In this age of globalisation few events draw more attention than sport as the World Cup in Russia illustrates with billions of people across the globe glued to their screens. At this time in football crazy Africa, specialists and ordinary fans are watching, discussing and analysing the World Cup.
But the excitement and euphoria come with a unique challenge to the continent’s religions. Africa remains firmly devout across different faiths.
The Pew Research Center believes Christianity’s future lies in Africa. By 2060, more than four-in-10 Christians will call sub-Saharan Africa home, up from 26% in 2015, according to a new analysis of demographic data. The Centre also projects that sub-Saharan Africa will be home to a growing share of the world’s Muslims: that between 2015 and 2060, the share of all Muslims living in the region is projected to increase from 16% to 27%.
Religion, as a result, colours the way Africans see the world. Generally they don’t listen to politicians, because politicians are aloof and distant. They however listen to religious and traditional leaders because Africans believe that they are human representations of the divine horizon - the realm of truth.
But football challenges this and poses a religious dilemma in Africa. Citing its ability of uniting people of all backgrounds around a common cause, football has been described as “an African religion”. The sport demands attention. It requires devotion. It provides ecstasy. And this makes religious leaders nervous.
Religion and sports serve different purposes. Religion is meant to provide people with spiritual well-being, while sport serves aesthetic needs and entertainment. Nevertheless, they share common audience and cultural values, such as the value of fairness, discipline and commitment, which can be used to address African challenges.
A religious dilemma
There are many in the religious community who view football with contempt and disdain.
One issue of concern is that African football has the habit of attracting witchcraft. Individual players as well as national teams often subscribe to a religious technique known as “juju”, to imbue players with spiritual power before games, protect them from the rival spirit of their opponents, and more importantly, to influence the result. It’s not surprising that religious leaders have issue with this, seeing that players rely on the supernatural as a shortcut instead of hard work and discipline as constituted in their Holy Scriptures.
Secondly, for some believers football is threatening to become a religion in its own right. According to this block of believers, football demands allegiance and excessive emotional devotion.
The media use of hyperbolic religious imagery to portray sports stars adds to this negative perception of sports. This includes calling Lionel Messi “The Messiah” and dubbing Cristiano Ronaldo “a god”.
This sentiment is not entirely unfounded, when one considers the general background of the invention of sport. For example, Olympic games started in the temple of Olympia. On this occasion, ancient Greeks would offer sacrifices and took oaths with Zeus – the Greek high god. Given this, combined with the eager idolisation of modern stars, it’s not surprising that religious leaders are so opposed to the impact of the game.
A political space
For millions of people sport is an important dimension of their lives. Beyond entertaining them, it gives them identity and a sense of belonging. It offers them happiness and a rare sensation of ecstasy (depending on the result, of course). It’s also a source of catharsis in Africa. It creates an important distraction from the problems that ordinary people feel they can’t change.
And football is one of the rare places where an African child can find African heroes of international standing. Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon, Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast, Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria, to mention a few, are individuals who gave African youth a reason to aspire.
Lastly, in many countries football is the only place in which Africans practice free speech without fear of retribution. They can criticise Arsene Wenger, chastise José Mourinho and thoroughly scrutinise Pep Guardiola, and they can go to bed without worrying about security forces raiding their houses in the middle of the night for being critical of those football managers.
Africa is a deeply divided continent along ideological, ethnic and territorial lines. Religion and football can produce consensus and conflict depending on the way they are applied.
They also have a unique ability of crossing borders and gluing people of diverse cultural, political and ideological commitments. While football can bring together people from different religious groups, religion can bring people together from different political and cultural backgrounds.
The are other ways in which the two can complement each other. In African culture an individual (and individuality) is hardly recognised. In order to be recognised and find their standing in the society individuals have to take on family or ethnic identity. For its part, football is about a balance between teamwork and individual creativity while religion is about serving fellow humans with a sense of individual accountability to their God. Both approaches can help people on the continent create a space for individuals to discover their talents.
Religion can also help football and other social spheres to transcend the momentary sensation and translate material success into something that offers sustaining satisfaction.
All this suggests that religious leaders and ordinary believers don’t need to feel threatened by the beautiful game. Instead of insularity and criticising sports from afar, they need to find a space in which they can weave together overlapping values for the service of society. There are a number of virtues they can apply from football to the way they live their lives. Africans need to re-imagine success not with the lens of “juju”, which promotes shortcut and trickery, but with the values of discipline, hard work and endurance that sports offer.
Nearly ten years ago the Central Bank of Nigeria conducted a deep assessment of the country’s banks. The 2009 exercise exposed large-scale fraud committed by a number of CEOs.
To save the banking system from collapse, the Central Bank took over a number of institutions and spent billions saving others. In addition, criminal charges were laid against five CEOs for offences which included fraud, market manipulation, concealment and grant of credit facilities without adequate security.
Only one case has been prosecuted successfully. The others appear to be stuck in an unending cycle of dismissals, appeals and re-trials.
The bank saga and the failure to bring the bank executives to justice underscore the fact that the Nigerian justice system isn’t working. The problems – the subject of a great deal of discussion – range from judicial corruption to a lack of judicial independence to delays in the justice system.
