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The Indomitable Rent-Seekers

Cameroon launch Africa’s World Cup later today after a couple of weeks that can only be described as “rocky”.

First, amid a bonus dispute, star striker and captain (swoooon!) Samuel Eto’o refused to receive the national flag from Monsieur le Premier Ministre after a warm-up match with Moldova, leaving the German-born coach in the bizarre position of receiving the symbolically loaded gift.

That right there drew charges of treason, which is always great for pre-tournament morale.

“What they did on Saturday,” said the head of the Cameroonian FA, “it is a shame to the nation, a total contempt for the government and people who came to watch them and say goodbye. If they do not respect the emblem of this country, can we still support them?”

Next, amid rumours that the notoriously corrupt Federation Camerounaise de Football had “forgotten” to book hotel and training facilities in Brazil, the team refused to board their plane in a last minute bid for yet more bonus money. This sent their FA scrambling for a private loan to persuade the players to board their luxury charter flight to Natal. Classy!

The local papers back in Yaoundé didn’t hold back:

Between a legitimate claim and fraudulent behaviour, there is a threshold that must not be crossed, but the Lions have happily crossed it shamelessly. Eto’o haggled premiums for the players until the last drop of his saliva to satisfy the pecuniary greed of our professional football players.

Later on, Eto’o – or, more likely, his lavishly funded PR handlers – did then go into damage control via social media. Frankly, the only apology likely to be accepted at this point is a thorough thrashing of Mexico and Croatia on the way to the Round of 16.

You almost feel bad for their FA until you remember, “wait, couldn’t they have set aside just part of the $24 million in stadium renovation funds they stole a few years back to cover this kind of contingency?”

I think it’s fascinating, because this Eto’o-Fecafoot fight is just this little keyhole allowing you to peer into the world of intra-elite haggling for rents in Cameroon. It’s just not normal for this sort of thing to be done so far out in public.

But here it is, in glorious, full technicolor display: the 1% of the Cameroonian 1% fighting it out for millions of dollars to chase a ball around a bit of grass in a place where 15 out of 100 children never make it to age five.

Personally, I’m supporting Mexico.

5 thoughts on “The Indomitable Rent-Seekers”

  1. I’m guessing the players are mostly from poor backgrounds and have a limited number of years to make good money. I’m also guessing they do their jobs at a higher international level, comparatively speaking, than the Cameroon Football Federation does.

    And who actually brings the millions of eyeballs glued to the tv set to generate the money in the first place? Would that be the players or the Federation?

    1. Oh I agree: the players actually produce something of value. The Federation seems to be entirely parasitic.

      I think Eto’o is behaving in a way that’s “normal” within the parameters of the aggressive, show-me-the-money style neo-patrimonialism that’s “normal” in Cameroon. Really I’m more interested in that set-up that in Eto’o’s character.

      In the end, he is *so*thrilling* to watch, it’s really hard for me to stay mad at him…

  2. Eto’o plays for Chelsea I think and is probably on 1 million a year from them; pounds not the weak US dollar. He sure don’t need the money. As for the rest of the team most will be playing in Europe and be not short of a few quid.

    The upping the ante on the bonus – pay up or we won’t travel- is just because they are really greedy but also because they know if they don’t get it in advance then they might never get it. One bizarre, out of character thing, is that having been paid in advance they still went. I have found paying in advance tends to a trick called the disappearing act. Never recommended in the development world. So some pay must have been withheld to make sure that they did actually go.

  3. Oh, common: does anybody here really think any of these guys play “for honour”? Everyone in the World Cup is in it for the greenbacks, *nothing* else.Given the business practices of FIFA and the *humongous* amount of money these guys make for them, a bigger slice of the cake isn’t appaling.Also, Eto’o (who’s 36 and a bench player… thrilling like 8 years ago) is one of the biggest give-back philantropists in African Football, with Drogba. He has an active role in local schools and development in Cam’ (or maybe I swallowed the PR campaign). Picturing him as greedy seems unfair. I’m not sure if they didn’t get their bonuses from corrupt bureaucrats any of those dying children would have instead…

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