During the African Athletics Championship which took place earlier this month in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, one of the star attractions was Cameroon’s hammer throw representative, Georgina Toth. Georgina attracted lots of media attention because she is white. A 26-year old native of Hungary, Georgina moved to the United States in 2006 after she obtained a scholarship for the Northern Arizona University where she is a Business major.
Georgina’s story an intriguing one because she does not have any tangible connection to Cameroon; she is not married to a Cameroonian, does not have children of Cameroonian ancestry and has never lived in Cameroon.
A fortuitous meeting in 2006 with Ange Sama, President of the Cameroon Athletics Federation resulted in a suggestion that she compete under the Cameroonian flag. She was granted Cameroonian citizen one week prior to the African Athletics Championship after Hungarian Athletics Federation (She was a member of the Hungary U23 National Team from 2003 to 2005) authorized her to compete for Cameroon. This allowed her to bypass the two-year wait imposed by the International Athletics Federation on athletes who switch national federations.
Georgina did not win a medal in Addis Abeba. She came in fourth with a hammer throw of 55.71 meters not enough to qualify for the Beijing Olympics (She has until July 23rd to obtain the required minimum). Heavy rains were blamed for her performance which fell short of her personal best of 62.78m which she set on March 28, 2008 in Tempe, Arizona, and far short of the world record of 78.61m set in 2007 by Russia's Tatyana Lysenko. Nonetheless, she broke Jeanne Ngo Minyemeck's national record of 51.78m set in 1988.
Stormy Nationality Debates
Since Georgina competed for Cameroon, there have been stormy debates on many Cameroonian forums over her Cameroonian citizenship. Some have argued that granting talented foreigners “fast track” citizenship is a major step forward, and is part of the process of the reversing of the “brain and muscle drain”. As Ange Sama declared:
“We always complain about the departure of our athletes to more prestigious federations. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity of bringing a European athlete to Cameroon. Thankfully, my country backed me.”
Others, however, argue that by granting Cameroonian citizenship to an individual with absolutely no connection to Cameroon, the government is cheapening and auctioning that citizenship – particularly when that individual is not the top athlete in her field.
The Georgina Toth citizenship has also revived the never-ending debate over Cameroon’s nationality law which does not recognize dual citizenship. Says one Cameroonian,
“It is one thing for the government to turn a blind eye on the fact that practically every player on the Cameroonian football national team has dual nationality, while at the same time making life difficult for less prominent Cameroonians in the same situation. It is however a different ball game when that same government grants Cameroonian citizenship to someone who has not given up her Hungarian citizenship and doesn’t intend to, while demanding that native born Cameroonians give up their Cameroonian passports when they become citizens of other countries.”
Proponents of this school of thought argue that the case of Georgina Toth is another clear indication that Cameroon’s continuous repudiation of dual citizenship is outdated and anachronistic, even within the Cameroonian context, and should therefore be modified.
So where do you stand in this debate? Is Georgina Toth’s newly minted Cameroonian citizenship the way to go? Or did authorities cheapen Cameroonian citizenship by making her a Cameroonian citizen? Also, it is time for Cameroon to finally recognize dual citizenship?