Rwanda Invests More in Sports to Improve Image


By Stephen Ouma Bwire
AFTER years of insecurity perpetrated by elements of defeated Interahamwe militiamen of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, Rwanda has been on an ambitious programme to build her image. Perturbed by the 1994 genocide where at least one million people are believed to have died after Hutus and Tutsis clashed, the Paul Kagame-led administration has succeeded in using sports as an essential vehicle to unite their people and build the country's image.

The central African country was in the past divided mainly along the Tutsi and Hutu tribal groupings, which culminated in the 1994 genocide after Habyarimana's death. But the heavy investment made by the Rwandese government in sports has helped to cover up for the memories of the past. Rwandans are today identified as one without the Hutu - Tutsi linings.

Government's support has helped the country to build one of the strongest and well-organised local soccer bodies in the region. Sports and football in particular has helped to unite the people of Rwanda who no longer talk about the past Hutu - Tutsi groupings.

While the other countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, failed to put the money to proper use, Rwanda used part of the money to construct an office block to house its football federation. The local soccer body also invested part of the money in youth development programmes and in maintaining their national teams.

However proper development of Rwanda's image especially on the international scene could not be effected properly until 1997 when the country was admitted to the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA).

The following year the country was, for the first time, represented at the CECAFA Club championship in Zanzibar by Rayon Sport. Despite being newcomers the club defied all odds to emerge the first Rwandan club to clinch the regional clubs title. Since then the country has been represented every year at both the club and national level.

But Rwanda's great moment to improve on her past tainted image came in 1999 when they hosted their first senior challenge cup in Kigali. In bid to organise a successful event the government invested in the tournament and ensured the event was telecast to the countries in the region. Rwanda's efforts paid off when they emerged victorious after defeating Kenya's Harambee Stars.

Rwanda also staged the CECAFA Club championship January last year and Kenya's Tusker beat Rwanda Patriotic Army (APR) to clinch the title. In both occasions when the CECAFA activities were staged in Kigali the hosts exhibited a high degree of efficiency in terms of organisation and funding.

The Rwanda government has been very supportive in ensuring that successful tournaments are staged. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, himself a soccer enthusiast, attends the matches and even pays and instructs the Rwanda football body to allow in fans free of charge whenever home teams are playing.

This year Rwanda hosted the senior challenge cup from December 8 to 22 in Kigali's Amahoro stadium. The Rwandese President boosted the regional soccer body by offering total of $75,000 as sponsorship for the tournament. Although Rwandese teams failed to clinch the title, bowing out at the semi final stage, the hosts are contented with the success of the tournament, which helped to promote the good image of the country.

The spirit exemplified by the Rwanda government in terms of financial support for the previous tournaments has even simplified CECAFA's work whenever Kigali is hosting their activities.

As a result the regional soccer tournaments have become more popular in Rwanda than in any other Cecafa member country. Rwanda's contribution has been multi - dimensional, promoting soccer in the region and helping the country improve on her international image.

In what analysts say is a boost to Rwanda's image, CECAFA has named the Club's championship the Paul Kagame Inter-Cup after Rwandan President Major General Paul Kagame.

CECAFA took the decision in appreciation of the support the Rwandan Head of State has given to the regional soccer governing body. The first regional Kagame clubs' championship shall kick off from February 16, 2002 in Zanzibar. He first showed his support in the promotion and development of the sport in the region when he donated the cup that was won last year by Kenya's Tusker. Kagame promised to extend even more support to the regional soccer body whenever they are in need.

CECAFA General Secretary Nicholas Musonye said the Rwanda government has always been very supportive whenever Kigali hosts Cecafa activities, adding that the contribution by the Rwandans has been of paramount importance.

"The contribution by the Rwandans during CECAFA activities has been of paramount importance," he said.

Federation of Rwanda Football Associations (FERWAFA) Administrative Secretary Julius Kalisa said the good relation between the local soccer body and the government has helped to develop the sport in the country and the region as a whole.

The contribution of the government has helped the local football body in organising events and has helped CECAFA market the event to the local populace. But more importantly Rwanda has been able to build its image locally and project her self positively on the international scene while diverting the attention of nationals from local problems.

Kagame, took over last year as Head of State after Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu moderate, resigned in protest over lack of transparency and reforms in the government. His resignation was a climax of period where he had been referred to as a mere 'figure head'. It is inconceivable, as analysts say, whether there will ever be General elections in the near future to elect a president but football might continue to cover up for domestic problems.

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