News / Africa

Some African Olympians Choose to Defect After Games

Eritrea's flag bearer Weynay Ghebresilasie holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 27, 2012.
Eritrea's flag bearer Weynay Ghebresilasie holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 27, 2012.
Anita Powell
JOHANNESBURG — The 2012 Olympics ended recently but some of the athletes have stayed behind in Britain. About a dozen African competitors have chosen to defect, including the man who carried the flag for Eritrea. 

Uganda’s gold medal-winning marathoner returned home this week to a parade, a presidential welcome and a check for $80,000.

Not all of Africa’s Olympians have been welcomed home like Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich.

In fact, at least a dozen appear to have left the Olympic village and sought asylum in Britain.

First, seven athletes in Cameroon's delegation left the Olympic village with no explanation during the Games.  Their whereabouts are still unknown.  Sources close to the Cameroonian delegation in London had told Voice of America that the athletes defected to seek economic opportunities abroad.

Then a United Nations-run radio station reported that four members of Congo's Olympic delegation had disappeared.

And most recently, the man chosen to carry Eritrea's flag at the opening ceremony, steeplechase runner Weynay Ghebresilasie sought political asylum along with three other members of the Eritrean delegation.  Those three have asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety.

The Eritrean athletes join dozens of their fellow citizens who have defected over the last decade.  Among them, entire soccer [football] teams.

Weynay, who did not make the finals in the men's steeplechase, said he felt that conditions at home seemed to be getting worse.
 
Aaron Berhane, a Toronto-based spokesman for the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change group, says the athletes left for the same reason as so many thousands of other Eritreans who have fled.

"In Eritrea, we have a very dictatorial regime," he said. "There is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of movement, there is no freedom of religion.  The country is under a totalitarian government."

These disappearing African athletes have several things in common. All come from nations crippled by poverty, corruption and longtime leaders who refuse to relinquish power.

Cameroon has been led since 1982 by President Paul Biya, who has been criticized for becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, was reelected last year.  The electoral results were rejected by the opposition.

And Eritrea has been led for all of its existence by one man, President Isaias Afwerki.  He took power when the nation gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Rights groups say Mr. Isaias' administration has jailed countless political opponents, repressed freedoms and repeatedly postponed elections.  Army service is mandatory.

Among the conscripts, said London-based Bereket Khasai, was Weynay, who spent more than his required 18 months in the service and still could not leave the army.

Bereket, another member of the Eritrean group who has been in constant contact with Weynay, says the young man is physically and psychologically exhausted.  

He says Weynay was questioned for 11 hours on Thursday and is now in detention, hopefully with the intent of having his asylum request expedited.

"He didn’t plan to seek asylum before he came to the U.K. hoping that things would get better in the future in the country for him and for his people and his family, and unfortunately he realized day by day  that things are going wrong, especially when he came to the Olympics and obviously experienced similar treatment by the Eritrean federation for sport, so that's when he decided to claim asylum, once he competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase," Bereket said.

Also, not one of the defecting athletes has won a medal.

Bereket says that had Weynay won a medal, things might have been different.  But he says the athletes complained that they were mistreated and under-trained by their national delegation while in London.

This year's rash of defections is in contrast to the last Olympics.

Only one athlete attempted to defect from the Beijing Games.  That was Cameroonian athlete Thomas Essomba, but changed his mind there.  He was among those who left their teams in London.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More