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How Football Ushered in Democracy in Côte d’Ivoire

The finest member of Côte d’Ivoire’s “golden generation” of soccer stars spent most of his formative years in France and never played in the local league. But there was never any doubt about Didier Drogba’s love of country, and the feeling was mutual and durable, as liter bottles of a popular beer and a village are both named for him. So his words carried considerable weight in 2005, as his West African homeland was riven by civil war. At the same time, the tightly knit national soccer team, known as the Elephants, was one of the most fearsome squads on the continent. Their triumph against Sudan to claim Côte d’Ivoire’s first-ever trip to the World Cup sent people into the streets nationwide to celebrate. Just as his compatriots were basking in the euphoria of the win, Drogba grabbed one of the microphones being thrust at him by the plethora of journalists in the stadium and admonished the Ivorian ruling class. “Please lay down your weapons and hold elections. … We want to have fun, so stop firing your guns.” Within weeks of that footage playing repeatedly on Ivorian media outlets, the rebels and the government agreed to a temporary truce.