Mwajuma | Playing Football in Zanzibar
In story three, meet Zanzibarian footballer Mwajuma Abdallah Abdillahi. Becoming one of the first players on a Women’s team allowed Mwajuma to feel accepted, showcase her talent, and truly belong.
Mwajuma Abdallah Abdillahi was six when she realised she was good at football. Not just good, but talented. Watching the boys play, she yearned to join but never dared to ask. Until one afternoon, they were short a player and invited her in. The game ignited a new passion in Mwajuma that she couldn’t shake — barefoot and all. Football was different and in many ways, and so was she.
Challenging the status quo
Back in Chwaka, her Zanzibari village, girls didn’t play football. They focus on “getting married and living a normal life”. So playing football seemed disrespectful to her village, and although Mwajuma was bullied and called a Tom Boy, that didn’t stop her because football made her happy.
But her choice isn’t always easy. The Muslim faith on the island, parents in the community, and the lack of support makes it hard to play football professionally. With very few female players in Zanzibar, the number of teams is limited, reducing player diversity and new talent.
“My village didn’t like the things I was doing because it was against my culture. I was seen as disrespectful, a hooligan, but I didn’t let that stop me.”
Although the Zanzibar Football Association (ZFA) is a member of CECAFA (Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations) and has 16 Men’s Premier Leagues and Clubs, Zanzibar City has no Women’s League and is still not recognised by FIFA. So Mwajuma and her team play for the love of the game, not for the championships.
Playing for the love of the game
Has Mwajuma ever considered quitting? Sure, she’s thought about it because there’s no reliable way to earn a living playing football in Zanzibar, so it can feel like she’s wasting her time. But Mwajuma has a plan that keeps her motivated. She hopes that one day her team can play football in Europe. Having this goal gives her the hope that she can do anything, and that’s why she’s still in the game.
In her village, playing football might mean never getting married. But on the pitch as team captain, it’s a whole other world. Playing football, she feels respected, appreciated and accepted. In her darkest times, football was the glimmer of hope that pulled her through, especially when her mom passed away, her one steadfast supporter. Without any siblings, parents or friends, she used to feel alone in the world.
Joining a football team felt like choosing a new family. They don’t just play; they support one another and help each other through difficult times. When she’s with her team, there’s no judgement or namecalling because football brings people together, and as the saying goes, “Bird of a feather flock together.” And as Mwajuma says, “Even though we come from different places, we all speak the same language.”
So far, Mwajuma has travelled to many countries for tournaments where she’s made new friends and seen how other players play.
“I don’t listen to what others say. Football is the thing I choose. The thing I will fight for because it is my passion.”
Joining a football team felt like choosing a new family. They don’t just play football together, they support one another in life and help each other through the difficult times. When she’s with her team, there’s no judgement or namecalling, because football brings people together, and as the saying goes, “Bird of a feather flock together.” And as Mwajuma says, “Even though we come from different places we all speak the same language.” So far, Mwajuma has traveled to many different countries for tournaments where she’s made new friends and seen how other people play.
Making connections online
Aside from playing football, social media has helped Mwajuma connect with friends and build her community. In times of loneliness, she plays games on her phone and turns to Instagram. Alongside connecting with friends, Instagram has also helped her develop new skills by following other football players and learning from their moves. She’s even chatted with the daughter of the legendary Argentinian football player Maradona.
Like football, social media brings people together from all over the world.
“Social media, like Instagram, has also helped me to make friends, to follow other football players, which helped me to develop my skills.”
The Internet also provides a way for Mwajuma to stay in touch with friends from other countries, like Kenya, where she plays in competitions. By connecting on Instagram and Whatsapp, her new friends quickly feel like sisters, and that’s the kind of connection you can’t fake.
Leading by example
Since Zanzibar still doesn’t have a Women’s League, it’s hard for Mwajuma’s team to generate support. Still, as a proud Zanzibarian and Tanzanian, she hopes that she can represent the country on a global scale one day. The connection between the two regions has helped her feel free to go where she wants in Africa. Not just as a citizen, but as a proud and happy Black person.
“I am also proud and happy to be African and Black. I like being African. I see peace and freedom to go where you want to go in Africa.”
Even though other villagers tell her there’s no future in football, Mwajuma has a vision: to become a coach and teach others how to play. In true Zanzibarian fashion, she’d like to use her talents to help out the community.
Today, Zanzibar, tomorrow the world
Mwajuma believes in God’s bigger plan and that everything happens at the right time. Despite the hardships, her role is to lead by example. To show her country that football is not disrespectful but rather an honour. To play football for Zanzibar in a global arena would mean representing a country with 1.3 million people and showing the world how much talent Zanzibar City has to offer.
“As for my future, I would like to use my talent to teach people to play football and later on coach. I want to lead as an example to help other people in Zanzibar and the community in general.”
Football is a game that means something different to every player. For Mwajuma, it means passion, family, and belonging. It’s also an opportunity to encourage a new generation of women to follow their dreams.
Watch Mwajuma play football in Zanzibar in our new documentary series, The Power of Connection.