There was a buzz in the air as young spectators found their seats. Their excitement bubbled over at the sight of three African greats: former iconic Chelsea Football Club star and legendary captain of the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire, Didier Drogba; eight-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Fame American basketball giant Dikembe Mutombo; and African Development Bank Group (www.AfDB.org) President, Akinwumi A. Adesina.
The three were there to inaugurate the new state of the art sports facility for disadvantaged youth in the Ivorian town of Bingerville, just outside Abidjan.
There was anticipation of intense competition as young athletes stepped into the brand-new facility and prepared to compete. These were the sights and sounds at the Boys Orphanage in Bingerville during the unveiling ceremony of the “Giants of Africa” basketball court on Monday.
Speaking passionately to a crowd of more than 300 young spectators, Masai Ujiri, founder of the Giants of Africa Foundation, said: “Young people are the future of Africa. Africa is on the rise, and Africa is now. The youth population is evidence of that.”
Launched in 2003, ‘Giants of Africa’ uses basketball to educate and enrich the lives of African youth. The organization provides quality facilities, sports gear, and coaches to grow the game of basketball in Africa. It creates awareness and support for underprivileged children and young adults through its basketball camps. The organizers want and urge African youth to dream big.
Each summer since 2003, Ujiri’s Giants of Africa has traversed the African continent, conducting camps for boys and girls between ages 15 and 19. The basketball court in Abidjan is the 12th of 100 courts in the Giant of Africa’s plans for the continent. It is located on the orphanage premises, which hosts 256 orphaned and disadvantaged children aged 4 to 18.
Ujiri said: “A few years ago, I came here for charity work for the orphanage, and during our discussions, it became clear that the orphanage lacked a sports field. So, I committed to providing a first-class facility for our children to realize their dreams. These children here are the legends of tomorrow, and their holistic development through the construction of proper sports facilities will enable them to dream big.”
Ujiri delivered his key messages at the 2018 (https://bit.ly/3IX3s8N) and 2019 (https://bit.ly/3tLgbFp) editions of the Africa Investment Forum. He urged: “We must take sports seriously on this continent because it helps us stay together. Sports can be a driver for economic growth on the continent, and there is an ecosystem around sports that we can grow.”
For African Development Bank Group President, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, investments like Giants of Africa are important seeds planted for the betterment of the future of young people in Côte d’Ivoire and Africa. Adesina said: “I am thrilled to be here to encourage you in this initiative. Taking care of this cement of the future of Côte d’Ivoire is a great work of construction for the future of Africa. I pray to God that you become giants of Africa.
Adesina’s talk to the young people was interactive, as he raised five fingers to demonstrate the “High 5” strategic priorities of the African Development Bank. He explained to them that it was through these priorities that the Bank was investing in youth training and employment, as well as infrastructure for the continent’s socio-economic development.
Drogba also expressed his hopes for the future of Africa’s youth through sports. “It is an absolute pleasure for me to be here to support my friend and brother Musai Ujiri,” he said. He added: “His foundation is a pride for Africa, a pride for the youth. I recognize myself in these children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” Drogba also provides financial and material support in health and education across the continent through his own foundation.
Mutombo also acknowledged that sports has the power to change communities. “All these young people, their future is in our hands. If we don’t do something, their future will be meaningless. We never had the chance to have someone reach out to us when we were kids in Congo. Today, young people, it is possible. The future belongs to you; the ground is there; take care of it. It is up to you to use it to become giants.”
Ujiri emphasized: “Africa’s true talent is its people—be it in the diaspora or on the continent. We must create opportunities for young people to develop on the continent.”
He added: “We need to take the sport seriously on this continent because it helps us stay together. Sport can be an engine of economic growth on the continent, and there is an ecosystem around the sport that we can develop. We need investors to capitalize on this momentum.”
In a friendly basketball match on the new court, these beacons of leadership and sporting excellence embodied the kind of progress that is achievable when collaboration takes center stage.