The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi left many people traumatised by the effects of the tragedy in which over one million people were killed.
After stopping the Genocide, the government faced a big challenge of rebuilding the country. One of the steps taken was fostering reconciliation and to heal the wounds of survivors. Sport was among the many tools used to foster unity and reconciliation. Indeed, (cricket is one of the sports disciplines which have played a significant role towards fostering unity in the post-Genocide Rwanda).
Introduced in Rwanda 16 years ago, the sport has become a symbol of unity in the country. Over the years, cricket has become popular, resulting into the ongoing construction of an international stadium. Rwanda competes in regional and continental competitions.
As for the players, the game signifies far more than just hitting a hard ball with a bat and running around the field.
Veronic Iriho, the captain of White Clouds women cricket club, says cricket has capacity to unite people, stimulate confidence and teamwork.
“For the case of Rwanda, cricket has offered the distressed and traumatized a platform to heal and reconcile,” Iriho said.
Ironically, Kicukiro cricket ground, where local cricket events are played, happened to be the garrison of massive killings in the course of the genocide in 1994.
It is said that, during the 100 day mayhem, about 2000 people, who had sought refuge in the college at Kicukiro, were all slaughtered by Hutu killers.
When the United Nations had withdrawn its troops, blood-thirsty gangs, using grenades and machetes, killed almost all people, who had sought refuge in the school.
Several members of the Rwanda cricket fraternity are Genocide survivors. Among them is one of the top players in the country, Audifax Byiringiro, who lost his parents during the Genocide.
And the repercussion was hard for him to embrace in the first few years after the Genocide but as time went by, Byiringiro found solace in cricket.
“Cricket has helped me cope well in the absentia of my dear ones,” he said, adding that, “the cricket environment keeps you occupied, the jokes around the oval and the tight work in order to win games makes you get on well and keeps your mind away from thinking about what happened but rather move on,” he noted.
He further noted that, “I lost my parents and three siblings. Life was so bad at the time, but with cricket, life got back to normal and I have hope for a better future.”
Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA), general manager, Bridget Uwineza says that cricket is a sport of hope, that is why they organize Peace Tournaments every year.
She noted that, “Every year, the national team plays with children as part of peace building efforts and over 8000 children throughout the country have so far been introduced to the game.”
Kigali Cricket club and Rwanda international all-rounder, Don De Dieu Mugisha, says ever since he was introduced to the sport, his life rotates around cricket.
“In cricket, I have forged a great bond of brotherhood, cricketers are like brothers and sisters, we live like a family, we learn from each other, we share ideas and even eat together. It has become a symbol of love and unity for all of us,” Mugisha noted.
National cricket team captain Eric Dusingizimana says that, “Cricket as a game is an array of unity; it brings people together from all ages and both genders, it has no boundaries.”
“Every year, RCA organizes memorial tournaments (peace tournaments) in commemoration of our dear ones who perished in the Genocide and this season, we are planning to invite many more regional teams,” he noted.
Over the last couple of years, the local cricket fraternity has been helping survivors in Ntarama in Bugesera district, but plans are underway to widen the scope to helping other survivors from other parts of the country, especially the most affected.