The just-concluded U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit in Washington, D.C. focused the spotlight on Africa. Participants unanimously agreed that, if harnessed properly, the continent has the potential to become the next driver of global growth. 

This buoyancy and optimism emanating from the U.S. capital came in sharp contrast to the feeling many Africans had when the FIFA World Cup concluded in Brazil just about a month ago. Most of the African teams, including those with well-known stars plying their trade in top European leagues such as Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana, exited the tournament in the Group phase. And the fact that the Ghanaian team demanded cash before resuming training, and allegations of match fixing against Cameroon, failed to restore any pride. 

But the story of 15-year-old Ali Mabuyu, a prodigious football talent from Tanzania and a product of the Copa Coca-Cola grassroots program, signals Africa's potential and promise. Ali was in Brazil for the opening ceremony in Sao Paulo after a week-long Copa training camp, where he represented Tanzania after being voted the overall best player during the 2013 Copa tournament by a panel of coaches from the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF). He has become an instant star in his own country and among his peers. 


Copa Coca-Cola 2013 best player Ali Mabuyu being congratulated by Country Manager Coca-Cola Tanzania Yebeltal Getachew for his exemplary performance.

He was in Brazil not as part of the cast of superstars, but as a little-known talent who harbors ambitions of one day carrying the hopes of his homeland to the FIFA World Cup. The conversations about potential and unfulfilled promises may be common refrain when one considers the challenges the continent has faced, but Ali is determined to overcome the stigma that can be personified in the dreams of any African child. 

Mabuyu's play in Brazil during the Copa Camp earned him a personal trophy and certificate. In recognition of his outstanding performance, The Coca-Cola Company awarded him $5,000 to be used to build courts, refurbish toilets and rehabilitate his home football pitch at Yombo Primary School in Dar es Salaam. 

Coca-Cola Tanzania Assistant Brand Manager Warda Kimaro says the company is proud to see Copa Coca-Colabecome a major platform for identifying football talent  in Tanzania. “Copa Coca-Cola, now one of the big events on the TFF calendar, has produced hundreds of talented football players for the past seven years, Ali Mabuyu being one,” she says.  

A Football Prodigy, at Home in Tanzania   


Copa Coca-Cola 2013 best player Ali Mabuyu receives his prizes at Karume Memorial Stadium in Dar es Salaam, 14th September last.

Mabuyu started playing football when he was in class five at Tandika Primary School in Dar es Sallam's Temeke district. Like many African stars, he started by playing for his street team. When he was in class 7, he had the chance to play in the East African Cup matches held every year in Moshi, Kilimanjaro. 

After playing for street teams over the years without gaining any significant appraisal and recognition, he enrolled in Copa Coca-Cola in 2013. His talent was clearly evident all the way from the district to the national level. 

“His close control and vision with the ball makes him a standout among his peers,” says his coach, Pema Msailo, who commended Coke's efforts in collaboration with TFF to develop grassroots football talent in Tanzania.   

Like some of his idols at English Premier League Club Manchester United, Mabuyu likes to scan his surroundings before receiving the ball. He relishes bursts of speed before releasing defense-splitting passes. “On this evidence and what he showed at the camp in Brazil, we in Tanzania should harness this talent and make it count when Tanzania qualifies for the next World Cup. Potential must be harnessed and then realized," Msailo said.


Ali Mabuyu and family.

Mabuyu first heard about Copa Coca-Cola through the media. In the preliminaries, he was selected for the national finals, where he emerged as the overall best player. Like many other outstanding Copa Coca-Cola players, Ali has benefited a lot from the youth football program within a short period of time. The tournament gave him an opportunity to showcase his talents to coaches and, apart from his accolades at the Copa Copa Coca-Cola national finals, Mabuyu was recently promoted to the U-17 national team, Serengeti Boys.

He made his debut during an international match against South Africa in the Africa champions’ qualifier on July 18. He hopes to join the professional ranks of Manchester United as well as wear the national colors for his senior national team, Taifa Stars. 

A Dream to Achieve

Mabuyu realizes that football is not only a source of entertainment, but a path to a better life for millions of people around the world. “As a player, I want to succeed in life through football and rid my family of poverty,” he says. Though still a teenager, he is fully aware of the challenges facing him, especially the fact that his father died a long time ago and that he needs to work hard to take care of his mother and his family. He sees his football career as a source of answers to most of these puzzling questions.

His mother, Mwajuma Ally, is very optimistic that her son will live up to his dreams of playing for one of the world's top teams. “He has all my blessings. What I keep on reminding him is to balance properly between football and studies,”she  says.

Mabuyu's teacher, Mwalimu Mlingo, describes him as disciplined and hardworking. “He is also very active in class, and he passes examinations very well,” she adds.

Bob Okello is public affairs and government relations manager for Coca-Cola East Africa.