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Cricket: Rwanda’s New Unifying Force

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As you drive past one of the most iconic roundabouts in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali, it’s hard to miss a giant billboard honoring one of the country’s most recent triumphs in sport: the national cricket’s team captain Eric Dusingizimana, who broke a Guinness world record batting non-stop for 51 hours in May 2016. He had trained months on end to accomplish the feat of the ‘longest net session’.

This has made Dusingizimana one of Rwanda’s most recognizable faces but has also brought awareness to a sport few talked about before. Remarkably, cricket is now being hailed as a new cohesive force for a country that has seen one of the world’s greatest human tragedies.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is all praise for the country’s new hero and his sport.

“The record-breaking feat of endurance recently accomplished by Eric Dusingizimana is a fitting example of the perseverance and determination that characterize the Rwandan people. Sport is a unifying force that builds both individual character and national cohesion and cricket is no exception,” said Kagame.

The president is an ardent lover of sport and one sees him occasionally expressing his views on various sporting disciplines to his million-plus followers on Twitter.

Rwanda reveres football, and has well-entrenched interests in basketball and cycling – the country’s rolling hills are filled with cyclists in colorful gear on Sunday mornings.

And now cricket is also getting its share of the limelight. The sport also has big names supporting it in Rwanda.

Former British prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair were famously part of the fundraising drive for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, which has now, over the past four years, managed to raise over a million pounds for phase one of a world-class facility for cricket in Rwanda. Blair was present when Dusingizimana broke the world record – he was in Kigali at the time to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa.

After bowling to Dusingizimana on his way to the world record, Blair noted the importance of the sport in a country like Rwanda.

“Cricket is known as a gentleman’s game and one cannot ignore the impact the sport has had in uniting the people of Rwanda,” he said.

The national team’s captain is mighty pleased about the mileage the sport has received since, which in turn helped raise additional funds for the stadium’s construction.

“That was easily the largest crowd I’ve seen at any cricket event in Rwanda and now more people know about the sport,” said the batsman.

Mary Maina, captain of the women’s cricket team

His accomplishment exemplified the many things the Rwandan people stand for, one of which is the country’s perseverance in rebuilding its economy after the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

But before Dusingizimana became an overnight celebrity, it was not all rosy for the sport. One would hardly hear cricket mentioned outside its small circle of players and foreign enthusiasts. Newspaper coverage was hard to come by and radio and television did little. This made the task of finding sponsors for the game difficult.

It is partly for this reason that Dusingizimana and Alby Shale, founder and project director of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation decided to try something different.

Dusingizimana’s record was previously held by an Indian batsman but it was Shale who set out to achieve the first record. As part of the first campaign to raise funds for the sport, Shale had set a new world record batting for 26 hours but this was eventually broken by another Englishman whose record was 48 hours.

“It was at this point that my friends asked if I could do 49 hours but then came an Indian guy who made it 50 hours. That’s when Eric came and started working for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation and when I suggested it to him, he didn’t think twice.”

Shale’s first interaction with Rwanda came as part of a group of British volunteers who would come to the country every year to work for the Rwandan people.

“My father [Christopher Shale] set up a social action project that would go to Rwanda every year to try and justify why the British government should spend some of its GDP on international aid. I immediately fell in love with the people and saw first-hand how Rwanda was trying to rebuild its community having gone through the horrors of 1994,” says Shale.

It is during this time that he noticed the love the few cricket enthusiasts in the country had for the game.

“After my return to the UK, I started having extensive conversations with some organizations and my father about how cricket is a resource-intensive game and Rwanda was really lacking in facilities, this was ultimately prohibiting their development, that’s when we agreed to set up the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation to help the sport grow in the country.”

Unfortunately for Shale, a few months after setting up the foundation, his father passed away and that’s when it became more obvious he needed to focus on this as part of his legacy.

“I needed to channel my grief and keeping my father’s dream alive was the only thing I could think of. Cricket needed to be taken to the next level and ever since, we’ve been trying to raise funds to try and create the first international cricket stadium in Rwanda.”

The facility will include a cricket square, cricket nets, a maintenance facility and all the equipment needed to maintain the oval to international standards.

The foundation has to now raise a further £250,000 for the construction of a cricket pavilion. Its design will replicate a bouncing cricket ball in a bid to make it look authentic, and complementing Rwanda’s beautiful landscape. The local community will be involved in the construction of the facility.

Just like most development projects in the country, the Rwandan government has had a hand in seeing this dream come alive.

The government, through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, has not only given VAT exemption to the foundation but also provided the land on which the facility is to be built, free of charge.

“Such has been the government’s role in facilitating not only the growth of the sport of cricket but also across other sectors that has seen a whole-scale infrastructure transformation in the country,” Charles Haba, President of the Rwanda Cricket Association, had said in an earlier interview.

The story of Rwanda’s growth over the past 22 years is never complete without the mention of the role its women have played in seeing it come to fruition. Rwanda holds the record for the highest number of women in public office with a 64% representation in parliament.

This empowerment has been reflected across various sectors and the sport of cricket hasn’t been left behind. In its journey towards achieving the dream of a world-class cricket stadium, the national women’s team captain Mary Maina will attempt to set a new world record for the longest net session by a woman.

The feat has never been attempted before and Maina will have to bat for a minimum of 24 hours. A university student, she believes that the growing popularity of the sport among women is a reflection of women’s empowerment in the country. In fact, the growth of women’s cricket in Rwanda has seen it surpass that of international powerhouse India despite the latter having more people supporting it.

“Our leaders have made us believe that a woman’s place can be anywhere. In Rwanda, a woman is not only restricted to the kitchen stereotype, we have been made to believe that we can achieve anything and even be better at most things,” says the 24-year-old.

Clearly, the journey of cricket in Rwanda is not so different from the country’s own growth. They are both setting world records.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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