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Football referee's gaffe, colonialism legacy and danger of a single story

By John Ouma | Jan 19th 2022 | 3 min read

Africa Cup of Nations - Group F - Tunisia v Mali - Limbe Omnisport Stadium, Limbe, Cameroon - January 12, 2022 Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier remonstrates with the referee Janny Sikazwe after the match [Reuters, Mohamed Abd El Ghany]

After all is said and done, we have to agree that the West still holds Africa in subtle contempt and increasingly interprets our affairs through the same prism that it did between 1445 and 1870 during the era of slavery.

It is true that Zambian football referee Janny Sikazwe made a grave mistake in ending the match between Mali and Tunisia twice before the 90-minute mark during the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Cameroon.

But it is the willful ignorance and feigned shock with which the events in Cameroon were received in the West that caused a stir among most Africans.

Even before this tournament started, major European football associations such as UK’s Football Association (FA) had expressed their reservations on holding what is Africa’s biggest football extravaganza in the middle of a pandemic.

Moreover, some clubs in England threatened to block their African players from traveling for the tournament. Of course that was hypocritical. Last year, the Union of European Football Association organised a similar competition across nine countries at the backdrop of an increase in Covid-19 cases in Europe.

Why the FA leadership would feel that it wasn’t wise for Africa to hold the tournament this year where there are by far less confirmed cases of Covid-19 and hospitalisation compared to what we have seen in Europe throughout the pandemic is startling.

Shortly after the drama that characterised the match between Tunisia and Mali went viral, one of the Sky Sports channels asked its audience on Twitter if it had seen something like that before in the history of football. Africans were quick to remind the giant television sports brand that there have indeed been such awful mistakes before.

Appearing on CNN, Ugandan sports journalist Usher Komugisha, using two examples, reminded the world that it wasn’t the first time that a referee has erred on the pitch. A similar mistake was witnessed in April last year during the match between Granada FC and Sevilla FC.

Additionally, one Graham Poll, an English former football referee, once issued three yellow cards to the same player during the 2006 FIFA World Cup. According to the written laws of football, a player can only receive a maximum of two yellow cards in one match, which amounts to dismissal. You can imagine how bizarre Graham’s mistake was.

It’s not enough to understand the willful ignorance of the Western mainstream media on this matter as a mere forgetfulness. It’s important to unpack the foundation of such forgetfulness.

Bigoted ignorance of Africa’s potential is a manifestation of the legacy of colonialism and what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls the danger of a single story.

You don’t have to believe that the engagement between the West and Africa is defined by the legacy of colonialism and that that engagement is shaped by a mainstream media that disrespects Africans to find that a highly racist picture.  

When all the crap about moral, universally accepted social order is put to one side, Western civilisation is all about entrenching racial superiority; the fundamentally racist notion that Whites are more human than Blacks.


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