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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

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