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World Cup: Immigrants bring glory to France.

By Nick Ogutu

 

Yes, it is France! Or “Les Bleus” as they are famously known. Congratulations to France for winning the FIFA World Cup in Russia. This is the second time France has won the coveted cup in a sport that has yet to become popular in USA but is extremely popularly worldwide. In 2001, France was also the first national team to win the three most important men’s titles recognized by FIFA: The World Cup, the Confederations Cup, and the Olympic tournament after victory in the Confederations Cup. Just like any other sport, winning a championship involves decisions both on and off the field. Let’s take a few moments to analyze this French team and see if there are any lessons America can learn from the French.

Apart from the African and Caribbean countries that participated in the World Cup, France had the highest number of players of color, mainly Black. This is a record they have held for many decades. In fact, in 1998 when they won World Cup for the first time, most of their players were people of color. Most of their players were either born abroad or their parents were. This diversity extends to city demographics as well. For example, in Paris, the biggest city in France, almost 40 percent of those 20 years or younger are either foreign born or have immigrant parents. Just like many other countries, the very face of nationhood is changing. A simple glance at a photograph of the current French national team, is enough to explain why the leader of France’s racist far right, Jean Marie Le Pen – The French equivalent to President Donald Trump – long ago disowned it as “not a real French team”, despite the glory the team has brought to the country. Every player but two in its starting 1998 World Cup lineup had roots in Africa.

For the past five World Cup tournaments, France’s hopes have rested on the shoulders of the exquisitely talented Algerian born midfielder Zinedine Zidane, star striker born of Caribbean immigrant parents Thiery Henry, and midfield powerhouse Senegalese born Patrick Viera. New Black players who took over from the older generation include Paul Pogba, whose parents immigrated from Guinea, N’golo Kante’s parents were born in Mali, and the star of 2018 World Cup, Kylian Mbappe, whose father was a refugee from Cameroon. This team delivered France it’s second World Cup title. Kylian Mbappe has gone a step further by donating his entire prize money-$500,000- to a French charity. This did not surprise those who know him, because he paid for twenty-four young kids from France to attend the just concluded World Cup, showing his commitment to the France nation.

Other countries are learning fast from the French and are tapping into the talent of refugees and immigrants. Belgium, which took the bronze medal in the 2018 World Cup, for the first time had the highest number of non-white players in their starting lineup. Additionally, even their assistant coach, Thierry Henry, is Black. There is no doubt players like Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi, and Romelu Lukaku whose family lineage is outside Belgium, have brought honor to their country. The story is repeated in England, Holland, Sweden, Germany, and other countries. Even my own country, Kenya, has been losing long distance runners to oil rich countries such as Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar who pay them millions of dollars to change their citizenship. Kenyans adopted in those countries have, in many cases, won them their only Olympic medals. But why do countries go out of their way to lure such talents? It because immigrants make those countries great: they bring pride, honor, and benefits to the economy.

Yesterday, the presidents of Russia, France, Croatia, and many other dignitaries stood in heavy rain, soaking wet, not caring about their expensive suits, shoes, and watches, because of football. The Croatian president captured the world’s attention by showing her commitment to her country’s team by flying in and out of Russia many times during the tournament to attend all the Croatian team matches. Many teams, some of which did not even make it to the quarter-finals, will be received back home as heroes. These teams show what even competing for this coveted prize brings to the image of a nation. However, the newspaper headlines featuring other immigrant stories have sadly been different. Immigrants offer their hearts and souls for their adopted countries but are unfortunately not appreciated to the same degree. That is why immigrants must tell their stories and fight the negative narratives against them, not only in America but worldwide.

As residents of the Bronx, we have another “cup” to win. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary and the Bronx could not stop celebrating. Our district grabbed the headlines with the greatest upset in recent electoral history. The 28-year-old has been sensational, giving powerful speeches around the city and as a guest in different media houses. But just like the World Cup, she won semi-finals and still has to battle in the finals. The New York 14th Congressional District will become complicated if the rumors are true that current 14th District Rep. Joseph Crowley has re-entered the race on Working Families Party ticket. That is why on November 6, 2018, the date for general elections, those of you that are eligible to vote should come out and vote for their preferred candidate. To quote one famous American writer, Robert Heinlein, “Does history record any single case in which the majority was right?” You now have an opportunity to answer that question in November in the race between the youthful Ocasio- Cortez, against the little-known Republican Party nominee, Anthony Pappas and the possible third-party candidate, Rep. Joseph Crowley, who is the 10 term incumbent who just lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in the Democratic Party primary held in June.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Joseph Crowley
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Political crisis in Ethiopia and the risks of ripple effect humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa

Political crisis in Ethiopia and the risks of ripple effect humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa

 

By:Nick Ogutu

Refugee and Immigrant Rights Activist, Executive Director of Columbia University based Initiative, Safari Yangu Immigrant Stories, President, Amnesty International Bronx New York. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

Nick Ogutu
Mr. Nick Ogutu

Ethiopia, with more than 100 million people, is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria. It hosts the headquarters of the African Union and its geographical location makes it a strategic resource for the Western powers in their counterterrorism efforts. Ethiopia maintains very strong support from foreign donors despite its deteriorating human rights record (New York Times, 2016).

Ethiopia is currently under a state of emergency due to recent protests and violence. This violence has caused widespread internal displacement. In addition to its own internal turmoil, Ethiopia plays a crucial role in the region as a host of refugees itself. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2018), “Ethiopia is host to the second largest refugee population in Africa, with over 847,200 refugees from nineteen countries, the majority originating from neighboring South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan”. The political crisis in Ethiopia cannot, therefore, be told in isolation. Ethiopia is part of the Horn of Africa, the easternmost extension of African land, comprised of the countries mentioned above, and Kenya. These countries share a long history and many diverse communities live across the region. Due to political instability, the region has seen many conflicts and is very fragile. This article will examine the complex relationships between Ethiopia and its neighbors in order to understand the risks of a multi-country humanitarian and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The Ethiopia and Eritrea Conflict

Following many years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea and at some point, involving Italy as well, Eritrea was formally recognized as an independent country after the 1993 referendum. Eritrea believes that Ethiopia is constructed of different nationalities that were forced together during the imperial scrambles for Africa, and is therefore held together with weak, artificial alliances. Therefore, the Eritrean opposition’s approach has been to conduct sharp, well directed military offenses in the hopes that Ethiopia will collapse. Hence, they identified south-eastern Ethiopia, inhibited by Ethiopians of Somali origin, as the weakest point of Ethiopia. For more than 30 years, escalation of conflict has continued along borders killing many people, displacing many people from their homes and adding to the regional refugee crisis (Axel Borchgrevink & Jon Harald Sande Lie, 2009).

The hostility between these countries has adversely affected the Somali communities that live along the common border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. According to a Human Rights Watch report (2018), the Somali region security forces’ intolerance for dissent by the Somali community extends beyond the border into Eritrean territory, targeting families with relatives across the border. Hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced since.

Ethiopia’s Long Border with Somalia & The Somali Diaspora
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu) Ethiopia’s Long Border with Somalia & The Somali Diaspora

Somalia has almost one million citizens living in the diaspora, many of which are refugees and asylum seekers. Any conflict in Ethiopia would result in a grave situation in Somalia, given the long, unmarked border that Ethiopia and Somalia share. In fact, Ethiopian military has in the past crossed its southeastern border and intervened inside Somalia (New York Times, 2011)

Somalia is one of the most unstable countries in the region at the moment. Since the former president Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in a bloody civil war in 1991, Somalia has not had a stable government. Parts of the country have either seceded or are run by different warlords. Some militant groups like the Union of Islamic courts, which later evolved into the now infamous Al-Shabaab, have been labeled as terrorist organizations.

More than 10 peace conferences were held throughout the 1990s to address the sources of conflict and possibilities for peace in Somalia, but they were largely unsuccessful. (Axel Borchgrevink & Jon Harald Sande Lie, 2009). Since then, other efforts followed, and Somalia is now governed under the Federal Government of Somalia, a government which is not widely accepted and has faced constant opposition and threats from different militant groups. The fragile government is protected by the African peacekeeping forces, AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia).

Ethiopia’s southern Kenya Border & Regional Refugee Hosting Challenges

Kenya is one of the most stable countries in the region, with a diverse economy and vibrant democracy, civil society, and press. However, Kenya has faced its own human rights challenges. Just like Somalia, Kenya shares common ethnic and geographical similarities with Ethiopia. The upper eastern province of Kenya is predominantly Oromo and Somali ethnic populations, ethnic groups that also reside in Ethiopia and Somalia. Apart from the recently arrived refugees, many of the Oromo and Somali ethnic populations have lived in Kenyan for decades and are Kenyan citizens.

The Kenyan government has long supported the Ethiopian government, showing a blind eye to the human rights violations it is accused of.   Ethiopian refugees face so many challenges in Kenya. It takes months if not years to get official recognition as a refugee, a status you need to access any benefits from the host government or UNHCR (United National High Commission for Refugees). Kenya has an encampment policy, which requires refugees to stay in the camps at Dadaab and Kakuma. These camps presently also house refugees from Sudan and Somalia. The two camps are the biggest in the world and cannot accommodate any more refugees. Refugees in Kenya who choose to not stay in the camps faces arrest and prosecution by the Kenyan authorities. Amnesty International Annual report (2018), explains how the Ethiopian government has taken advantage of that loop-hole in Kenya refugee policy to harass their own citizens in Kenya. The Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi has recruited spies and bribed the Kenyan police to target the Oromo refugees in Nairobi and other cities (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Many of these refugees have been either killed, tortured, or deported back to Ethiopia.

Kenya has gone through its own internal economic and social challenges that have had negative effects on the refugee populations it hosts. The economy is shrinking, and the country is divided along tribal and regional lines due to political upheavals. For a number of years, Kenya has threatened to close down the refugee camps (UNHCR, 2015) and repatriate the refugees back to their countries of origin, citing security fears and the economic burden. Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps remain open only due to a court order and international pressure. UNHCR (2017) while urging the government to reconsider their decision, issued this statement, “UNHCR works closely with the Government of Kenya and we understand well the current regional security situation and the seriousness of the threats Kenya is facing. We also recognize the obligation of the government to ensure the security of its citizens and other people living in Kenya, including refugees.” Kenya is concerned about terror groups using refugee camps as recruitment centers, especially after the Garissa university terror attack (Kenya Daily Nation, 2017). The terror suspects were found to be operating from the Dadaab refugee camp.

Current Ethiopian Political Concerns

If the Ethiopian crisis escalates, it could spiral into a regional catastrophe affecting more than six countries. When the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his draft of reforms that included the release of thousands of political prisoners (Human Rights Watch, 2018), there was a sense of relief among civil society and the international community that finally the government was serious about addressing some of its political issues. However, his resignation weeks later shocked many, and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency (Reuters, 2018). Some of the recently released prisoners have since been re-arrested (Amnesty International, 2018) and then released on bail, and many people live in fear.

Ethiopia Prime Minister
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu: Ethiopia Prime Minister)

Since the state of emergency was declared in Ethiopia, almost one million Ethiopians have been internally displaced, and thousands have crossed the border into Kenya. Activists have also sounded the alarm on the rising incidences of rape and other gender-based violence, allegedly committed by the police and the military (Amnesty International, 2018). Last month’s election of the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, a former lieutenant-colonel in the army and the first Prime Minister from the Oromo community, has not definitely quelled any fears from the general public.

The Ethiopian situation is a time-bomb that the international community must take an active role in to ensure stability. With a population of over 100 million, the current refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa risks meeting the levels of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Iraq, and the Congo. With so much instability in the region, including the ongoing war in South Sudan, most of the countries neighboring Ethiopia are terrified.

There has been evidence of victims of slavery and human trafficking in Libya are refugees from the horn of Africa (The East African, 2018). Any further escalation of violence Ethiopia and instability in the region will push more refugees to attempt the already dangerous journey to Europe through North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Reforms Required: A Call to Action

The political opposition, civil society, and the press must be given a respected space and a voice in Ethiopian society to ensure transparent governance. The Ethiopian democratic space must be opened and widened as the political landscape is quickly shifting. It will have to accommodate the people’s demands, especially the most vulnerable such as displaced populations, if the current ruling party wants to govern equitably.

As a key western ally receiving billions of dollars from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, the West must use that leverage for reforms before instability in Ethiopia have widespread repercussions across the region. All political prisoners should be released, responsive and representative government formed, end state of emergency, compensate victims of violence and perpetrators of crime to face justice.  Without these urgent reforms, unrest in the country could have a domino effect in what is an already volatile part of the African continent.

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IMMIGRANTS MAKE PARKCHESTER GREAT

IMMIGRANTS MAKE PARKCHESTER GREAT

It’s 5:30pm in late 2016 in New York and the subway train is packed to capacity; everyone is trying to either go home, pick their children up from daycare, or go to another job. I am sitting quietly on the 6 train heading toward Parkchester to meet a community leader whom I had heard much about. Sheikh Musa Drammeh is a man who wears many hats: as a spiritual leader, community leader, businessman, and peace builder.

As a new resident of this great city, I endured so many culture shocks from food, language, public transportation, and education systems.  Having lived in Pennsylvania, where I did my undergraduate studies, to see the level of diversity in this city was inspiring. A mother who was speaking to her daughter in Spanish quickly reaches out to remind me in English that Parkchester station is the next stop. A lady in a nicely cut African dress asks in French if I am Senegalese. Most Senegalese are tall and dark just like me. We finally reached Parkchester station and it seems everyone is getting off the train. I have never seen so many people running down the stairs and speaking so many different languages. I believe I heard almost ten different languages on that train and saw as many different cultural fashions but nothing prepared me for what I saw at Sheikh Musa Community center.

Sheikh Musa and a colleague of his, who later introduced himself to me as Lamar Diallo, were praying Maghrib, the prayer performed after sunset in Islam, while two Jewish religious leaders were holding a conversation in hushed tones at the table. Abdul Vincent, a middle aged African American man, was passionately telling a group of young men who had just arrived from Guinea Africa, about the history of the subway train and how the MTA never took his designs. He seems to be bothered by the noise from the 6 trains and blames the city for not constructing underground lines like they did in Manhattan.

By the time Sheikh Musa and his colleague completed their evening prayers and noticed me, the room was already packed. Police officers, political candidates, religious leaders, Army veterans, former gang members, Africans, Latino, African Americans, and Asians were all represented in that little room on Westchester Avenue.

“Welcome Mr. Ogutu to our community center, what can we get for you, chai tea, green tea, coffee, or samosa? Feel comfortable, today is our weekly community meeting and you are welcome to attend,” said Sheikh Musa.

As I enjoyed chai tea with samosa, I could not imagine how lucky I was to be at the space. Islamic cultural Center was set up after the 9/11 terrorist attack to educate the local about Islam but the it has gained a huge reputation for its role in bringing harmony in the community. This evening, law enforcement officers were receiving reformed former gang members, who will work with them to improve security in the area. I will write more about this community center in the coming weeks in this column.

In my fellowship at New York Immigration Coalition and as the leader of the Amnesty International Caucus at Columbia University, I have had opportunity to lead many meetings with diverse audiences, but what I saw in this facility marveled me. Everyone seemed to know each other and was comfortable in the space. I saw many Africans, African food, and dashiki shirts, things that reminded me of my home in Ombeyi village, Kenya.  My long journey in search of identity in this great city had come to fruition. I could not stop taking pictures of people, food, and the space I was in. I was so excited to meet everyone, In fact I did video interviews with so many people

Since then, I visited the Bronx often, especially the Parkchester area. In fact, after graduating from Columbia University, I looked for an apartment and moved here, officially becoming a resident of the Bronx myself.

In the almost 3 years of my engagement with the community, I have met people from all over the world, living, working, studying, and doing business here in the Bronx. Each of them have a compelling story telling their journey, struggles, and contribution to the local community. Safari Yangu Immigrants Stories, an initiative started by a group of students at Columbia University, have been documenting and sharing these stories for more than a year. We have started seeing the positive impact of how telling our stories accurately challenges the negative narratives in the public discourse. That is what I hope to continue doing with this column at the Parkchester Times. Statistics show this city cannot survive without immigrants, but the narrative has been different.  

Parkchester needs everyone, immigrants and American citizens working together. This column is for all of us, please share your story and let us learn from it, Together, we make Parkchester the great place it has always been. Invite me to your home or office, or email me for an interview, I look forward to hearing from you.

nick ogutu and sheikh musa drammeh,parkchester times,parkchester
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu)
nick ogutu and sheikh musa drammeh,parkchester times,parkchester
Nick Ogutu and Sheikh Musa Drammeh.
(Photo Credit: Nick Ogutu)
nick ogutu and sheikh musa drammeh,parkchester times,parkchester
Council member Andy King and Nick Ogutu. (Photo Credit: Nick Ogutu)
nick ogutu and sheikh musa drammeh,parkchester times,parkchester
Nick Ogutu, Bob Press and Sheikh Musa Drammeh after Crowley-Ocasio Debate at St Helena’s Church. (Photo Credit: Nick Ogutu)

 

You can contact me at –

Nho2106@columbia.edu