Category Archives: Sport

Prudential Ride London 100 – donate for Mali!

As many of you will be aware, particularly those in the charity sector or living in South-West London, or both, this weekend bicycles will take over the capital city in a festival of all things two-wheeled ; the largest of its kind in the world.

The weekend’s centre-piece is the 100 mile mass-participation bike ride around the Surrey hills – similar to the route of the London Olympic road race. Amongst the 26,000 riders who have signed up in an over-subscribed ballot are Liz and Al Sim, who have kindly and bravely taken on the challenge to ride the whole route -Box and Leith Hill included – for the Mali Development Group (MDG).

Now, there a plenty of causes out there, but please spare a thought and perhaps a few pounds for Liz and Al  who are much more at home on the tennis court on in a sailing boat than in the saddle  of a bicycle. They could certainly do with your support!

Click the link and follow the instructions to make a donation: We are very grateful for your support.

MDG supports Malian partner organisations Jeunesse et Developpement and Pensions a Demain. Between them their work support community development, healthcare accessibility, and the employment and artistic skills of street children, as well as many long-term impact livelihood projects like irrigation dams and mills.

For more information about the kind of thing your kind donations will support please visit the MDG website:

Thank you, and good luck Liz and Al! May the wind be forever on your tail.

Cheb Mami, Passi, Youssou N’Dour, Papa Wemba, Femi Kuti & Rokia Traore – Mali 2002 : Mali Song of the Week

There are moments in history where football and music have sat perfectly together. An inseparable double-act able of catapulting human emotions to places not thought possible. Music is sometimes the only means by which we can comprehend those moments, and the best aid we have to relive them. Thanks to the BBC’s coverage of France 98 rarely can a hint of Garbiel Faure’s ‘Pavane’ go by without daydreams of a plucky Michael Owen or the majesty of Zinedine Zidane. In the last week, a splendid recreation of one of these special moments was orchestrated by Leicester City’s Italian manager Claudio Renieri. The Foxes’ magical Premier League triumph has been made all the more glorious when Andrea Bocelli stepped out to put on a ‘spine-tingling‘ rendition of Nessun Dorma at the King Power Stadium on Sunday, making the official presentation of their title achievement all the more globally and historically resonant. The song is so strongly associated with the sensational Luciano Pavarotti and the romance of Italia 90 it provided the perfect catalyst for further dreaming about a reawakening of football, a collective nostalgia groping for a sign of those ‘better days’ resigned to ones childhood, now lost in the commercial mist of modern football. The dreams of glory had been steadily ground away. Abandoned after so many humiliations. At best they were merely delusions, surely? Thought forever lost to a grotesque contemporary agenda of merchandising, agent fees, and headlines about TV rights, that fledgling optimism has been plucked out like a dusty cassette full of treasured songs.

The 23rd African Cup of Nations of 2002 was held in Mali. In a continent besotted by football West Africa is its powerhouse, contributing the vast majority of winners and participants of previous tournaments. Cameroon, Africa’s most successful international team, won the tournament of 2002, with a good Malian side finishing 4th in its first tournament since 1994. After 2002, Mali’s national side picked up another 4th place finish and later back-to-back bronze medals in 2012-13. With a pair of joint top scorers in the last decade also, it represents an good era of Malian football. But, the natural order was restored, as it all came crashing down in the cruellest of ways in the tournament of 2015. Mali was drawn into a group of death. Cameroon, Guinea and Ivory Coast would battle with Les Aigles in Equatorial Guinea for two precious tickets to the knock-out stages. The end of a tense and frankly ridiculous week in Group D saw five of the six games end as 1 – 1 draws, with Cameroon unexpectedly slumping to the bottom of the group following a 1 – 0 defeat to Ivory Coast, sending Les Éléphants through top. So suddenly it was down to Guinea and Mali for the 2nd and final spot. Level on points, equal on their ‘head-to-head’ records, the same goals scored and same goals conceded. At every turn the teams were statistically inseparable, but someone had to go home. It boiled down to a drawing of lots, with Guinea progressing on nothing more than luck. Imagine the pandemonium if England were booted out of a World Cup after losing a coin-toss to Germany…

Of course, every international tournament needs a song, and the cobbled together unofficial, impulsive tunes always turn out to be much more entertaining than any of the official dross that usually rolled out. So here comes “Mali 2002” a fine specimen of multi-nation, multi-genred thumping, feel-good, comfortably-tacky AfroPop. A beautiful collaborative mess of six artists from a selection of the 2002 tournament’s competing countries. Attributed through YouTube to Algerian singer-songwriter Cheb Mami, the song also has vocals from Mali’s Rokia Traore, Nigerian Afrobeat hero Femi Kuti, Senegalese all-rounder Youssou N’Dour (also a successful actor, businessman and politician) and a set of Congolese: the hip-hop artist Passi and the late, great Papa Wemba, who sadly passed away in April this year. The song summarises all that is great about these peaceful,coming-togethers of different peoples – the vibrancy, the interaction of cultures of ideas, the crazy fun; all facilitated by the passions and marvels of football.

