Tracing the emergence of cricket in a liberated Rwanda

The state-of-the-art Gahanga Cricket Stadium was inaugurated by President Kagame on October 28, 2017. Net.

On Sunday, June 23, 2019, Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) hosted the finale of 6th Genocide Memorial Cricket Tournament at the magnificent Gahanga Cricket Stadium. The event is also known as Kwibuka Women’s T20 Cricket for Peace Tournament.

It was early December 2008 when the Rwanda under-19 girls travelled to Nairobi for the first ever international engagement for women and here they were, ten years later, hosting their own international tournament for a sixth time. Four national teams took part; Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Mali, with Tanzania emerging as champions.

This is the story of the new Rwanda, as we mark 25 years of the country‘s liberation from the dark days of pre-July 1994. It was in the ashes and the debris of the struggle for the liberation of Rwanda that new ideas as novel as introducing the game of cricket to a historically francophone country were born.

The mid to late 1990s were very difficult times all across Rwanda. There was uncertainty, insecurity and an ever present sense of danger of attacks from the remnants of the genocidal forces that lurked across the border in the DRC. And yet amid all this tension, there was a lot of optimism too! Rwanda was teeming with thousands upon thousands of youthful and energetic recent returnees eager to make a home of a desolate land they had only heard of in folklore from their formerly exiled parents.

When the national university re-opened in 1996, it inadvertently became a milieu of so much diversity bringing in youth from all of Rwanda’s global Diaspora. Among these were the Anglophones from mainly Uganda and Kenya who brought with them the most quintessential of Anglophone sport; CRICKET!

Dear reader, as benign as school yard play that is how the romantic story of the gentlemen’s (and ladies’) game in Rwanda began. Almost 20 years later, it would be safe to say that had it not been for the winds of change blowing all across Rwanda, Cricket would have probably had a short-lived anecdotal existence at the National University of Rwanda and folded with the exit of the few enthusiasts that brought it to the campus.

All credit goes to the RPF-led government – of national unity and reconciliation – that ushered in VISION 2020 in the early 2000s at about the same time our Cricket pioneers were graduating from the university. There was a renaissance of sorts with an extraordinary impetus to make things happen and it is no coincidence that Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) was formed and got admitted into the international Cricket Council (ICC) in the short space of 3 years between 2000 and 2003.

Rwanda was bursting with a new energy post the 2003 presidential elections.

Construction projects were mushrooming everywhere; life was beginning to get exciting and even the unfancied Amavubi, the men’s national football team, managed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2004. It was in this general euphoria that the Rwanda senior men’s Cricket team made their debut at an ICC tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2004.

Seven odd years later, yet again soon after another presidential election in 2010, which renewed President Kagame’s mandate at the helm of the RPF-led government, the Rwanda men’s Cricket team made another milestone. In February 2011, Rwanda won the Africa Division 3 tournament hosted in Accra, Ghana.

There was a pattern emerging and it was not about to stop; in 2017 Rwanda held yet another round of elections and returned the President along with a majority for the RPF in parliament, and that meant that the government continued its developmental programmes and projects uninterrupted.

Among those projects was the construction of the Gahanga Cricket Stadium under the ministry of sports and culture, with support from the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF), an international NGO.  The Rwandan Cricket fraternity was elated when President Paul Kagame accepted the invitation to be the guest of honor for the opening ceremony of the new addition to Kigali’s iconic landmarks.

On October 28, 2017, the Gahanga Cricket Stadium was officially opened to the public by the Head of State. This date shall be permanently etched in history as the watershed moment that launched Rwanda Cricket onto the global scene as a venue for international cricket.

If there was need for proof this was it; there is no doubt that the fortunes of Rwanda cricket have been closely pegged on the progress Rwanda has made as a nation with the exemplary leadership of President Kagame and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) post the liberation struggle that ended on this day, July 4, twenty-five ago.

As we all celebrate 25 years of the liberation of our country, let us remember those that made it all possible. Many are no longer with us but we can honor their ultimate sacrifice with our relentless pursuit of making Rwanda the envy of the world in all spheres of life.

For those that were part of the liberation struggle and are still with us, we salute you! Your struggle was not in vain; we celebrate you and promise to make you proud by our own efforts to unleash Rwanda’s full potential.

To paraphrase the words attributed to John Winthrop, an American pilgrim, and adopted as a mantra by President Ronald Reagan, “We will make Rwanda a shining city on a hill!”




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