Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Germany: Left party conference renews leadership, steadies course

On May 15, the far-left German party Die Linke held its national congress in the eastern city of Rostock, electing a new national leadership and debating a new draft program. 

At the conference, charismatic and popular left-wing firebrand – and renegade Social Democrat – Oskar Lafontaine, 66, stepped down as the party’s co-leader due to health reasons after a cancer operation.

Lafontaine helped co-found Die Linke, formed in 2007 from a merger of the Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (WASG – an amalgam of disgruntled Social Democrats, militant unionists and various left groups and individuals) and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS – the successor to the old East German ruling party). Party co-leader and East German moderate Lothar Bisky, 68, a former leader of the PDS, also stepped aside.

While both men were instrumental in the merger that created Die Linke, they represent widely differing views in the new party.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hidden Stories of Football in Africa

Former prisoner, Thulani Mabaso, on Robben Island football field
Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football
Ian Hawkey, Anova Books, 2009.
More Than Just A Game: Football v Apartheid, The most important football story ever toldChuck Korr and Marvin Close, Harper Collins, 2008.

The world is in the final stages of counting down to the biggest show on earth – the football world cup in South Africa – the first time it has ever been held on the African continent. 

While billions of people prepare for the spectacle, it seems time to review a couple of recent publications that put the role of the “world game” in Africa into perspective.

The first and most recent of these is Ian Hawkey’s Feet of the Chameleon, which tracks the emergence of the game in Africa, its ongoing exploitation by the old colonial European powers hungry for talent to improve their leagues, and the role football has played in African nations winning their independence and democracy.

Through thirteen themed essays, Hawkey tracks the history of such football greats as Larbi Ben Barek – Africa’s first football superstar – and of Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, who moved from Mozambique to Portugal to become the greatest – and most fought-over – football player of his time, on a par with the Brazilian legend Pelé.

Hawkey also uncovers the role of football in African politics (and vice versa), and exposes the process of economic migration that has seen such modern greats as Emmanuel Adebayor, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto-o playing in Europe, and has seen thousands more forsake friends, family and home, dreaming of emulating them.

Germany: State election defeat hamstrings federal government

Germany’s ruling centre-right coalition suffered a double defeat on May 9, when it lost its ruling majority in an important state election in North-Rhine Westphalia. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) scored its lowest ever vote in the state, dropping 14 points to only 34.6 percent, on a par with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) who slipped to 34.5 percent. 

Support for the arch-neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) – the CDU’s coalition partners on both a state and federal level – stagnated at 6.8 percent, while the Greens emerged as the big winners, doubling their vote to 12.1 percent.

The far-left party Die Linke also entered state parliament for the first time, winning 5.6 percent – an impressive achievement for what is possibly their most left-wing state branch, which has called for nationalising banks and other utilities and the legalising of cannabis.

North-Rhine Westphalia - Germany’s traditional industrial heartland and most populous state with 18 million inhabitants - is widely regarded as indicative of politics on a national level and currently has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent.