This week I chose not to comment on events in Kenya. They are saddening and yet I had already set myself up to be in a good mood as the days drew close to a momentous event in Rwanda.
The launch of the much anticipated Gahanga Cricket Stadium. Many of my friends love to label me as one not keen on sports simply because I have no interest in the English Premier league or other cool sports like Formula 1.
However there is still some room for sports in my life. I enjoy football when it is at the international level and I really do enjoy watching cricket and rugby. The interest in cricket can largely be traced to having attended secondary school in a place where the game is close to a religion – Busoga College Mwiri in eastern Uganda.
When I moved to Rwanda in 2005, I found myself bored on weekends so I asked a friend if there were any people playing cricket in Rwanda and where.
I was taken to meet Lucas Murenzi who then worked with Bata Rwanda (now with Rwanda’s High Commission in Singapore) who without hesitation made a call to Charles Haba (an alumni of Busoga College Mwiri) and told him I wanted to meet Rwanda’s cricket fraternity.
IPRC Kicukiro is where Rwanda’s cricket fraternity had set base and here I felt at home and made some of my first friends in Rwanda.
The ground was not all that and the game was largely an affair for Rwandans of Indian origin. There was just one team (Right Guards Cricket Club) that was not made up of Indians and sometimes it did not even have a full squad but the hope and desire to grow the game was not in short supply.
Some of the players like Hamza Nkuutu and Julius Mbaraga were already journalists at The New Times and the end of the game often meant having to sit and file a story about a game most Rwandans hardly knew a thing about.
I went to the IPRC Kicukiro grounds a couple of times and some of the first Kinyarwanda words I learnt included how to tell a motorcycle taxi guy to take me from Sonatubes roundabout to these grounds.
During the games some curious onlookers often showed up and wore bemused faces the whole time, wondering what game this was. To be fair it can be a very confusing game to get your head around the first time. Eventually some of the onlookers got the courage to try out the game and later became good at it.
Veteran players like Dennis Taga, Haba, Nkuutu, Emmanuel Byiringiro and others slowly made way for the new younger Rwandan players to master the game and run away with it.
The veterans then focused on spreading the game to some schools and also finding a real cricket ground. At one time a student of mine was a member of the Rwanda Under 19 national team and I always felt a sense of pride explaining to the headmaster why he should allow this boy to leave school to attend to national duties.
After some years, I was back at the Kicukiro grounds for a charity game where I played for the Uganda expatriates. Each team featured two girls and when the game ended I remember having a chat with the Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) president, Charles Haba, commending him on the progress the game had made over the years.
In short, RCA had not only overseen the growth and professionalization of the game it had also ensured that a formidable women’s team was in place. What was missing was a real cricket ground.
Gahanga Cricket Stadium in Kicukiro sector cements the journey of cricket in Rwanda. A beautiful ground with a club house designed to mimic a bouncing ball (probably going out for four runs) in a way also shows how Rwanda has over the years bounced back from being a hopeless country to one that is the envy of many.
I must commend the Government of Rwanda for offering the land on which the game of cricket will now be played and the British Charity, Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation for all the efforts invested in seeing this dream come to reality.
For Haba and his friends congratulations for this great achievement. I hope more grounds will come up and our young people will embrace the game and keep Rwanda’s flag flying high. May be next time I will be writing about a Rwandan featuring in the Indian Premier League.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times.