Hopefully you’ve been paying attention to African politics over the past year. If you haven’t, here’s what you’ve been missing: major Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya; famine in Somalia; Zimbabwe’s ongoing currency crisis (in 2008, it is estimated that Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was “6.5 quindecillionnovemdecillion percent” or a 65 with 107 zeros); China’s increased investment in African nations; the continuing manhunt for Joseph Kony; and the creation of the world’s newest country, South Sudan.
Unfortunately, South Sudanese marathoner Guor Marial (who has been living in the U.S. since he was 16) cannot run for his country in the Olympic Games in London because South Sudan doesn’t have an Olympic Committee. Official rules state that if a country does not have an Olympic Committee then it cannot have a team at the Olympic Games. In its infinite wisdom, the International Olympic Committee advised Marial (who can run 26.2 miles in two hours 12 minutes and 55 seconds, which is widely considered by experts to be really fucking fast) to run for Sudan. This was a tad bit insensitive of the IOC, considering Mr. Marial lost 28 members of his family in the same Sudanese civil war that resulted in the creation of South Sudan. Sudan GRACIOUSLY offered to have Mr. Marial on their team because, well, he’s really fucking fast and Marial refused because, well, fucking duh. So the IOC went back to the drawing board and announced that Mr. Marial could run in the Olympics under the Olympic Flag.
Now, historically, this is the point in most Western narratives where all of the people in “first world” countries, “Oooh,” and “Aaaaah,” and pat ourselves on the back. “Look! We made the African man’s dreams of becoming an Olympian a reality! It’s like the international version of the Make A Wish Foundation! It’s such a great symbol of global unity! I feel so good about myself and my place in the world! In fact, to show how much I care, I’m going to tweet this news story to all my friends! DO YOU SEE HOW MUCH I CARE??? DO YOU!?!?! I SWEAR TO GOD I CARE SO MUCH SWEET BABY JESUS #SWAG.”
It’s really great that the Western world cares so much! Thank God we did so much to stop that genocide that caused that civil war that resulted in the deaths, not only of Mr. Marial’s family members, but of an estimated 2 million other Sudanese not to mention the displacement of 4 million others (find those numbers, which are from 4 years before the civil war even ended, here bruh: http://web.archive.org/web/20041210024759/http://www.refugees.org/news/crisis/sudan.htm). Just double checking, we did do all we could to prevent that genocide, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I knew the civil war ended because of all of the military and humanitarian aid we, the “first world” nations, provided. God, this would be so ironic if we actually just stood by and did the bare minimum while all those people were slaughtered and displaced and then let this man run under an international symbol for sister- and brotherhood…
Oh wait. We did just stand by and do nothing.
Look, I don’t know much about international bureaucracy or structural euro-centrism and I know even less about the Sudanese civil war, but I do know that it’s fucked up when the “industrialized” nations of the world pat ourselves on the back and call ourselves Mother Theresa because we decided to allow one marathoner (who had already qualified for the Olympic Games) to compete. I can already see Hollywood buying the movie rights, with Will Smith to play Mr. Marial. Yay! More emotional pornography for the Earth’s most privileged peoples!
So before we go down that well beaten path of self-righteousness, let’s get the facts straight: the IOC didn’t do shit. The international community didn’t do shit. This man fled his country at age 16 to come to the United States (a country which, by the way, has such a great TRACK record of welcoming immigrants with open arms) trained his ass off and can run a marathon in less time than it takes me to walk to Starbucks. This man, Mr. Marial, did ALL OF THE WORK (ALL OF THE WORK) *Rihanna voice*. Yet somehow the Western world always finds a way to take itself out for an ice cream cone. OF COURSE this man should compete in the Olympics. Why? Because he’s REALLY FUCKING FAST. But he should not run under the Olympic flag. This flag depicts five interlocking rings, which according to the Olympic Charter: “[represent] the union of the five continents.” Mr. Marial does not represent the union of the five continents. He represents determination, athleticism and the spirit of South Sudan; he represents his nation and his people. We should not commodify his experience by making him a symbol of international sister and brotherhood, particularly when the international community did so little for his family or his country. So for the love of God can someone PLEASE get this man a South Sudanese flag? Oh, and read up on some African current events while you’re at it.