Political leaders tend to copy the dribblers; dribbling their nations. But quite often, these end up dribbling themselves and even playing themselves out of power.


One of the largest religions in the world is football. It is also the most non-sectarian of the lot. At the heart of football are the dribblers; they are the prophets and chief priests of this religion. They are the game makers and changers whose mesmerising footwork is a primary reason millions spend their time, energy and money filling different stadia, wildly gesticulating and shouting themselves hoarse like possessed people.

A master dribbler like Argentina’s Diego Maradona almost consigned the wise saying that ‘a tree does not make a forest’ to the dustbin of history. He alone seemed to have sunk the English armada in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. It was not just his “Hand of God” goal. In his second goal, he dribbled not one, two or three English defenders, but five of them!

Dutchman Johan Cruyff was such a sensation that a type of 90 degrees turn and running dribble was patented for him; The Cruyff Turn. Can the world ever forget Pele, who the whole of humanity claims? Are we likely to forget the current prophets of football – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Political leaders tend to copy the dribblers; dribbling their nations. But quite often, these end up dribbling themselves and even playing themselves out of power. A typical example was former Nigerian military dictator, retired General Ibrahim Babangida, who so dribbled the country that he was acknowledged a great one, and was so christened, even as a perversion. His sobriquet was not Jay Jay Okocha, Nigeria’s gift to football, but Maradona.

Today, there are two master dribblers in world politics who are beginning to dribble themselves. America’s Donald Trump believes he is a master dribbler. He took his skills to the turf of the Syrian civil war. He inherited a serious problem from his predecessor, Barack Obama – the Islamic State (ISIS). As American president, he used the Kurds, who are minorities in countries like Syria, Iraq and Turkey, to fight and defeat terrorist ISIS. While this was on, Turkey, its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ally was watching aloof.

After the Kurds had sacrificed life and limp, Trump pulled the rug under their feet, announcing a sudden and immediate withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria, leaving them at the mercy of Turkey.

In Syria, and on the Kurdish issue, Trump scored an own goal and pushed his country out of the field of play, turning it to a spectator.


Clearly, Trump was uncomfortable with the growing military strength of the Kurds, but gave them a false impression and hope. When he was done, he turned to Turkey to unleash its awesome military powers on the hapless Kurds. A distraught American Army Captain, watching the commencement of the slaughter of the Kurds was quoted in the American media as lamenting: “I joined the army to prevent genocide, not to pave way for it.”

With the Turkish onslaught in full swing and mounting criticism, even amongst his fellow Republicans, Trump tried another dribble. Rather than force a Turkish back off, he came up with an agreement aimed at delivering them into the hands of their enemies.

The agreement between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and American Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara, says: “The US understands Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border.” Those “concerns” are that the erstwhile American allies are terrorists, who must be cleared from the Turkish-Syrian border.

The agreement also proclaimed the Kurds as “threats.” With America accepting that the Kurds are terrorists, it advised that Turkish: “counter-terrorism operations must target only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment.”

Unbelievably, in perpetuating the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in Syria, both countries claimed they were upholding: “human life, human rights, and the protection of religious and ethnic communities.”

The Americans and the Turks gave the Kurds 120 hours to leave northern Syria. That ultimatum expired this Wednesday. However, a few hours before the expiration, the Americans were played out. President Erdogan abandoned the Americans, flew to Russia to enter a separate agreement on northern Syria. The Turks realised that with the intervention of the battle-tested Syrian Army on the Kurdish side, its invasion will be quite bloody and the outcome unpredictable. So it tried to make some peace with Syria through its main backer, Russia. On the other hand, Russia is cultivating the Turks; if it can build some understanding between Turkey and Syria, who are poised for war, why not? That would mean its allies in the region will now include Turkey. In any case, the Kurds are not Russian allies.

Now, he is boxed into a corner, with no hopes for his avowed exit date. His future seems tied to a general election. Whatever the case, he is demystified and is being fast reduced to an ordinary politician who may dribble himself out of the field of play.


So both sides signed virtually the same agreement as that between the Americans and the Turks, except that Russia will have boots on the ground to protect Syrian and Turkish interests, while getting the latter to accept Syrian territorial rights, integrity and: “commitment to the preservation of the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria…” In Syria, and on the Kurdish issue, Trump scored an own goal and pushed his country out of the field of play, turning it to a spectator.

The United Kingdom has been a great dribbler. So successful that the country colonised many parts of the world. As a member of the European Union (EU), it demanded all its benefits but was not prepared to meet basic obligations, including a common currency, visa and equal treatment of citizens of other member-countries. It continued its artful dribbling until it has almost dribbled itself out of the Union.

For over three years, it has tried to get out of the Brexit corner it boxed itself. That has consumed two prime ministers – David Cameroon and Theresa May. When Boris Johnson joined to frustrate his predecessor, Theresa May out of office, he was confident that he would dribble other politicians in the field. When he was not getting through, he turned to his team and dribbled 21 Members of Parliament out of the party. When the parliament refused to fall, he dribbled Queen Elizabeth II into dissolving it. But he was successfully tackled and parliament reconvened; being smarter, they shackled his hands with the Benn Act, which made it compulsory for him to seek a delayed exit.

Then he reached a deal with the EU and thought he could pass it through parliament, vowing he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than delay Brexit past October 31. But fellow players dribbled him into a corner forcing him against his wish to write the EU for an extension until January 2020.

Now, he is boxed into a corner, with no hopes for his avowed exit date. His future seems tied to a general election. Whatever the case, he is demystified and is being fast reduced to an ordinary politician who may dribble himself out of the field of play. Brexit is far from certain; the British may yet make a U-turn like a Johan Cruyff dribble, and race home to Brussels.

Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.