitably cut into the international assistance budgets of G8 countries. This must be considered as a mitigating circumstance. Second, in the past two years, a debate over foreign aid itself has gained new traction on both sides of the Atlantic. Encapsulated most completely in Dambisa Moyo‘s Dead Aid, the question of effectiveness of simply throwing money at culturally sensitive problems – with the added problem of corrupt aid delivery channels – has struck a new cord. Is aid really helping Africa? This is another poignant and important question. I can’t come close to answering it without writing a dissertation so I will spare you. However, I can tell you this: money does provide medical treatment. We know medical treatment works. Understanding that, we come back to one number: 44%.

To be honest, I can’t claim that $11 billion is a number to scoff at; I would hope that no one could be so preposterous. But it is a disturbingly different number than $25 billion. What was the point of promising ODA at such a high level at Gleneagles? It’s level that is, and was, restricted and subjected to economic stability. Was it lip service and an attempt quell our Western guilt over the  suffering “other?” Or was it more hopeful and unintentionally misleading? I’m more inclined, hopeful even, to believe the latter. Either way, it’s unfortunately a broken promise. I’m not laying the blame on any one country or even the whole G8, rather, I’m asking you to think about the motives of ODA and the aid community on whole. Whether you think aid is working to fuel the endemic corruption in a myriad of sub-Sarahan African countries or you believe in the comprehensive development pedagogy of Partners in Health, it is important to remember that this is all about saving people’s lives.

Yes, this is a sticky and torturous situation. That cannot be stressed enough. However, I will leave you with this: at the very least – using the ARV price tag of $295 – the missing $14 billion could have bought 47,457 people triple combination HIV/AIDS therapy. That is a lot of people.

What do an unwashed cashmere sweater, a national anthem with no words, and an erudite octopus have in common?

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Answer: The World Cup.

Spain

So here we are. The final stage of the World Cup. A competition filled with utter disappointments, pleasant surprises, heartbreak, and the power of youth. Spain and the Netherlands will go head to head in pursuit of their respective nation’s first ever World Cup trophy. We will see who will prevail. Until then, here’s a quick overview of last week’s quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

1) Brazil vs. Netherlands

Brazil came in as the undisputed champs, at least in their own minds, and in the first 15 minutes they showed their athleticism, guile, creativity, and superiority against the Dutch who were chasing the game. Felipe Melo, the Brazilian defensive midfielder, started the game as the hero and ended it, unceremoniously, as the villain. His sublime through ball to an in-stride Robinho gave me goosebumps, while his childish petulance and histrionics made me cringe. Melo’s rise and fall in the match closely mirrored how the Brazilians played. They started off well, performing in the superb, only to regress to playing like a wounded animal with no place to hide. The Dutch deserved to go through. For their part, the second half was a clinical exhibition of possession and movement.

2) Ghana vs. Uruguay

This game was a true heartbreaker for the neutral fan. With all the hopes and aspirations of a continent on their shoulders, the Black Stars of Ghana were unable to advance to the semifinals of the competition. The game was theirs to win or lose and Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s star striker, missed his penalty in the 120th minute. Regarding the handball incident that led to the penalty, the uncomfortable truth of the matter is that any soccer player would have done the same thing. While I find the hand ball reprehensible and unfortunate, it was the only play that Luis Suarez had to keep his team in the game. By handing the ball he knew he would be ejected but it luckily (didn’t feel that way at the time) left the fate of the game in the hands of his keeper and the fallibility of the opposition’s kick taker. Gyan missed the penalty kick and Uruguay stayed alive. Well played. Poor penalties sealed Ghana’s fate and left me scratching my head. Not all is lost for Ghana though–they are the reigning champions of the U-20 World Cup and should figure in the World Cup of 2014.

The Netherlands

3) Germany vs. Argentina

Germany absolutely demolished Argentina 4-0 in an impressive exhibition of counterattacking soccer. Argentina failed to adapt their game and remained narrow in their attack with Leo Messi, Carlos Tévez, and Gonzalo Higuaín continually frustrated by the stout German defense. Their midfield lacked creativity while their defense was finally exposed with Gabriel Heinze and Nicolás Otamendi horribly dismantled by the speed of Thomas Müller, Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski.

4) Spain vs. Paraguay

This game started as a bore and then turned into a white-knuckler with penalties on both sides of the pitch within 5 minutes of each other. As expected, Spain dominated possession, leaving Paraguay to chase the game for the majority of the match while creating sporadic opportunities in the front of the Spanish goal. Spain deserved to go through but left a lot to be desired by only scoring one against the pesky Paraguayans.

Semifinal recap:

1) Uruguay vs. Netherlands

This high-scoring affair sure had its moments. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s master-class strike was one for the ages. While scoring three goals, the Dutch still looked quite vulnerable in the back with Khalid Boulahrouz continually making things interesting on the right side of the defense. When asked what the difference was between the 2010 Dutch team and those of the past (’94,’98), the current crop of players stated that they expected to win regardless of how they got there. Long gone are the days of playing beautifully but not getting the results. They have the confidence and expectation to win but the “Dutch Way” is no longer their modus operandi. Check out this illuminating article by Raphael Honigstein about Dutch soccer and the death of total football.

Uruguay was missing the services of the suspended Suarez – leaving Diego Forlan to create on his own chances, which he did – and the sturdy defender Diego Lugano who would have provided more of a test against the wily and melodramatic Arjen Robben. Uruguay can be proud of making it to the semifinals for the first time since 1970 and will most certainly make noise in Brazil in 2014. Brazil will hope that they don’t. Some Cocktail Fodder for you: Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 final in the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janiero 2-1. A rash of suicides in the country befell the country, as well as national competition to change the colors of the Brazilian team uniforms. A 19 year old came up with the winning design and won a yearlong internship with the national team.

Goal of the tournament:

The Prize

2) Spain vs. Germany

The youthful multicultural team of Germany finally met its match in the polished, methodical, geometrically ascetically pleasing, near lull-inducing Spanish squad (whew!). Not even a debonair coach with the unwashed lucky blue cashmere sweater could prepare his team well enough. From the beginning of the match one could tell that the Spanish were going to dictate the pace of the match with the Germans occasionally mounting a threatening counterattack. Now, there is something rather interesting and sobering about the Spanish starting 11 that is worth noting: the majority of them ply their trade at either Real Madrid or Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga. At the start of each season all the teams in La Liga, from Getafe to Real Madrid, have the same number of points (Check out the Alphabetized 2010-2011 standings) However, once the ball is kicked, the season is eventually predetermined with the only tension in the campaign revolving around whether Barcelona will continue its recent dominance or if Real Madrid can overtake them. Valencia finished in third place last year with 25 points between them and second place Real Madrid!  It is only natural that the national team be made up of the players from both squads as they are not only the leagues best paid but also the best players pound for pound. I like to think of this Spanish squad as Barcelona plus 5.

Where it gets even more interesting is in the identity of the player who scored the winning goal in yesterday’s semifinal to propel the team into the World Cup Finals for the first time. Carles Puyol, the shaggy-locked central defender, is from Catalonia; one of the 17 semi-autonomous regions of Spain. Spain could lift the World Cup for the first time thanks in large part to the talent pool generated by FC Barcelona; a well-established Catalonian institution and a sporting representation/symbol of Catalonian independence. I find this quite remarkable. General Franco would be rolling in his grave if he saw what was happening on the pitch.

A World Cup soothsayer?

Here is some more fun Cocktail Fodder for you: the Spanish national anthem has no words. It is one of the few in the world devoid of words. Why is this? Because the regionalism of Spain makes it virtually impossible to create a song that encapsulates what it means to be a “Spaniard.” From Galicia over to Catalonia and down to Andalucía, one finds areas that are politically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from the central government of Madrid. When one of the ESPN commentators noticed that none of the Spanish players were singing the national anthem I almost threw my drink at the screen (not really, but you get my point).

Patrick Cox’s podcast The World in Words from Public Radio International has two excellent episodes in which he touches upon the Spanish national anthem and whether the 2009 Champions league win by Barcelona could be hailed as a win for all Spaniards– definitely worth a listen. Here is the main page (http://patrickcox.wordpress.com/) with the topics of Spain coming up in the first and fifty sixth episode of the podcast.

Finally, check out this article about the “psychic” octopus who correctly predicted that Spain would beat Germany keeping its streak of correct match predictions alive: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jul/08/soccer-octopus-world-cup-final

Enjoy the final. Until next time, cheers.

Mugabe’s Diamonds

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Western understanding of African conflict, unfortunately generalized, comes through a set of pre-designed hot button words and issues. Corruption. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Cronyism. Ethnic tension. And of course blood diamonds. Gaining prominence during Sierra Leone’s civil war and solidifying itself in the international psyche with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond, the blood diamond has come to embody the perversion of Africa’s mineral wealth. Once again, they are back in the news. Beginning in January, human rights groups began to raise questions about how Zimbabwean diamonds were being mined. Accusations that the military was using forced labor to extricate the gems began an international campaign to put pressure on Robert Mugabe’s regime to reform their practices. As a microcosm of Mr. Mugabe’s disastrous reign, Zimbabwean’s diamond trade is at a deadlock. As one of the final outlets of wealth in Zimbabwe, does the end of the diamond trade signal a tipping point in the stranglehold of President Mugabe?

