News / Africa

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Girls walk to school in Gao, Mali, March 7, 2013.
Girls walk to school in Gao, Mali, March 7, 2013.
Katarina Hoije

As night falls over Gao in northern Mali, young women are practicing on a basketball court. Now that armed extremists have left, several girls in shiny track suit bottoms and low-necked tops have joined the boys.
 
Ramatou Touré moves quickly across the basketball court's cracked surface. After 10 months of Islamist occupation and one year with no practice, the 19-year-old high school student is back in training.

She said as soon as classes are over for the day, she runs to practice or goes running with a friend. Touré said she does not get tired because she loves the game.
 
Gao is known for its strong female basketball players, but Touré and many of her teammates had to sit on the sidelines due to the conflict that erupted in Mali in 2012.  
 
Eighteen-year-old Mariam Maiga said they could not wear shorts and tank tops normally worn on the basketball courts, and only boys were allowed to play.
 
While Gao was under the occupation of al-Qaida-linked Islamists, women were forced to cover their bodies in public and men and women were banned from mixing socially. Violators faced public lashings or could have their hands chopped off.

Women who refused to follow the dress code were arrested. Many also say they were raped.
 
When the Islamists first arrived. Touré said she thought that she might just cover herself up and continue playing basketball. Instead she boarded a bus heading south, to the capital Bamako, together with tens of thousands of fleeing Northerners.
 
She said it was a tough year -- not only didn't she get to play, but she also couldn't go to school. Touré said she really missed the game.
 
Playing catch up

Now with the situation calmer - most of the girls are back home and have a lot of catching up to do.
 
Making sure they do so, is Oumar "Tonko" Cissé. A retired coach in his 60s, he also is the founder of the Center for Training and Promoting Sports [CFPS] in Gao.
 
He welcomed his "kids" with a smile and a cigarette in hand, next to the central pitch. But he recalled the occupation with bitterness.
 
The armed groups, "they were fools," he said, and he doesn't want to be reminded of those times.
 
As soon as Gao was liberated by French troops in January 2013, Cissé's sports center resumed its activities, though unfortunately he said his girls' team lost many of its best players as many families remain displaced in the south for fear of continuing insecurity in the north.
 
"It's a young team" as you can see, he said. Many of the players have a lot to learn. Some have more potential than the others, but Cissé said they are rebuilding step by step.
 
Meanwhile, living conditions in Gao remain difficult. Jobs are scarce, certain food items are hard to find, some government services are still lacking; the whole city continues to recover, along with much of Mali's north.

Insecurity lingers

The team is fortunate to find friendly competitions, however, with squads from neighboring towns. Just as fortunate, said Touré, is the fact they can play at all with sporadic fighting persisting.
 
Touré said that while she is happy to be back, Gao is not the same city. She noted that they used to play until nine, sometimes 10 at night. Now they must finish much earlier because of deep concerns. She said even when there is fighting in Kidal or Menaka it affects them in Goa, and on those days they must be home by 6:00 p.m.
 
As a reminder of the Islamists' continued presence, a French army vehicle passes by on the road opposite the sandy court. There are rumors of the Tuareg rebels recruiting.

For these basketball players in Gao, the coach said they can play an important role in restoring the city to the way it used to be by helping to keep young people focused on positive contributions they can make, rather than being lured by armed groups.
 
Cissé said all he and many Gao residents want is the best from the girls and to help them reach out to young people to rebuild a future.
 

 

You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid