War-torn Mali and DRC call for peace through football

2013-01-27 10:00

Any positive outcome for Mali and DR Congo at the Africa Cup of Nations would go a long way towards easing the pain caused by conflict in the two Francophone nations.

The two sides’ meeting in the final Group B match at Moses Mabhida Stadium tomorrow will serve as another vehicle to deliver the message of peace, particularly for Mali, which is currently embroiled in a conflict with Islamist militant groups in its northern region.

DRC hasn’t yet recovered fully from its wounds after the civil war thatwreaked havoc in the mineral-rich country between 1996 and 2003.

The recent violence involving rebels in the eastern parts of the country has sparked fears that war could return.

The Eagles captain Seydou Keita and his team-mates dedicated their 1-0 win over Niger in the opening match to their compatriots who have been under siege for a year.

The team’s coach, Patrice Carteron, said they set up a five-day camp in Bamako during their build-up to the Afcon in an effort to help restore calm in the west African country.

Said Carteron: “We stayed in Bamako for five days and thousands of people came to watch our training every day. I wanted them to feel something positive and we were happy that they were motivated.”

Keita, the scorer of the goal against Niger last Sunday, got the message home on behalf of his team-mates.

“We want to use football as a tool to restore peace in Mali and we can only do that by winning our matches,” said the former Barcelona midfielder who now turns out for Dalian Aerbin in the Chinese Super League.

“I feel happy that we won our first game and I dedicate it towards the efforts to bring peace back home,” he said with the aid of an interpreter.

While DR Congo is not hogging international headlines, some of the team’s fans at Afcon 2013 said football has proved to be a successful medium to achieve unity.

“So many people died in our country because of the war, but the national team helped us to forget the pain because it brought us together,” said Alain Kibangula from Kinshasa, who is now based in Durban.

In 2005, Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba and his national team-mates inspired a ceasefire after five years of civil war in their country.

This was after the former Chelsea striker led the Elephants to their maiden Fifa World Cup qualification in 2006.

Drogba, who is now on the books of Shanghai Shenhua in China, was also instrumental in organising a match in the then rebel stronghold of Bouaké against Madagascar in 2007.

His efforts as a peacemaker were honoured with Beyond Sport’s Humanitarian in Sport Award in 2011.

He was also roped into Ivory Coast’s truth and reconciliation commission in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election two-and-a-half years ago.

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