Mugabe and diamonds.

As one of Africa’s independence heros, Robert Mugabe assumed the Presidency of Zimbabwe in 1987 and has never looked back. Calamitous land reform acts, ruthless suppression of the opposition and the media and horrendous economic policy have turned Zimbabwe from the African “City on a Hill” to a tragic example of how to ruin unlimited potential. Stuck in a cycle of crippling hyperinflation and with an estimated unemployment rate of 95%, the Zimbabwean economy is in utter shambles without much possibility of improvement. You would think that with such egregious statistics the Mugabe administration would be feeling the pressure to leave office. That has not happened. Other than rampant violence after the 2008 Presidential election, there has been little to shake the confidence of the African big man and his Zanu-PF party.

So what will be the catalyst to drive Mr. Mugabe out of office? It seems counterintuitive that a mechanism of the rich, the diamond, may in fact be a step towards that goal. There may be merit in it though. Mr. Mugabe and his cronies are protected by the military and the elite; those that still have any money at least. Standard neopartimonial theory dictates that “strong man” regimes can only function as long as there is money to keep that strong man’s (Mr. Mugabe in this case.) underlings happy. Reality dictates that Zimbabwe is very close to being completely stripped of the processes in which to accumulate wealth. No wealth, no cronyism. No cronyism, no dictatorship. It is a thought at the very least.

As of today, the Kimberly Process remains at a standstill at what to do about Zimbabwe’s diamonds. Further skewed by the recent arrest of a human rights activist, the trials and tribulations of Zimbabwe’s precious gems and its fallout will have to be followed with keen eye. While this will probably not be the beginning of the end for Mr. Mugabe, it is another step in a road that will eventually lead to his dethronement. Until then, Zimbabwean citizens will have to hope for a better day when they are responsible for their country’s mineral wealth, elections, military, economy and civil society instead of the money hungry, selfish and corrupt Zanu-PF.

The Week In Fodder

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The end of another week.

The week in review. How many media outlets have such a section? A hundred? A thousand? I’m not sure I can even google that statistic. For that reason, you have to be asking, “why should we turn to the Fodder for our Week in Review?” I’m going to give you a couple reasons, hopefully compelling, as to why you should tune into Cocktail Fodder on Fridays. First, we’re going to bring you the most succinct but far reaching synopsis of international, national and under-the-radar news stories from the past week and those that will be on everyone’s mind come Monday. I bet you’ll engage in conversation about one of the topics we write about within 72 hours of reading our “Week in Fodder”. Second, this won’t be all news. You’ll get the song of the week, quote of the week, idiom of the week, well, anything we think might be of interest. It’s all fluid. Spontaneity will rule. So please enjoy this week’s review and we hope you come back for more Fodder on Monday.

World Views:

Coke Caught: Christopher “Dudus” Coke was, at long last, arrested in Jamaica. Coke, the alleged Caribbean drug lord, has been in international headlines since Jamaican special forces and police stormed the slum in which he was hiding. The operation led to the death of over 70 people. A tactical and human disaster, the Jamaican push for Dudus underestimated the alleged drug lord’s clout and support among the people. After his arrest, he was extradited to the U.S. where he will stand trial for his connections to the American drug trade.

Greek Turmoil: Late last night a bomb in Athens killed an aide to the Greek Counter-Terrorism Minister. This harrowing attack comes after months of protests over austerity measures passed by the Greek government. Unfortunately during that time radical elements have used the unrest to step up attacks and provocation of the administration. Keep an eye out for further developments.

Saddam’s Spies: The Iraqi police state under Saddam Hussien had the most extensive internal spy network this side of the East German Stasi. When the United States entered Iraq in 2003, they destroyed, shipped to America or locked up the files that showed what neighbor turned in who, how intelligence was gathered and shed light on the fates of those lost. This week, NPR ran an intensely interesting piece on the push to bring the files back to Iraq and open them to the public. Read it, see what you think and how it could effect the fragile stability Iraq has achieved.

Pakistani Terror Convictions: A Pakistani court convicted five Americans on terrorism charges. Claiming that they were only there to “help fellow Muslims,” the five traveled to Pakistan in December and were detained by Pakistani security forces. They were all sentenced to ten years. This is only the latest, and possibly most high profile, example of Americans seeking out their own jihadi future; a disturbing societal development.