Rokia Traore was the only woman in this pan-African line up. As Mali’s national team enters a period of transition it can look to its youth for those future dreams, that allusive yet recycling optimism. For the first time it appears it can also look to its women. Earlier this month it was announced that Mali would soon be getting its first national women’s football league comprised of a respectable 12 teams. With the popularity, and subsequent wealth, of women’s football growing steadily world-wide, Mali’s women see this as an opportunity to build successful careers and – perhaps one day – proudly carry the hopes of a nation into the prestige and glamour of an international tournament.

And as Mali steps into this new uncharted world, once again the perpetual wisdom of Nessun Dorma will help us transform this into an age of optimism if we but listen. The song, famous for its steady, soaring procession to the most thundering of climaxes summarises the spirit of Leicester City’s story and that of any perennial underdog; it forces us to defy what has come before and dream:


Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

Vanish, o night!
Fade, you stars!
Fade, you stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!



Cheb Mami, Passi, Youssou N’Dour, Papa Wemba, Femi Kuti & Rokia Traore – Mali 2002


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

AfroCubism – Benséma : Mali Song of the Week

Whatever the political and economic consequences of President Obama’s trip to Cuba this week, we’ve learnt a bit about him and the country he visited. We can also see that a whole lot hasn’t changed. Another thing that has evidentially remained unchanged – during that 20th Century “constant” of the Cold War conflict between the US and Cuba – is that the Caribbean nation remains enamoured, at every turn, with music. Scenes from a Major League Baseball exhibition game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays held yesterday morning show jubilation in the crowds whenever the band started up – which appeared to be every other minute. Rapturous and genuine applause even bloomed at the final notes of the Star Spangled Banner. Ahead of the game President Obama penned a short article explaining the significance and purpose of the match:

“That’s what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we’ve broken.”

This is of course must be framed as a uniquely American reflection on Cuba. Other countries, particular those in Africa, have not endorsed the isolationist policies of the US and remember different struggles. On the contrary Cuba has a rich history of cooperation in Africa where they attacked barriers from the same side. Nelson Mandela famously thanked Castro and the Cuban people for the “selfless” support received for the anti-apartheid movement. In many ways its was the “critical” intervention in the gradual and successful defeat of apartheid. Apartheid itself means  “the state of being apart” when translated from Afrikaans. To be anti-apartheid is to show a willingness to come together. In this case it was for the advancement of the rights and liberties of people from the other side of the world.

It is a difficult truth for the US to digest, no less for Noble Peace Prize winner Obama. In an incredible exchange that just about everybody should watch, Mandela during his visit to the US in 1990 was challenged by Ken Adelman from the Institute of Contemporary Studies for his praise of the human rights advocacy of Gaddafi, Arafat and Castro. In his response, Mandela alludes to the comparatively lack of support the US government ever showed the ANC, which barely extended beyond rhetoric, in its fight for human rights in South Africa. With his ‘normalising’ speeches and actions in Cuba over the last few days Obama is trying to work his magic on a particularly prickly legacy of his predecessors; that all too often American diplomacy has failed to bring the world together. Utilising sport to correct this is not a new Cold War trick and indeed its going to take a whole lot of ballgames to convince some commentators that the US’s actions against Cuba ought to be laid to rest.

Sport and culture facilitates all sorts of diplomatic relations, though not always positive I hasten to add. This is no different in Mali. Its relations with South Africa for example have been nurtured through two recent projects: 1) the crucial assistance Mali received from South Africa when its ability to host the African Cup of Nations in 2002 looked in doubt and 2) the on-going South African-led Timbuktu manuscript restoration and preservation project. With Cuba, Mali shares its music. Historically, Mali had some Cold War ties with Cuba, but over the last century its music has bound its people together more closely – even if many of them may not have known it.

Sadly, in researching this article I couldn’t find direct evidence of Malian and Cuban official relations being nurtured though musical connections, though I’m sure I would eventually. In a visit to the country last year, it is reported that (the source is from the Cuban Communist Party) President of the National Assembly of Mali, Issaka Sidibé, “thanked Cuban authorities for their cooperation with his country in various spheres, including health, sport and education”. Advancing cultural exchange was high on the agenda also. The musical harmony between the two countries is captured in this week’s Song of The Week. It hints at that unquantifiable, allusive and often dismissed quality, the very existence of it and its transformative powers Obama is banking will take hold in Cuba. Like sport music has a common language. A set of rules recognised nearly everywhere. Toumani Diabate – who features in this week’s SOTW – explained how during the AfroCubism project the various musicians from Mali, Cuba and elsewhere:

“…cannot even speak together on stage…music has created its own language. It’s the music message, and I think the message is true to the audiences [and] to the world also at the same time.”

It provides hope that separated peoples – by the Straights of Florida or the Atlantic Ocean, by education or simply by the passage of time – can find common intrinsically human pursuits to strip away the polluting effects of titles, labels, ignorance and othering. In its place there is always a chance for peace, happiness and cooperation. But just a chance.


AfroCubism – Benséma


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Continuing with our Zepplin vibe from last week, we fly north to the home of Terakaft. This song was singled out from a list rich of Tuareg talents for its steel-string guitar, more restful than its electric cousin yet with more drive than its nylon string brother. Nice and reflective, the YouTube community would have me believe that the song title roughly translates as “Sometimes, love has thorns”.

Which kind of love does the song have in mind? Lover’s love? Brotherly love? The love between countrymen? Could be any. As the fragile peace accord signed in June is already unravelling, it is difficult to look beyond the latter. Any love that the pro-government militias and the separatist group showed earlier this summer has been blown asunder by the news that the militia had taken the town of Anefis on August 17th – a direct violation of the peace agreement. The UN responded by sending troops to a separatist stronghold in an attempt to halt the militia’s advances  and save the accord from further damage.

How much control is exercised by the government over the militias is unclear. Peace between the separatist CMA and the militias is presented as a pre-cursor to the army and the UN tackling hard-line, militant, Islamist groups which appear to be the real immediate priority. Therefore, it would lead one to deduce that the violation of the agreement by the so called pro-Bamako militia’s are a proverbial thorn in the government’s security agenda. On the other hand, it would not be the first time in the history of conflict that a period of ceasefire, with all the positive rhetoric and symbolic gesturing, has been initiated and broken for strategic gain. Yet in this scenario it looks bad to be the one to break it…

Elsewhere, around 3000 miles further north, a new frontier emerged where young Malian men also did battle. In a violation of the typical peace and serenity south London is known for, two Malian men stepped out of relative obscurity to go head to head, both backed by highly-trained international mercenaries. Bakary Sako, 27 year old Malian striker for Crystal Palace, netted on his home debut to be Man of the Match and beat Aston Villa despite the promising, albeit late, injection of pace and ability from Villa’s 19 year old substitute Adama Traore. Following the game, Traore – a summer purchase from Barcelona – indicated he will choose to serve Mali, the country of his parents, at international level from now on. Traore is a Spanish national and has played promisingly all the way up to Under-18 level but for reasons not yet known he has decided to switch. Switching national allegiance is remarkably common; recent high-profile players to do so include Diego Costa (Brazil to Spain), Lukas Podolski (Poland to Germany), Thiago Motta (Brazil to Italy) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Germany to Ghana) who, like Traore, breaks the tradition of moving allegiances away from the developing world to Europe.

Does the love of one’s country or sense of place sometimes have thorns? Certainly can. It is curious however that for something like nationality which is often presented in Britain as an absolute, a truth and an obvious feature of one’s identity, for Mali it often a mixed and contested concept. For a footballer its can be as simple as personal preference, or even – cynically – exchanged as part of a good career move. But that’s nothing new. For the separatist its a matter of life and death. It’s of huge political significance and, when branded as a national of a country they do not recognise, it can be considered a source of oppression.

Does Mali have to have a uniform sense of nationhood for peace to be realised? Now that has to be a question for another time…


Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

SMOD – Fitri Waleya

This week is all about youth. Music served up by SMOD, cause for celebration served up by Mali’s superb under-20s football team – returning heroes from the U20 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand. SMOD, formed in 2000, are quite  sophisticated hip-hop group. Acoustic elements, latin vibes, articulate lyrics but contemporary bounce and rhythm. All this whilst remaining critical of the state-of-affair’s their generation are steadily inheriting. ‘Fitri Waleya’ captures that quintessential hip-hop mood; critical, angry, disappointed, but also present is an underlining optimism and faith in their own individual agency and ideas. Though the expression of critique these artists show their belief in something better. The popularity of rap music is delivering these messages to the masses. Will this make for a more politically sceptical, perhaps more resilient and savvy next generation?

