LAST WEEK there was a cabinet reshuffle that saw nine new faces in the cabinet. One appointee though, was not quite new. Joseph Habineza made a return to a position he resigned from three years.
Now ‘Joe’ is not your usual minister. He can be stern and casual in equal measure; a trait that has endeared him to many especially the youth. His reappointment was well received as reflected in the infamous #JoeWhileYouWereAway hash tag.
Apart from congratulating Joe on his reappointment, in my opinion, there is little to celebrate. If we can have a memory that stretches a little longer than three years, we will realise that the current challenges that bedevil this ministry were prevalent even during Joe’s first stint in office.
The difference this time around is that the amiable minister has been offered an opportunity to put right what went wrong under his watch.
Few have had this opportunity from the appointing authority whose standards are characteristically very high. It is a daunting task for Joe but not impossible. One area that the Honourable Minister would want to look into is mass sports. At policy level, the whole concept of mass sports is well documented but it falls short at implementation level.
In its current state mass sports has been made to look like an elitist undertaking. The attempt to get people involved in sports activities has seen mainly government employees enjoy the luxury of taking off every Friday afternoon to do sports.
One Friday afternoon while I was in Kigali, I bumped into a crowd of government employees with their minister leading the line. They had occupied the entire stretch of the road from Parliament to the Chez Lando roundabout en-route to the Amahoro stadium.
At first glance it looked like a demonstration of sorts but a friend was quick to remind me that the officials were doing Vendredi sports! What baffled me was how these civil servants could be allowed to block traffic on a busy airport road in the name of doing sports. This is where we get it wrong. Promoting mass sports will take more than having civil servants take a Friday evening off to walk on high ways or paying expensive subscriptions to city gyms. Few ever make it to these facilities.
This is where the ministry should come in: to take the lead in fashioning out a sustainable roadmap to promote mass sport for the benefit of the entire population; young, old, rich, poor, urban or rural.
There is need for a campaign (with the Sports ministry taking the lead) for mindset change in how the whole concept of sports is perceived by the population.
Our society sees sports as a preserve for the affluent, and the current practice reaffirms this unfortunate mentality.
As Rwanda strives to promote a wealthier and healthier population, the importance of sports cannot be over emphasised.
Recently I had a discussion with Dr Cui Yongqiang, a chief physician at Guang’anmen hospital in Beijing. He told me that Sub-Saharan countries like Rwanda have to do more to tackle the double health threat of Malaria and non-communicable or lifestyle diseases.
And as he rightly put it, promotion of mass sports is one way of ensuring a healthy population.
My stay in China has further illuminated the whole concept of Mass Sports and its importance in promoting healthier lifestyle. Under the guidance of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of Modern China, mass sports has been entrenched in the Chinese society.
It is not uncommon to find 80 year olds performing Taichi in the parks and open spaces or old women doing the aged disco gymnastics to stay fit. It is such fun to see.
Workers in big departmental stores hold morning stretching sessions before starting on the day’s work. Government workers take walk breaks around their offices. This is what happens when sports or any form of physical activity gets embedded within a people’s culture.
And this is not just in the capital Beijing. I have seen the same trend in the poor communities of Ningxia, Ghizhou and Guandong.
Public spaces have been designated and simple sports equipment installed in busy locations for public use. Access is free.
Cities like Kigali can also champion this cause.
Recently the City unveiled a Rwf15.6 billion budget for 2014/15 fiscal year with part of the money going into construction of recreational facilities and public parks.
As they move to implement this plan, one place to learn from would be the South China City of Shenzen with which they signed a MoU five years ago. Shenzhen is a green city just as Kigali aspires to be.
Though officials on both sides acknowledge that little contact has been made since the signing of the MoU, the promotion of mass sports should be seen as an opportunity to rekindle this cooperation.
The writer is a Foreign Resident Correspondent in Beijing, China