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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs