Cricket has grown rapidly in Rwanda over the last few years, despite the country having very limited facilities. Construction on a dedicated cricket stadium is due to begin in October after years of fundraising. The final step to make the dream a reality is a World Record attempt to play cricket on top of Kilimanjaro. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
If you mention the words “Africa” and “cricket” to any average cricket fan, they are only likely to be aware of South Africa and Zimbabwe’s participation in the sport. Some might remember Kenya from its heyday, but it’s unlikely that many will know about cricket in Rwanda.
The sport has been growing rapidly in the country over the last few years and it first started when Charles Haba, now president and one of the founders of the Rwanda Cricket Association, and some of his friends returned from Uganda and Kenya after the Rwandan genocide. With them, they brought a love for cricket. The sport didn’t exist in Rwanda yet, but seven men were determined to change all that.
The group had some equipment and a few more pieces donated to them by Asian businessmen. A couple of old bats and old balls were all it took to introduce cricket to the country.
“Every success story begins with a passion. The rest is history,” Haba says.
They certainly had the passion and it all grew from there. The Rwandan Cricket Association was founded in 1999 and in 2003, Rwanda became an Affiliate Member of the International Cricket council. It might sound like a fairytale, and that’s because it is to an extent. The game is now played competitively across the country and Rwanda competes both internationally and at school level. A club league consists of three club tournaments, a school competition and a university competition.
But one thing that has remained a struggle for those who love the sport is access to facilities. There is just one dedicated cricket facility in the country. The Kicukiro Oval in Kigali is hardly efficient, and it is also haunting.
Almost two decades ago, the ground that is now Rwanda Cricket’s Headquarters, the College of Technology – formerly Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO) – was a place of refuge during the genocide. The UN’s peacekeepers watched over those hoping for safety. At one stage, the campus was swamped by a mob and over 5,000 were killed either on the campus grounds or after being shifted.
But where there is love and passion, there is also kindness. Over the last few years, the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation has raised funds to build two new pitches at a location in Gahanga, just outside of Kigali. In 2013, 22-year-old Alby Shale, the son of the charity’s founder Christopher Shale, set a new Guinness World Record for the longest cricket nets session. Shale spent 26 hours in the indoor nets at The Oval in London.
And now a final attempt is underway to raise all the funds needed to begin construction. Mt. Kili Madness is another World Record attempt. It will see two teams scale Kilimanjaro to play the world’s highest ever game of competitive cricket.
The expedition, which takes place in September, will also raise funds for Cancer Research UK as well as Tusk, an anti-poaching charity. Amongst the players involved are South Africa’s very own Makhaya Ntini, England international Heather Knight, former England captain Clare Connor and former England player Ashley Giles.
The facilities will serve has a home not only for the enthusiastic cricketers, but also for other sports. Orphans and other players from disadvantaged backgrounds will use it as a refuge as a remarkable country continues its remarkable journey after devastation swept through it.
With the 20th anniversary of the genocide approaching, cricket is helping the people of the country move forward. That history can and should never be forgotten, but the love and passion for the game, carried forth by just a few men with a dream, has created a new hope and new life for many boys and girls.
The youngsters who suffered through the strife are bonded by their love for the game. Rwanda’s National Women’s captain has often said that “those who get to know cricket, never quit” to reiterate just how much the sport can affect change.
Rwanda’s growth is a feel-good story in-between the rubble of administrative messes cricket often finds itself in. Despite adversity, it has grown exponentially in a very short space of time. In 2010, Rwanda’s Under-19 girls beat Kenya in a game and in 2011, the men’s team won in the ICC Africa Division 3 Championship in Ghana, beating the Seychelles in a play-off. This just 10 years after the country’s cricket association was first formed.
“Rwandan cricket has come a long way since its conception in 1999. Plenty of milestones have been reached in spite of major infrastructural challenges. Thanks to the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, the planned national ground will act as a springboard for arguably the fastest growing team sport in Rwanda to reach a playing audience we could only have dreamed of,” Haba said.
The stadium will be a big step in helping to attract touring teams to the country. It’s not been possible up until now due to lack of facilities. A stadium could also be the first step in hosting future ICC tournaments, which will help generate funds, raise the profile of the game in the country even further and, possibly encourage tourism.
Nelson Mandala once said that cricket spoke a language beyond that of politicians, and there is no greater proof than cricket in Rwanda. DM
Photo: A 2004 file photo view of glaciers on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. EPA/STEPHEN MORRISON
"Go down this set of stairs and then just run - run as fast as you can." ~ Lt David Brink, 9/11