[Mainstory] Rwandan football: At its best, amidst challenges

Before the 1994 mayhem, Rwanda’s football had few clubs registered. However after the Genocide, there are over 14 clubs that play in the Primus League which is greatly attributed to the calm atmosphere and support from the country’s leadership.

Before the 1994 mayhem, Rwanda’s football had few clubs registered. However after the Genocide, there are over 14 clubs that play in the Primus League which is greatly attributed to the calm atmosphere and support from the country’s leadership.

Armée Patriotique Rwandaise(APR) FC leading football club that has won seven Rwandan league titles and the CECAFA Cup in 2004.It was founded during the 1993 civil war.

Other teams include; AS-Kigali FC, ATRACO FC was founded is run by a public transport company ATRACO.

It recently joined the league as one of the strong teams, Mukura Victory Sports FC, one of the oldest clubs in Rwanda founded May 1963, its home ground is at Stade Huye, Espoir FC (Cyangugu), Etincelles FC (Gisenyi), Kibuye FC (Kibuye) La Jeunesse FC (Kigali), Marines FC (Gisenyi), Mukura Victory Sports FC (Butare), Police FC (Kibungo), Rayon Sport (Kigali), SC Kiyovu Sport (Kigali), Umuraybo FC (Latest) (Rwamagana) and Zèbres FC (Byumba).

However most clubs in Rwanda take up professional footballers from the region and this is because these clubs pay much more than they get at their home clubs.

 From the surface of it, it has no harm whatsoever but it puts the clubs in a very critical state of being held at ransom sometimes.

As examples, APR FC currently has 3 players from Uganda, 1 Joseph Bwalya from Zambia, Twite Kabange and several others.

Rayon Sports FC has Jackson Magesi. Other professionals in the club are 2 from Kenya, 1 from Tanzania, 2 from Burundi and one from Cameroon.

ATRACO FC is one club that has a good number of professional footballers with more than ten coming from Uganda.

According to the club’s short history, ATRACO was promoted the first division in 2006 and this year, this club qualified for African Confederation Cup Championship.

Joseph Kabagambe one of the professional footballers here in Rwanda; is a midfielder ATRACO FC.

He was born in Uganda on the 13th of December 1984 in Nsambya a Kampala suburb.

Kabagambe grew up in an environment where football was treasured and this brought about his early interest and love of it.

While still playing for Villa FC in Uganda, he joined the University.

However, due to limited time and the pressure of training and reading, he dropped out of university; he couldn’t make both ends meet. He came to Rwanda and joined Kiyovu FC.

His reasons for leaving Uganda to join ATRACO revolve around the money aspect.

“The clubs here pay more and better wages than those back home and for some one who wants to earn for what they do, the terms are very attractive” he says.

‘There are many good players in Rwandan clubs who qualify to play for ever bigger European leagues, as an example,  Joseph Bwalya from Zambia, Saka Okello from Uganda and many others just because there is less exposure of footballers to the international market.

Kabagambe believes that the trend might change because GTV (Gateway Television) a company that bought broadcasting rights from Super sport recently decided to sponsor the Ugandan League.

“Players are more likely to tramp back to Uganda after these developments because they will be getting more exposure now that the local matches will be shown live on Television” he says.

Kabagambe’s worry is that the same GTV Company has not started operating here in Rwanda and therefore the roaming professionals may move a little bit faster.

However, Stephen Kinuka, GTV Country manager told Sunday Times on Telephone that the TV’s operation is underway.

“We shall start as soon as our last stock of our equipment arrives in the country, registration is already complete,” Kinuka said.

The Minister for Youth Sports and Culture Joseph Habineza says GTV is working closely with broad casting council for clearance and registration.

“As for the players trekking back to Uganda, that is expected and very normal because model foot ball today is becoming more and more competitive.

 The higher pay will better the league. More exposure is what will entice players to stay and play for a particular Club” The Minister says.

Habineza also said it is not only Ugandans and the other professionals from various countries that will move for greener pastures, but also Rwandans who are in need of all that is there to be offered.

“What we have to do is to look for ways of offering more attractive terms and getting more sponsors.

 Right now we have more professionals because we are offering better services than any country in the region which is good for both the clubs and players, so if there is competition which is healthy, then we should just embrace the challenge.

Daniel Kasule, Sports Editor at The New Times says the reason why there are more foreign players in Rwanda is the Money element.

“Here players are paid more than in their places of origin and this is attributed to the value of the Rwandan currency.”

He says another issue is that Clubs in Rwanda have a strong financial base and this makes it easier for them to pay players as professionals.

“Some players escape from their countries and to come to play in Rwanda because of the political instabilities back home like Congo.

Rwanda’s political stability is luring and players prefer it here” says Kasule.

Kasule adds that the love people have for sports here in Rwanda is another factor that motivates players to come to Rwanda and play.

 “Most players love to play for people who love the sport and Rwanda is one such a place with that kind of crowd”.

Rwandans love their soccer no doubt.

One of those annual events that portray this is the national premier league, which takes Rwandans by a storm. Last Saturday only was a big day for soccer lovers at Amahoro Stadium.

There was a lot of excitement all over and there was hardly any other talk except that of the big match that would decide who of the three big clubs would take the Rwandan premier league title.

The big game was between APR FC (Armée Patriotique Rwandaise Football Club) and Rayon FC.

Rayon had to win the game which would give it the premiership title but failed after conceding a 2:2 draw.

This left APR FC with the chance of taking the lead if ATRACO FC failed to win all three of its remaining matches which it did after drawing with the Police.

To a non football funs, this left them mesmerised by the huge number of fans leaving the stadium after the game with the excited faces of the hopefuls mixing with the disappointed looks from the defeated.

 Also on a day like this, thousands of fans walk all the way to Amahoro stadium to watch how their favourite teams take on rival ones.

One can easily tell from the turn up and the eager faces that the love for the home teams is still flourishing in the country.

Though most players in the clubs are professional footballers from the neighbouring countries, fans and players seem to bother about that.

They just dedicated to their clubs unlike other clubs in region who have resorted to international football, branding their football boring.

Football Leagues in Rwanda

Primus National Soccer League is the only league and is the highest and most craved cup in Rwandan football.

The league was formed in 1975. The best four clubs from the second division qualify to play in this league and the last four are relegated annually.

Some of the teams in the second division include Asport, Electrogaz, Musanzwe among many.

There are also tournaments played through out the season like the Primus Cup, and the famous Amahoro Cup.

The National Football Team

The Rwanda national football team, nicknamed the Wasps (Amavubi), is controlled by the Fédération Rwandaise de Football Amateur.

Though they have never qualified for the World Cup finals, and only reached their first African Nations Cup in 2004, this National team has a rich history of taking the CECAFA Cup twice. (1998 and 2001).

Some of the celebrated players in the team include; Désiré Mbonabucya, Olivier Karekezi  and Jimmy Gatete.