Drogba heals the wounds of civil war in homeland

Chelsea striker is a growing influence beyond the playing fields

At 34 and counting, Didier Drogba may be drawing to a close his career at the highest level but there were moments during the closing stages of Chelsea's reinvigorating victory over Manchester City on Monday night when he issued a blunt reminder of the power that remains. As the clock ran down, Drogba galloped with the ball into City's half, effortlessly holding off the attentions of desperate opponents, the Ivorian's strength and determination plain to see.

Power has been an instrumental part of Drogba's make-up and his success in utilising it on the field has brought growing power and influence off it. In this country, Drogba divides opinion; on one side there are Chelsea supporters, on the other the rest of English football. It is not an equal split. But away from the game he has become a unifying figure.

Earlier this month he was selected for a global humanitarian award; earlier this year he was chosen to become one of an 11-strong Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue Commission, based on the successful South African model, to try to help heal the wounds of this year's civil war in his homeland. "If I wasn't optimistic I wouldn't be there," said Drogba, speaking about his appointment in September to represent the views of his country's diaspora. "It's the first step. We want peace to last, not to be just words, and it's important that after this situation people can be able to sit together, speak and think about why we ended up with a civil war."

This year's brief but bloody division, in which more than 3,000 were killed as violence erupted in the wake of disputed elections, was the second civil war to devastate the country within a decade and Drogba has been a leading and willing figure in trying to bring each to an end. Football has played a unifying role in Ivory Coast. In 2007, Drogba pushed for a qualifier for the African Nations Cup to be played in Bouake, the rebel stronghold. That came a year after Drogba and his team-mates dropped to their knees live on television in the dressing room shortly after the national side had qualified for their first World Cup in Germany and pleaded with the warring factions to talk.

"We had just qualified for the World Cup," said Drogba, "and all the players only wanted one thing – Ivory Coast to be united. The country was divided in two, but we knew we were calling people in the country and they were saying, 'When Ivory Coast is playing the country is united. People who don't [normally] talk to each other, when there is a goal they celebrate together.' We were trying to use this and send the message to our politicians to sit down and talk and try to find some solutions.

"I knew that we could bring a lot of people together. More than politicians. The country is divided because of politicians; we are playing football, we are running behind a ball, and we managed to bring people together."

His role has been praised by Tony Blair, now chairman of ambassadors for Beyond Sport, the body that gave Drogba the humanitarian award. Blair describes Drogba as "a powerful, articulate persuader". Blair said: "Sport can reach parts politicians can't reach. It can help in bringing divided conflicts together in a way nothing else can."

Drogba was born in Abidjan, the capital, and grew up partly there and partly in the care of his uncle, a lower league footballer who played in France. Drogba too learnt his trade there, turning out for Le Mans, Guingamp and Marseilles before crossing the Channel seven years ago, but there has never been a question as to where his loyalties lay. Now his country's record goalscorer, with 50, and the figurehead of the best team Ivory Coast has assembled, he has become the nation's most recognisable figure. "People want to say, 'Didier is going into politics, that this is too complicated for him'. But it's not, it's not," says Drogba as part of a BBC documentary made by Christian Purslow, Liverpool's former chief executive, exploring football's influence beyond the playing field. "It's just a kid from Côte d'Ivoire who wants to help his country. I am not a politician, I will never be. But if I can help my country I will do anything.

"I'm not here to judge the ex-president or the new one. The only thing I can say is that the population suffered a lot. A lot of people have been killed. That's why it was necessary for us to speak. I've suffered from this war but it's easy for me to come out and say 'My village has been attacked' or 'This guy from my family died'. But what about the others? The other people who cannot talk. They all suffer."

'Urban Legends: Can Football make a Difference?' is on BBC 5 Live this evening from 7.30pm

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements