As crisis in Cote d' Ivoire lurches from uncertainty to uncertainty, Ivorians see football as vehicle for peace

The Ivorian conflict continues with conflicting reports about President Laurent Gbagbo’s surrender. Two weekends ago, a largely Ivorian crowd was at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium in Accra to watch a Didier Drogba-led side emerge victorious over the Squirrels of Benin. For a few hours it provided a distraction from the problems back home. The game provided relief but it is safe to say many of the fans in the stands would rather have watched it in Abidjan.

Officially, there are currently over 3000 refugees in Ghana from Cote d’ Ivoire dispersed across a couple of camps. The numbers of refugees to Liberia is over 120,000 since December while those internally displaced is up to over 750,000 according to estimates by UNHCR. 

A day before the match I run into a young man whose organization was looking to promote peace in Cote d’ Ivoire using football. He inquired about printing a banner to be displayed at the beginning of the match. Regis Lemonn Bio is president of Foot’attitude and after the match I met up with him again to talk about his country’s victory. His joy was palpable but the worry was not far off. The win over Benin meant a lot to him “because it is the national team that brings us together as one, as a people.” The three year old organization has engaged players like Gervinho, Didier Zokora and Drogba to drum home the ideas of ‘peace, togetherness, brotherhood’ while encouraging  young boys to develop those ideals using the game.

Despite his appreciation for Ghanaian hospitality, Bio, a self described ‘huge football fan,’ was keen for his country to return to normal.  

At the end of the match the players gathered together to wear a t-shirt that read ‘paix en Cote d’ Ivoire’ which translates as ‘peace in Ivory Coast.’ Bio’s organization were involved in making these shirts and the message on them spoke for many not only in his country but on the continent who yearn for that ever elusive condition of peace. “We are brothers,” Bio says. “When you see those players they are all from different backgrounds and when they are together in the team, there is no more difference.”

The ouster of Gbagbo may well signal the specter of protracted conflict and a largely unstable country. Perhaps I will be proven wrong and peace and increased togetherness will emerge sooner rather than later. Given the destruction and the divisiveness that has existed for over a decade in the land once known as ‘petit paris,’ this much is true- the road ahead is uncertain. There will be many many overtures by diplomats, politicians and other leaders of the country and continent but if any of the scenes at the stadium is anything to go by, football will be critical in mending the rifts and healing old wounds.

After all, it was the iconic Drogba who went to rebel-held Bouake after the ceasefire in 2007 to urge peace while sharing with residents of the city his 2006 African footballer of the year award. This gesture is widely cited as a symbolic moment where Ivorians united around one person. Fewer and fewer athletes adopt political causes these days but Didier Drogba’s affiliation with his country and its peace efforts show what a difference sports and sportsmen can make.

As future chapters are written in Cote d’ Ivoire’s story, football will  and should serve as a rallying ground for the furtherance of peace and the advancement of human development. A people who have endured so much suffering but are blessed with so many resources, no less its footballing talent deserve no less.


Whew!!! That would have hurt. Ghana overcame a one goal deficit late against England Tuesday to earn a draw and send fans from London to Labone into a frenzy. Asamoah Gyan’s 91st minute strike caused many to replicate his own ‘Bako no nooo’ dance moves and harkened back to some of our most memorable World Cup moments.  This was how much avoiding defeat to England- a B team no less- meant to Ghanaians the world over.

This was like a pick up game of football. As hyped up as this game was there was no trophy or berth in a cup final at stake. Leaving pride. In the end no one had bragging rights. Both teams could fall on easy excuses; no full strength squads, too many games within a short period of time.

England dominated the early proceedings exposing Ghana’s Lee Addy in the process. Despite this, the Stars had the first clear chance, Dominic Adiyiah racing clear of the English defense after a neatly worked move leaving Joe Hart to beat. He couldn’t. Adiyiah was in the right place on another occasion sneaking in far post from a Sulley Muntari free kick. Again, Hart was not to be beaten producing a great reflex save.  Ghana dodged bullets too. Ashley Young stole in behind the Ghanaian defense and with an empty goal in front of him outdid Adiyiah and missed rattling the crossbar. 

The Ghanaians began to settle even though you got the sense that the through ball on Addy’s side was always available and the goal would be engineered from that side of the pitch. It came through Andy Carroll -the next great England striker- who finished sweetly with his left foot.

After a string of changes at half time both personnel wise and tactically, the Stars upped their levels and increased the pressure on the English. The Ghanaians brought in Daniel Opare, Jonathan Mensah, Dede Ayew among others in second half. By pressing up top, the English had little time on the ball. Unfortunately, the Ghanaians were not able to do much with increased ball possession. Asamoah Gyan had a couple of half chances but did not even force saves out of Hart. With the game winding down and the English inching slowly towards a victory, Gyan stepped up. Apparently unsure of his movements, he beat Joleon Lescott with a neat piece of skill and confidently finished with his left foot.

In between the start and final whistle, there was the booing of Danny ‘Judas’ Welbeck who decided he was going to play for the English instead of his parents’ countries. Good luck to him. Happily, GFA officials have ended their chase. My take is there are other Ghanaians who are more than ready to play for the country. That said, I also agree with former Dutch international George Boateng, a player who knows what it is like to be pulled in two directions.

The game was useful for both sides. Goran Stevanovic learned about Sulley Muntari’s defensive liabilities (something Sunderland is gradually finding out and Rajevac found out over time), Lee Addy’s inadequacies at the left back position(bad positioning and lack of speed), Derek Boateng’s  reinvention as a defensive midfielder ( albeit a poor man’s Essien or Annan), Dominic Adiyiah’s speed and movement off the ball and more. Capello also learned that his team B could hold its own.

The friendly may have further cemented Ghana as a top side and a good test for more established football powers when they need a test. So cue Argentina, Brazil, Germany and I could go on.