Just in case you forgot to mark this one on your calendar, tomorrow June, 19 is a new dawn for Rwanda; a country that never ceases to spring out surprises. At Hidalgo Stadium, Pachuca, Mexico, history makers - Rwanda’s U 17 Junior Wasps take on England.
What a pleasant surprise that 17 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda’s U-17 football team will be among the 24 teams in the world to take to the pitch at the prestigious FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico!
The excitement is building up and the mood is in the air. For the first time, Rwanda is taking part in a prestigious global showpiece. In the FIFA U-17 world cup where the Rwandan soccer team will rub shoulders with the best from football power-houses.
It is not uncommon to find people discussing the team at a local bar or taxi park. Sports radio shows on the different FM stations have been jammed by callers making predictions.
One thing most of them agree on is that the young boys are the future of football in Rwanda.
This hope is not misplaced. The Junior Wasps is the next best thing to happen to Rwanda’s football since CAN 2004 in Tunisia.
Home crowds cheered along as the Wasps walloped Burkina Faso 2-1 in the opening game of the 9th CAF U-17 Championship, held on our home soil early this year.
We cheered on as the Wasps stunned favourites Egypt 1-0. We experienced collective disappointment when the Wasps went down to Burkina Faso in the final.
That is what football can do to a nation that, 17 years ago, stared death in the face. The Junior Wasps symbolise the resilience of a once shattered people whose spirit remains intact and growing.
They are an embodiment of the strength of Rwanda’s leadership. Playing at the world stage is one of the many firsts for a country whose recovery and development has stunned even the most optimistic.
The Junior Wasps are testimony that ‘cargo cult’ mentality – the thinking that a ship laden with all the goods one has ever wished will one day dock at a harbour that has no place on the road to success.
It takes text book preparation to succeed. The government has realised that success cannot be bought but rather requires meticulous planning.
What we are witnessing are the fruits of investment in youth development.
The various youth academies that have sprung up are an indication of a shift of approach in football development in this country.
Rwanda is in group C along with England, Uruguay and Canada. It is a tough group, no wonder team coach Richard Tardy has set a realistic target of qualifying for the second round at the tournament.
Whatever happens at the Hidalgo Stadium, the Junior Wasps will leave the turf heads high. For every yard run, every blade of grass covered, it will be done for the pride of the nation.
It will be a statement of resilience of a people and a resurgence of a nation against all odds.
The Junior Wasps story should act as a catalyst for all Rwandans in their different stations in life. For football, it’s a bar raised high for the senior national side which has been put in a humiliating situation of learning from their juniors.
It is a bitter pill that they have to swallow if they have to don the national colours.