The Way to Win: Juju on the Field
By Paul Laity
The party began at ten to six. Ivory Coast had just qualified for the World Cup—for the first time ever. In an instant, the city of Abidjan was full of people and noise. Fans in tangerine and white and green poured onto the streets, drivers hooted their horns; loud zouglou music was playing, and pots and pans were joyously banged. The partygoers danced a new dance, the "Drogbacité," named in honor of the team's star striker, Didier Drogba: They mimed his feints, turns, and the unleashing of unstoppable shots. Others tried out the fouka-fouka, Drogba's trademark celebratory hip-swivel—a little piece of Ivoirian culture known to soccer fans everywhere. The maquis—open-air cafés, bars, and mini-nightclubs—stayed open all night serving "Drogbas," bottles of local beer, so called because of their size and potency. A number of the drinkers had "Les Éléphants" painted on their chests, the nickname of the national team: Elephants represent power and are said to be lucky, too—protected by a spell. The team had suffered its share of disappointments; finally, the name seemed appropriate. Excited fans announced that soccer could do more than any politician to put an end to the civil war.
Over the past six years, the Ivory Coast's southern-based regime has fomented hatred of immigrants and Muslims, yet many of the country's best soccer players are from Muslim and immigrant families, so the national team has become an irresistible symbol of unity. At the end of the Abidjan victory parade, the head of the Ivory Coast Football Federation addressed a plea to President Laurent Gbagbo: "The players have asked me to tell you that what they most want now is for our divided country to become one again. They want this victory to act as a catalyst for peace in Ivory Coast, to put an end to the conflict and to reunite its people. This success must bring us together." The party on the streets lasted another whole day.
President Gbagbo did his best to be identified with the conquering team. He talked of a rejuvenated nation and gave each of the players the equivalent of a knighthood and a swanky villa. But Henri Michel, the French coach of the Ivoirian soccer team, was notably absent from the celebration at President Gbagbo's residence. He was, presumably, an awkward reminder of the colonial legacy. The governmental sponsors of anti-French thinking in today's Ivory Coast face a difficulty when it comes to soccer, however. Of the first-choice players on the national team, many play on French teams during the regular season, and a number have lived in France most of their lives: Drogba left the Ivory Coast at the age of five to stay with an uncle and tells of a childhood watching European soccer on TV.