Bouake, The City Saved By Football


Football gets results. It is not hard to tell how much of a facelift Bouake, the second largest city in Côte d’Ivoire has seen.

With a population of 740,000 (2021 census), Bouaké, (pronounced Bwake by the locals), is the seat of three levels of subdivision — Vallée du Bandama District, Gbêkê Region, and Bouaké Department. The city is located in the central part of Ivory Coast, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) northeast of Lake Kossou, the country’s largest lake. It is approximately 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Abidjan on the Abidjan-Niger Railway and about 100 kilometres (62 miles) northeast of Yamoussoukro, the country’s administrative capital.

In September 2002, it was hit with a Civil War as troops took control of the Northern Part of the West African country. It was a major turning point in the lives of the people. What was once a vibrant city, had been seen so much batter and churn.

Nothing was working in Bouake, only child soldiers sitting in pick-ups and patrolling the streets with armored tanks in sight. There were occasional gunshots at night with fear that troops were taking over the city.

Stade de la Paix, a stadium in Bouake which was used for the 1984 TotalEnergies CAF AFCON was used as an execution site for police officers, and military soldiers during the civil war, according to locals.

In a bid to unite the people of Côte d’Ivoire, Stade de la Paix hosted the country’s game against Madagascar in June 2007 in the TotalEnergies CAF AFCON 2008 qualifiers. 25,000 fans watched on as Côte d’Ivoire won the game 5-0, and that, too, became a major turning point.

“It was interesting when the game against Madagascar was played. We were all tensed when the announcement was made because of how things were ongoing here,” an indigene who witnessed the incident said.

Two decades on, the story has changed completely. Bouake is hosting Africa’s flagship football tournament, the TotalEnergies CAF AFCON tagged ‘Côte d’Ivoire 2023’ at the renovated Stade de la Paix which is now a 40,000-seater capacity.

The city which was once a base for rebels is now welcoming Africa football’s community. These days, it is all pomp and pageantry. Beyond the beauty of the football witnessed here, the town has become a major winner of the byproducts of an AFCON that has given everything; infrastructure, economic boost for locals, and an upliftment of spirits that were once in the woods.

The fairytale excites many locals who have witnessed both sides of Bouake. “You have no idea what the current state of Bouake means to us, we are very excited to see people moving freely without any fear, this is a great feeling,” a native of Bouake said.

The beauty and uniting force of football are evident in Bouake. It is a testament to how the game brings together people. As the TotalEnergies CAF AFCON wraps up soon, there will be so much to look back on and be proud of.

For indigenes and the larger Ivorian people, the fireside chat will be how once upon a time, football came to town and changed everything. – With materials culled from

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