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Life on the Edge | The Elephants’ Dream of Peace

As the World Cup 2010 gets under way, Life on the Edge turns the camera on another top African football star – Didier Drogba, Chelsea striker and captain of the Ivory Coast team. The Elephants are competing in South Africa wearing their distinctive orange strip, but across the other side of the continent Ivorians are wearing orange to show their commitment to peace, tolerance and unity – and in homage to the role Drogba played in 2005 when he and his team helped stop the civil war that threatened to split the country in two. ‘The Elephants’ Dream of Peace’ tells the story of Drogba and the Elephants’ 2005 peace mission.

Didier Drogba is one of the stars of this year’s World Cup – but can he also make it as a political referee? For years the Ivory Coast striker has called on both sides in his homeland to play by the electoral rules. But it may be even tougher than making it to the Final. Lifefollows the heroic attempts of Didier and his national team – the Elephants – to secure a lasting peace in the Ivory Coast.

ele-4Drogba is captain and star of the Elephants. He’s up in the air. They’re doing his dance, down in the streets. It’s called the Drogbacite. You dribble, you head, you dance like Didier. It’s almost a national dance.

Salomon Kalou, like Didier Drogba, plays for Chelsea and the Elephants. He says: “It is the spirit of our team, to share the same life, to wear the colours of Ivory Coast, and to give joy to everybody in the country… because the population identifies with the national team. The players are playing in different clubs and they come from different parts of Ivory Coast… when we play in their national team colours, we become one, and we want to give that to the Ivorian people.”

ele-3But behind the celebrations, this is a country recovering from unexpected and violent turmoil – civil conflict that’s impeded progress towards the eradication of poverty. In 2000, contested elections led to an armed rebellion in the North of this previously stable country. In the ensuing North-South conflict, thousands died.

Over the next five years, the worst violence flared out, but the country still seemed on the edge of civil war’¦ when one group of men made a passionate plea.

After the match with Sudan in 2005, Didier Drogba made an impassioned plea, on his knees, in the dressing room: “Ivorians, from the north and the south, the centre to the west. You all have seen, and we have proved to you, that all of Ivory Coast can live together with the same goal: to qualify for the World Cup. You have promised that this celebration will reunify the people. So today, we ask you and we will go on our knees: please forgive, forgive, forgive.

ele-2“The only country in Africa, which has all these all riches, cannot slip away into a war just like that. Please lay down your weapons, organize elections and everything will be better. We want to have fun…”

With the country still threatening to slide into civil war, Didier Drogba and the Elephants seemed like one of the few things keeping the country together. With Abidjan and the South still divided from the North by roadblocks, economic life was coming to a standstill. Didier and the Elephants stood for hope and renewal.

But it wasn’t just the geographic and ethnic unity represented by the national team helping the struggle for peace. It was also the character of the Elephant’s leader… and the skills that make Didier Drogba such a celebrated Number 11.

ele-1In 2006, the North was almost cut off – visitors from the South of any kind a rarity. But now – here came the hero of the South AND of the North. Didier had won the African Footballer of the Year trophy. It’s called the Golden Ball. He was determined to share his triumph with all Ivory Coast. He’d celebrated in Abidjan – now in Bouake too. Elsewhere in the world, touring the nation with your trophy would be seen simply as a footballing gesture. But here it was seen as a dramatic moment of national reconciliation, a spontaneous strike for peace.

The healing process Drogba’s visit helped begin had a big effect on everyday lives. Barriers were literally removed – like most of the roadblocks that ruined the trucking business between North and South.

Bringing the country together helped the economy and the drive against poverty. But while the people were more united – the same couldn’t always be said of the security forces. Another chance for Drogba and the Elephants to seize the moment. That moment came a few months after Didier took his trophy to the North. The stage – once again Bouake (but this time the football stadium). To reunite the military forces Didier and his team-mates needed a big event. So big it would have to be protected by soldiers from the North and the South – bringing them together again for the first time in years. A former rebel soldier was in charge as the teams arrived.

Commandant Famoussa Ouattara, Ivory Coast National Army: “I felt a great joy when I heard the game would be played here, because we had never seen ‘The Elephants’ play in Bouaka. It was such a great pleasure to host them here. We were very happy that they would arrive here… when Didier scored the fifth goal, the public felt liberated… This game was played in a good spirit of peace. All parties were reunited here. Everybody gave his best. There were no incidents, all the forces were lined up.”

Ivory Coast is still waiting for the elections that Drogba asked for in 2005. But Salomon Kalou is still hopeful:

“We don’t do politics, we only want to have joy in our game. We just want to have pleasure in the group together. Whether you come from the North, South or West of Ivory Coast we want to show to all Ivory Coast, that we’re here to represent our country and not only one part of our country.”

And he says there’s a message for the world, too: “We athletes want other countries to look at Africa in a different way. It will not be easy, it’s our challenge and I think when the Europeans and the Americans will come to South Africa… they will see the generosity of Africa and the pleasant side of Africa. The side of taking time having fun and taking it day-by-day and not asking yourself too many questions. That is Africa.”

RELATED LINKS

Read the Chelsea F C profiles of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou.

There’s more on The Elephants on the FIFA website, the Ivory Coast World Cup blog, The Daily Telegraph, and Wikipedia.

On Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), read the BBC country profile of Ivory Coast, and The Africa Guide on Ivory Coast – people and culture.

The official FIFA World Cup website is here. For more on the World cup, go here.

This programme is part of TVE’s ‘Five Years to Go’ project that focuses on the last 5 years till 2015 for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Information on Ivory Coast’s progress in meeting these goals can be found here.

See also The Road to 2010 Project, which has collaborated in the making of this programme.

The Dutch organisation lokaalmondiaal has assisted in the making of this programme.

TAGS: football war & conflict

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