Sports is very popular in Rwanda. In the past, the country has suffered great political turbulence caused by the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. In particular, sports which is a big part of the social fabric was quite evidently affected by this situation.
Fifteen years down the road, football, basketball, volleyball and athletics are some of the major sporting disciplines that have several genocide survivors excelling in their trade.
In 1994, the local football body, Ferwafa re-opened competitions and entered the international fray once again.
Five years later, Ferwafa started receiving support from Fifa.
In the same period (1999), Rwanda hosted the coveted Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup which she went on to win. This was a turning point in local football.
From this time, Ferwafa continued to elevate the country’s football standards. The country also got great applauds from their neighbouring countries for some of its great players like Olivier Karekezi, Jimmy Gatete and Jimmy Mulisa.
In 2003, the trio plying their profession with APR at the time had grown into regional figures.
Karekezi, a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, who is on the books of Norwegian side Ham Kam, says that he has used football to drag himself through this nightmare. He lost his parents and two brothers during the mayhem.
“That’s all in the past now. I want to forget all about it and move on,” he said. He says that playing football for APR, Amavubi and in Europe has been so important to him.
“When I go on to a football pitch, I am able to forget everything that has happened to me in the past,” he said.
Karekezi was one of Rwanda’s outstanding players during the 2004 CAN finals in Tunisia and although Rwanda missed out on the 2008 Ghana CAN finals, the face of Rwandan football is focused on the final qualifying round of the 2010 World/Africa Cup.
Amavubi Stars will play Egypt, Zambia and Algeria in the final round set for March, 2009.
Karekezi, who is the Amavubi Stars captain, has also used football to show the world that Rwanda is now free of segregation along ethnic lines.
“All that is finished because there is nothing Hutu or Tutsi now, we are all Rwandans. That’s all that counts now,” he adds.
Dieudonne Disi, a two-time Olympian is not so different from Karekezi.
Disi, a world-class half-marathoner with a personal best of 59 minutes grew up in the war-torn Rwanda and at the age of 14 witnessed his entire family massacred in 1994. But that did not stop him from competing in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“When I was growing up, there was no television but I followed the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta on the radio. I thought it was amazing that a Rwandan was able to finish 8th in the 10,000 meters. In 2000, I realized that I was good at running so I decided to try and exploit it,” he recalled.
Four years later, Disi took part in the Olympic Games in Athens were he finished 17th. With minimal experience at this level, he was contented with his performance.
In 2005, Disi represented Rwanda at the Francophone Games where he scooped his first gold medal in the 10,000 meters. He also picked up a bronze medal in the 5,000meters. To understand the magnitude of Disi’s achievement, it is crucial to consider his experience in 1994.
“After the death of my family, I don’t remember much but in the end, everyone within 400 meters was dead. I have never forgotten that my father asked me to pray moments before he was massacred.
I used to pray every day with my family but when my family died, I stopped praying. For five years I did not pray. A few years later I was asking myself why my family who had prayed was all now dead. Where are they now?
But I had confidence that my family and friends who perished were in heaven. I realized that if I was ever going to see my family again, I needed to start praying again. The only way I could get closer to my family again was through prayer.
“In the Bible, it says that there is only one way to heaven, Jesus Christ. If you are to get to heaven, it can only be through Jesus Christ. For me Jesus Christ is the way to heaven and the way to God.” Disi said.
Despite what has happened in his life after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Disi has done a lot to help local athletes on the local scene.
While on vacation in Kigali, he usually conducts training sessions with upcoming athletes and it is through his day to day advice that some of these youngsters have learnt to move on.
In cycling an initiative, called Project Rwanda is committed to furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope.
According to their mission statement, the goal of this project is use the bicycle to help boost the Rwandan economy as well as re-brand Rwanda as a beautiful and safe place to do business and visit freely.