THE Confederation of African Football (Caf) president Issa Hayatou visited Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre yesterday and laid a wreath in honour of the Genocide victims.
During his visit, Hayatou was briefed about what happened during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. He was accompanied by his vice president and chairman of Chan commission Almamy Kabele Camara, Caf secretary general, Hicham El Amrani and local football federation officials.
In his remarks shortly after touring the centre, Hayatou said that genocide should never be allowed to occur in any country again.
“What happened here in 1994 should never be allowed to occur in any country, be it in Africa or in the world. As Caf, we are here to show the world that we can be united by the use of a powerful tool called football. Football is a powerful force that reaches out to everyone; fostering positive transformation and development in many lands,” Hayatou noted.
He observed that football provides entertainment, fosters friendship, peace and inspires generations, on top of significantly contributing to fighting disease, poverty, fostering unity and development.
Hayatou commended President Kagame and the government of Rwanda for the tremendous work they have done towards promoting peace, unity and reconciliation among Rwandans in a period of less than two decades.
Hayatou who also doubles as the Fifa vice president represented Fifa boss Joseph Sepp Blatter at the 20th commemoration event of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi held on Monday at Amahoro stadium.
Since the atrocities of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi where one million people were killed, Rwanda has made tremendous strides and re-emerged stronger.
Central to the country’s development has been the significant contribution of football in fostering unity and reconciliation. The unique influence and power of football to bring a people together, reuniting them as one and helping them rebuild lives has been critical.
Caf’s support to Rwanda will reinforce the Confederation’s standpoint and determination to use the power of football to reach out to millions of people and inspire them into positive transformation.
The 1994 Genocide touched lives worldwide.
However, Rwanda emerged from the massacre and embarked on a reconciliation journey. In that re-emergence, a bleeding nation found the first strings of reconciliation and unity in a common ground- the football field.
Just a few months after the Genocide, Rwandans gathered at Amahoro stadium where the first post-genocide football match in the country took place on September 11, 1994 pitting SC Kiyovu against Rayon Sports.
Thousands trooped to the stadium to attend one common uniting event, one event that would bring them back together as one people and one nation: “Watching and enjoying a game of football”.
Football matches became more than mere contests. The games meant more than playing and winning a match. Football became a healing and reconciliation tool.
“After the Genocide, we used to play football for unity and reconciliation,” former Amavubi skipper Olivier Karekezi said.
Recently retired from international football, Karekezi reckons that the unity and togetherness forged by the people in the aftermath of the Genocide provided them with the bedrock for a successful run in the qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations 2004.
The Amavubi qualified for the final tournament hosted by Tunisia. They lost their opening match 2-1 to the hosts, drew 1-1 with Guinea and beat DR Congo 1-0 to finish third in Group A.
“Even if Amavubi went into Afcon 2004 and got eliminated at the group stage, the important thing of just qualifying was achieved,” says Karekzi before adding: “ The 1994 Genocide left Rwanda with a gap, we couldn’t easily fill without football.”
The genocide took the lives of many players, referees, sports journalists and other key personalities who were synonymous with the popular sport. Young and old and promising talents were lost.
Rwandan football history will record such names as goalkeeper Louis Kirenga of Rwinkwavu who was famed for wonderful sportsmanship and fair play.
If there is anywhere, where the football field has demonstrated its power of unity, Rwanda stands out. From grieving and mourning, the people have rallied to set aside language and tribal barriers, religious differences, ethnicity, regionalism and all forms of segregation to speak one language – football.
How much football means and how it has healed a nation can still be measured in many different ways. The football measure is impossible to quantify because it stretches into the future.
Generation after generation, football will be played, generation after generation the story of the Genocide will be told and generation after generation; the game will be played and protected because it is the keeper and protector of the people.
In that long journey and love for the game that has continued to transform the people, Rwanda welcomes the continent and world to its land.
The next big thing in Rwandan football – the 2016 African Nations Championship (Chan) – the biggest continental football championship ever, comes to Kigali in two years’ time, five years after the successful Caf Under-17 championship in 2011 which followed the success of the 2009 Africa Youth championship.