Burundian Anxiety: After years of civil war, insurgency and general strife, the leader of Burundi’s biggest rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), disarmed in 2009. Since then Agathon Rwasa has become the countries leading opposition voice. Ominously, Rwasa has not been seen since Wednesday stoking fears that he may once again be taking up arms. We’ll follow this story with a keen eye.

American Matters:

General Stanley A. McChrystal

McChrystal Fired: This is all over the news, I know, but this a MONUMENTAL story; one that we will probably write about next week. This week, General Stanley A. McChrystal was dismissed by President Obama over critical remarks he and his staff made in a Rolling Stone interview about his civilian commanders. He will be replaced by General David Petraeus. We’ll leave it at that for the moment. Read these articles if you can and come back for a Fodder op-ed on Tuesday!

Palin’s Illegality: After a formal ethics investigation, former VP nominee Sarah Palin’s legal defense fund was deemed illegal for misleading its donors and ordered to pay back close $400,000. While it seems that the improprieties were in good faith, there are outstanding ethics inquires into the former Governor. This will not be the last we hear of this story.

Ending the Moratorium: On Wednesday, Judge Martin Feldman struck down the Interior Department’s moratorium on deep water oil drilling implemented after the BP disaster. Citing lack of clear evidentiary support, the Judge ruled that drilling could continue and that the Obama Administration would have to make a more compelling case in any future action. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar moved to stay the decision but Judge Feldman denied the petition. A battle, between executive and judicial, as well as Democratic and Republican will inevitably enuse.

The American and the Russian: In his first official state visit to the United States, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Obama shared a hamburger and hailed a new era of amiable relations between the historic antagonists. Presumably the Presidents will not catch any flak for their choices of mustard or cheese and this will simply signify an important bond between the two influential lawmakers.

Mexico vs. Arizona: Yesterday, the Mexican foreign Ministry filed a court brief against the newly passed Arizona immigration law. The lawsuit is seeking to overturn the borderline-police state law. Follow this story as it picks up momentum. We may be looking at a future Supreme Court case.

Harboring toxic secrets.

Off the Beaten Path:

Unfortunate Whales: A report released yesterday, discussing the findings of marine researchers, has found that, almost universally, Sperm whales have dangerously elevated levels of lead, chromium, mercury, aluminum, cadmium and basically every other dangerous chemical you can think of. Using samples taken with a dart gun from over 1,000 whales, the study is extensive and compelling. You can rest assure that Paul Watson will have something to say about this.

Hacker-Croll: The Frenchman who hacked into President Obama’s Twitter account was given a suspended two year prison term yesterday. There are so many strange aspects to this story. One, is French President Nicolas Sarkozy so uninteresting at this point that one of his own citizens wouldn’t want to hack into HIS Twitter? Two, what does it say about today that our President has a precious Twitter account? Three, it’s TWITTER. Anyway, check it out.

British Obesity: You read that correctly, British obesity, NOT American obesity. Novel thought, I know. Researchers have found that British children are currently becoming obese at twice the rate of American children. Even with a government push to cut obesity levels, the rise in statistics has not been stymied. Not an encouraging sign.

$800? No Thank You: Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and….. wait there was a third Apple, Inc. cofounder?  Yes, there was. Ron Wayne. Given a 10% stake in Apple at it’s inception, he had early misgivings about the company and was bought out by Jobs and Wozniak for $800 (!!!!!!!!!!). That is not a typo. I won’t even ruin the surprise of how much that 10% stake would be worth today. You need to read the article for yourself. Make sure you’re sitting. So I say to Steve Jobs, no thank you, I’ll take that 10%. (I really am not trying to rag on the guy, hindsight is 20-20.)

Youtube and Marriage: Popular trend: marriage proposals on youtube. Actual proposals, proposal mishaps and everything in between. I guess this is the natural progression, like everything else in the tech age, of asking someone to marry you. I’m undecided on how I feel about this. Either way, here are some to initiate you.

Quotes of the Week:

Blago's future residence?

“It was a 10-minute photo op. Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

– An advisor and aide to Gen. McChrystal. That folks, will get someone fired.

“Patti Blagojevich: ‘… The best option is that you, oh, you know, appoint the African American woman that Obama wants and then you’re happy, the blacks are happy and he’s happy and then you get some nice appointment for that.’

Rod Blagojevich: ‘Right that’s what, that’s the, that’s exactly right. That’s, that would be the best, that would be one of the best scenarios.'”

– Quotes from audio tapes released yesterday by the Justice Department in the former Govenor’s ongoing corruption trial. That folks, will land someone in prison. (Find the whole, ludicrous transcript here.)

And Finally…. the Song of the Week:

Franco and Sam Mangwana- \”Cooperation\”

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Franco is a legendary guitarist that few people have actually heard of. Franco and his T.P.O.K Jazz Band were fabled and revered African dance and musical artists for close to 30 years from the 1950s to the 1980s. Sam Mangwana is one of the big hitters of the Zairian Rumba (zoukous) vocalists. He performs to this day and continues to produce quality music. From the first chord of this song you will find it hard to stop listening to. I like to put this on in the morning when I have time to make my eggs and yogurt with granola. It’s a perfect way to start the day. I hope you think so too.

Enjoy!

…Well that’s it. That completes our first week at Cocktail Fodder. I hope you loved it and come back for more on Monday. Until then, keep talking, learning, loving life and remember to enjoy the fodder. Oh yeah, the cocktails too.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Reflections on the 2010 World Cup thus far

June 24, 2010 2 comments

Close to three weeks have passed since the opening ceremonies of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals in South Africa. While it started off slow, the plot lines have thickened and the play has gradually improved. From the plucky Kiwis of New Zealand earning a well deserved draw from the cup-holding Italians, to the unfolding soap opera of the French team refusing to practice due to what they deemed to be the unfair expulsion of their teammate, Nicolas Anelka, this World Cup is as much for the soccer enthusiast as it is for the gossip queen.  Today I will blog about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tournament so far.

The good: Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico)

With only two losses between all six countries through this Wednesday, Latin America has been the class of this World Cup. Argentina is thriving, Brazil is their usual solid self and Mexico has been steady. More unexpectedly, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile are all making noise in the tournament and are marching confidently into the round of 16. We will see if they can continue the trend and truly make this World Cup theirs.

The bad: Africa (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria)

African teams failed to impress due to a lack of team management, unity, and the development of competing cliques within the teams. Cameroon and the Ivory Coast serve as perfect examples. The Indomitable Lions and Les Elephants supposedly had the major perquisites for a strong World Cup campaign: solid European-based squads and a good balance between youth and experience. What they lacked, in spades, were competent coaches and a solid foundation of team unity and purpose. South Africa, on the other hand, had the requisite team unity bolstered by the fact they were the hosts of the tournament. Unfortunately, what they made up for in unity, they lacked in talent and experience to advance. No matter though, the Bafana Bafana can walk away with their heads held high while the two aforementioned teams will walk away with the albatross of embarrassment and underperformance around their necks. Not all is lost though. Ghana is still in the competition and they are not only playing well but have some of the most colorful fans and best goal celebrations. The United States vs. Ghana fixture this Saturday afternoon will be a rematch of the 2006 World Cup meeting in Germany that saw the Black Stars down the U.S. 2-1 and advance to the round of 16.

The ugly: France, Italy, and England.

Where do I begin? Let’s start with the French or Les Bleus as they are known. They leave South Africa in abject failure after losing all contests, staging a practice coup d’état, having a player dismissed from the team, and to top it all off, having the coach refuse to shake the hand of South Africa’s coach after their last fixture. Quel horreur! The team and country are suffering with a crisis of self-identity and purpose. Across the pond from the Continent, England, the gatekeepers on the game, continue in their dogged pursuit to win the Cup for the first time since 1966. They meet their historical rivals in Germany this Sunday which promises to be an entertaining affair. The English looked remarkably better in their last game but I don’t see them overcoming the Germans. Nonetheless, expect the odd World War 2 songs to be chanted. Lastly, the Italians are officially out of the World Cup. They never seemed fit to wear the crown as Cup holders (they won in 2006) and relied too much on their Machiavellian cynicism and theatrics to get through. Amidst all this European disarray, look for Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain to seize the opportunity and go far.

Here are some international links to visit to get your soccer fix:

1) www.guardian.co.uk/football : World Cup Football Daily (English). One-liners and puns galore make this my favorite podcast to listen to each night to get my soccer fodder.

2) http://www.rtl.fr : Mondial 2010: En Route Pour L’Afrique du Sud (French). These guys know their stuff and it’s cool to listen to the game analysis in a foreign language even if you don’t understand everything.

3) http://www.marca.com/futbol/mundial_2010.html : Check out the Calendario : Los 64 partidos in the top right corner. Send it to your friends and wait for the props to roll in.

4) http://www.gazzetta.it/ : Gazetta dello Sport (Italy). The paper version is the color pink—how awkwardly cool is that? The English version is worth checking out online.

5) http://oglobo.globo.com/esportes/copa2010/ O Globo Esportes (Brazil).You might as well check out the sports section from the soccer crazed nation.