Drogba relishes role as Ivory Coast peacemaker

21st September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Football star Didier Drogba says he jumped at the chance to use his status as a unifying figure in Ivory Coast to help his country heal the wounds of the savage violence which erupted last year.

The striker for English giants Chelsea has answered the call to join the truth and reconciliation panel which will investigate the slaughter sparked by a disputed presidential election which left 3,000 people dead.

"It's a question of patriotism. I love my country and I wanted to contribute to the reconciliation," Drogba told a press conference to discuss his new role late Tuesday.

When the call came, he says he did not think twice.

"I could not say no. Because I love Ivory Coast so much and the country has suffered so much.

"We want peace, we want the country to go forward, to develop and I want to be part of it," he said.

In a sign of Drogba's importance to the 11-member commission, former Ivory Coast prime minister Charles Konan Banny travelled to London especially to appear alongside the country's biggest sporting figure.

"He's my number 11," said Konan Banny, a former economist who describes Drogba as a "peace builder".

Although he left Ivory Coast aged five and grew up in France, the player's popularity transcends political, religious and ethnic divisions in the west African country which has been scarred by a decade of strife.

The most recent crisis was sparked last November when incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the election after official results showed his long-time foe Alassane Ouattara had won.

At least 3,000 people were killed and half a million were displaced in an orgy of violence that was only brought to an end when Gbagbo was arrested by forces supporting Ouattara in April.

"I think the Ivorian people have suffered too much," Drogba said.

"We have to work towards reconciliation, forgiveness and living together," he added, although he admitted "it will not happen overnight".

It is not the first time he has tried to use his fame to bring his country together.

In 2005, he joined his teammates in the Ivory Coast national team to appeal for reconciliation.

Two years later, he helped to organise a match in the then rebel stronghold of Bouake against Madagascar, in a bid to unify the country.

And at an African Nations Cup qualifier in March he issued a desperate appeal to his countrymen to lay down their weapons, but his appeal fell on deaf ears and the bloody battle for control of the country's main city, Abidjan, began.

"It's easier to take up arms and to make war than to sit down and try to understand, and to discuss things and forgive," said Drogba, who is as quietly spoken off the pitch as he is a bruising presence on it.

He was quick though to dismiss suggestions that he harbours any political ambitions.

"I leave the politics to the politicians. I'll stay a footballer, it's what I do best."

© 2011 AFP

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