Why Kenya has become a major destination for Rwandan players

Former Rayon Sports skipper Eric ‘Bakame’ Ndayishimiye joined Kenyan giants AFC Leopards earlier this week. File photo.

The Kenyan Premier League has of recent become a major destination for Rwandan football players.

As of today, seven Rwandans are playing in this league for different clubs.

Only in the last five months, six players from different Azam Rwanda Premier League sides left the country for Kenya.

First it was former Police skipper Justin Mico who joined Sofapaka FC in June, with the Rwanda international followed by a five-man contingent of Rwandan players who all signed with different teams last month.

Those include former Rayon Sports captain and Amavubi goalkeeper Eric ‘Bakame’ Ndayishimiye, who joined AFC Leopards earlier this week; Amini Muzerwa and goalie Emery Mvuyekure, who are at Tusker FC; Gabriel Mugabo, who now plies his trade with Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), and Soter Kayumba who joined Mico at Sofapaka.

these joined compatriot Jacques Tuyisenge, who features for 17-time champions Gor Mahia since February 2016.

Of the seven Rwandans, only former Rayon Sports left-back Mugabo is yet to receive a call-up to the senior national football league.

Recently, Rwandan football has been deemed a failure mainly due to below par performances of the national team, Amavubi.

This has been due to a number of reasons, including poor football management by Rwanda Football Association (Ferwafa) who seem to have completely failed to put in place a proper system to develop the sport in the country.

Many would agree with me that they have even failed to try.

The national football league is supposed to be a platform to groom football talent that can fly high the national flag, has remained an amateur league with no development and for the past few years, it was a miracle for a Rwandan player turning professional or making it to advanced leagues on the continent or overseas.

However, for the past few months, Rwandan players seem to have broken the chains and rolled up their sleeves with a number of them not only landing contracts with clubs in Morocco, Tunisia and top clubs in Kenya, but also securing deals with teams from as far as Kuwait, India and Belarus.

What is behind this new adventure by Rwandan players exploring new leagues and turning professional, which – hopefully – will contribute to the revival of the national team, Amavubi?

Amavubi head coach Vincent Mashami says it is a good and impactful step – for the national team – for Rwandan players to find clubs in better and more competitive leagues.

“The difference between our (Rwanda) league and Kenya Premier League is not easy to measure, but I believe it is not big either. We are relatively at the same level,” Mashami said.

Nonetheless, the former APR coach believes that the experience of playing in a different environment will instill in Kenya-based Rwandan players a sense of wanting to prove a point or two, which will make them work more so they can be called to Amavubi.

“For instance, Tuyisenge has notably improved his level since joining Gor Mahia in 2016. If everyone else did the same, we would have a stronger national team in two years,” he further noted.

Amavubi assistant captain Tuyisenge is convinced that Rwandan players have the ability to flourish in Kenya Premier League, saying that Kenyan clubs are looking  to sign talented Rwandan players.

Kenyan teams have turned to Rwandans instead.

“Kenyan teams are richer compared to those in Azam Rwanda Premier League, which I am sure is one of the reasons (behind more Rwandans players’ transfers to Kenya), we are all in football – to make a living. When you are financially stable as a player, then you focus more on your football,” said Tuyisenge.

Former Police FC forward Tuyisenge joined Gor Mahia on a reported transfer fee of US$40,000 (about Rwf35 million) after captaining Amavubi to the quarter-finals of the 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Kigali.

Since then, the 27-year old has not only been a key member of the club but also one of the most influential players in Kenya’s club football.

Football agent Patrick Gakumba, who orchestrated Tuyisenge’s move to Gor, says the Kenyan topflight league is more competitive than Rwanda’s and “Rwandan players are finally opening their eyes and realising that they have been settling for less.”

“The Kenyan league is more competitive, and teams there have money to attract the best talents in the region. There is no doubt Kenyan teams are opening up for Rwandan players because of the success of Tuyisenge and Meddie Kagere in their league.”

Kagere, 30, left Gor Mahia in June this year after three years with the club he helped to two league titles among other notable achievements.

Along with Tuyisenge, the duo formed what Kenyan media described as “The most lethal combination upfront” in Kenya Premier League.