African rugby isn’t just the Springboks


A couple of weekends ago, just before the Rugby World Cup final kick off, the French rugby team memorably faced down the New Zealand All Blacks’ haka. They joined hands and advanced towards the furious New Zealanders in an arrowhead formation. At the point of the arrowhead was an Ivorian, France’s captain Thierry Dusautoir (that’s him at 28 seconds in this video looking very angry indeed).

Dusautoir’s team narrowly lost the final, but there was no argument over who was the outstanding performer, even though one local journalist got his Thierrys all muddled up during the post-match interview. The man dubbed “The Dark Destroyer” scored his team’s try and put in a bone-crunching 22 tackles. (Four years ago he managed 38 against the same team, more than the entire All Blacks side combined)

A couple of days after the final, Dusautoir was announced as the 2011 IRB Player of the Year, rugby’s equivalent of the Ballon d’Or. It was the second time a Frenchman had won the award, but nobody seemed to notice that Dusautoir is also the third African (after South Africa’s Schalk Burger and Brian Habana) to win the game’s top individual prize. (BTW, Some of Thierry’s best performances have come against the South Africans.)

The best rugby player in the world today is a product of French settler colonialism.

He was born in Abidjan to an Ivorian mother and a French father. His grandfather Jean was an “adventurer” who crossed the Sahara before settling down on the cocoa and coffee plantation on which Thierry grew up. Aged ten, Dusautoir left Cote d’Ivoire for the rural Dordogne region of France, and a few years later, he picked up a rugby ball for the first time.

As has long been the case with the French football team (Zinedine Zidane is of Algerian descent, Patrick Vieira is Senegalese, Marcel Desailly was born in Ghana, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram are from Guadeloupe), France’s rugby team has become the means by which top athletes from France’s former colonies compete at an elite level.

Dusautoir inherited Les Bleus’ “Number 6” shirt from the awe-inspiring Cameroonian flanker Serge Betsen. And when Dusautoir eventually retires he will most likely hand the shirt to a Burkinabè, Fulgence Ouedraogo.

Further Reading

Keep the phones on

COVID-19 presents an unprecedented threat, but a campaign by South Africa’s security forces attempting to grind defenseless people into dust does not guarantee success.

Reading List: T.J. Tallie

Among the books historian Tallie has on his reading list is one about the food of the American Old South—“… a forgotten Little Africa but nobody speaks of it that way.”

Du Bois in Berlin

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Lines of Descent (2014) argues that W. E. B. Du Bois’s two years as a graduate student in Berlin vitally informed his views on race and politics.