The cases of the bank executives provide a useful case study through which to examine the weaknesses of the Nigerian judicial system. These include the capability of prosecutors and the ability of the court system, including judges, to actually bring cases to fruition. This is particularly true in corporate cases which are often difficult to prosecute under the criminal law.
The fact that Nigeria has a number of corrupt judges is common knowledge in the country. Over the years, there have been various allegations of corruption in the judiciary. In 2013, two High Court judges were suspended and recommended for retirement by the National Judicial Council for misconduct bordering on corruption.
Similarly, in 2016, a raid carried out by the Department of State Services revealed that cash worth USD$800,000 had been found in the homes of senior judges suspected of corruption.
Judicial corruption reduces public confidence in the country’s justice system. This means that suspected incidents of directors’ misconducts are less likely to be reported given the prevailing belief that justice is unlikely to be served. Similarly, it can affect the attitude of investigators and prosecutors who might have less incentive to investigate and prosecute cases diligently.
While it would clearly be an exaggeration to accuse all judges in Nigeria of corruption, it is reasonable to conclude that corruption remains a problem. But since none of the judges involved in the trial of the bank executives have been accused of corruption, it’s necessary to look to other causes for the failure to bring the bank executives to book.
Delays in the justice system
One of the main problems in the bank executive cases has been endless delays in the judicial process. The trials’ time line tells the story.
Criminal proceedings started in 2009. About six years later, in 2015, the Court of Appeal struck down the case against two of the executives on the basis of lack of jurisdiction of the trial court.
A declaration of lack of jurisdiction means that the court lacks the power to try the particular case. In itself this isn’t a bad development. After all, compliance with relevant rules on jurisdiction is essential to ensuring justice is done. But the fact that it took six years for this decision to be reached highlights severe delays in Nigeria’s court system.
Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, the High Court, in deference to the superior court, dismissed the pending case against the third bank executive.
In another turn of events, a year later, in 2016, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision and ordered a re-trial of the bank executives. This meant that, nearly 10 years after the initial trial, a fresh trial was started, and with it room for further appeals.
There is currently no end in view. While appeals and cross appeals are inevitable parts of litigation, the lengthy time spent on them is not.
This delay has been attributed to several factors. Initially, the trials suffered from several unwarranted adjournments at the request of the defence lawyers.
Another weak spot has been the prosecuting authority. The unit responsible for prosecuting these kinds of cases, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, has been severely criticised for its inefficiencies.
To worsen the problem, the trial judges were changed several times. One judge was elevated to the Court of Appeal while a few others were transferred to different divisions of the court leading to a fresh trial each time.
These issues significantly delayed trial proceedings.
Another question to consider is whether the failure to successfully prosecute the directors is a reflection of the difference in the treatment of high-profile offenders versus ordinary Nigerians.
Cecilia Ibru, the only bank executive who was convicted, was sentenced to just six months in prison and required to forfeit shares and other assets worth over USD$1.2 billion. Compare this with the case of David Olugboyega, an armed thief, who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of a £50 robbery. Granted that armed robbery carries the death penalty,however, it seems that carting away millions of money should attract a stiffer penalty.
In addition, rich offenders can afford well skilled lawyers who can devise different strategies to delay, or prevent, successful prosecution. Poor offenders don’t have this benefit.
The recently introduced Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015, which aims to promote speedy dispensation of justice, promises to improve the situation. Time will tell.
Kenya is among 10 African countries likely to benefit most from increased number of tourists from China, rating agency Moody’s has said.
This is in view of the 30 per cent annual growth in the Chinese tourists to Africa since 2012 following rising incomes in the far eastern Asian nation.
Other countries mentioned as likely to benefit from Chinese global adventurism are Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Egypt, Morocco, Namibia, Cape Verde, Botswana and Tunisia.
The 10 countries are considered the most competitive destinations for tourism in Africa, Moody’s said.
“South Africa, Mauritius, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Cape Verde, Botswana, Tunisia and Tanzania are Africa's most competitive tourist destinations and are most likely to benefit from increased numbers of visitors from China,” said the agency.
“China's rising income levels could also lead to a rise in tourism to Africa. Although the share of Chinese tourists to Africa remains small - 1.5 per cent of total outbound Chinese tourists - they have risen 30 per cent annually since 2012, the fastest rate globally.”
Moody’s noted that the increase in direct flights to some Chinese cities – as in the case of Kenya – and the relaxation of visa rules in some countries like Morocco would encourage more Chinese visitors to Africa.
Recently China Southern Airlines increased the number of flights between Nairobi and Guangzhou city to three from two previously. Early last year, Kenya Airways signed a code share agreement with Hong Kong Airlines increasing the frequency of flights to daily from once a week between Nairobi and Hong Kong targeting the growing trade with the Chinese city.
“The recent relaxation of visa rules for Chinese tourists and an increase in direct flights between China and Africa will support further increases in tourism. For instance, after Morocco exempted Chinese tourists from visa requirements in June 2016, Chinese arrivals tripled in 2017,” said Moody’s.
On the trade side, according to the report, Kenyan food commodity exports to China stands at 23 per cent of the total of such exports while the exports of agricultural raw materials to the same country stands at 27 per cent of the total of similar exports.
Credit: Daily Nation Kenya