On the other-side of the planet, a more immediate obvious cause for optimism has caught the world’s attention. But first, a bit of context; Africa is football-mad. The comprehensive nature of the continent’s obsession with the sport is hugely significant in how African nations see themselves, each other and their place in reference to the rest of the world. The case of Ghana at the South African World Cup in 2010 illustrates this well. The media frenzy that follows the tournament focused heavily on the idea that the ‘hopes of a continent‘ rested on Ghana, the only African nation to make it through to the quarter finals. This was Ghana’s first time to this lofty height since 1970. With a great team, Ghana had an excellent shot at going one further and becoming the first African team ever to reach a semi-final. Instead of the competition between nations, as often seen amongst European countries, Africans band together. In 2010 people all over Africa came together, as their own teams steadily dropped out the world’s premier sporting occasion. The Ghanin players took on their new roles with earnest. Star-striker Asamoah Gyan devoted the win over the USA which he orchestrated to ‘the whole of Africa’.

In the quarter-final, ultimately, all Africans (and many, many others world-wide) were collectively distraught at the final result. In defeat the bruised “Golden Generation” of Black Stars surrendered their place as the hopes of the continent to another country, yet to be selected for this high honour.

Could Mali step up? Their rampant youth certainly have the potential. Mali’s U20s, managed by Fanyeri Diarra, blew away their African “brothers” Senegal in a superb display in the bronze medal match, including a double-save from Mali’s keeper, to protect the Malian’s lead and then the deal-sealed with a team wonder-goal finished off by Diadie Samassékou. But who will lead these rising heroes? Step forth ‘Magician’ Adama Traore, winner of the tournament’s best player ‘Gold Ball’ award.

Annoyingly, these boys will come of age at Qatar’s shameful World Cup in 2022, which I was hoping to boycott. Anyway, they’ve got to qualify first so for now, we’ll just let the music play.



SMOD – Fitri Waleya

Mali News #5 – Forces enter Diabaly and Douentza

Journalists queue to enter Diabaly this morning. All rights @joepenney

First of all Bruce Whitehouse’s situation report from the 18th of January is a must read for catching up on what has been happening in Mali.

Beyond that though there are a few interesting perspectives and pieces that it’s worth reading. First of all, lest anyone focus overly much on the conflict, it’s important to continue to highlight the extreme humanitarian crisis arriving in the wake of the conflict zones. The UN is predicting up to 710,000 people will be forced to leave their homes due to the crisis, and the international aid organisations can not cope with those numbers and the acute nature of the deprivation they are seeing. 

Civil society’s response to what they rightly see as a foreign invasion continues as people in Gao lynch an Islamist Chief who had a popular journalist killed (fr). These are not scenes that we would want to see, but they give a strong indication to the Malian people’s thoughts in the areas still occupied by the terrorist organisations in the North.

Today French forces took the central towns of Diabaly and Douentza from Al-Queda linked rebels. Quickly followed by a horde of journalists who follow the action as you can see above. As government sponsored forces continue to advance we will hear more harrowing stories of life under the terrorists, “With a razor, one of the rebel leaders traced a circle on my forearm before chopping it off with a sharp knife”.

The final update from Northern Africa has been the Algerian hostage situation which was widely linked to the situation in Mali. While it’s unclear to what extent the attack was related to what is going on in Mali, what is important is the Prime Minister’s announcement today that, “We must support effective and accountable government, back people in their search for a job and a voice and work with the UN and our international partners to solve long-standing political conflicts and grievances.” Strong rhetoric from the Prime Minister in his speech, which referred to Mali, and we can hope that Britain will commit to building resilience in Mali after this conflict has finished.

For those who want a thorough and insightful understanding into the roots of Al Qaida in the Sahara region they should look no further than this extract from Andy Morgan.

Finally, the conflict has given greater prevalence to other aspects of Mali’s offering to the world. The guardian highlighted, ‘Mali’s magical music’. And Mali’s opening 1-0 over Niger in the Africa Cup of Nations. Hopefully the powerful nature of these two facets of Malian life will show the world that there is more to Mali, and bring  people together in solidarity, supporting Mali.