Rwandese sports had never seen anything like that before, the sights and sounds were historic, and beautiful.
The country had just qualified for its first cricket World Cup in any format, this courtesy of the Under-19 women’s team, which beat Tanzania in the final of a T20 qualification tournament in Botswana last month. Rwanda could come up against quality sides such as Australia, India and England.
The triumphant team was welcomed back home amid pomp and fanfare, thousands of people thronged the streets at the stars carried out a victory parade and brandished the trophy from an open-top bus.
The Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup will be staged in South Africa next year, and Rwanda will be showcasing its hitherto hidden talent to the world.
It is hardly surprising that it is the women who have taken the once war-torn nation to its first World Cup in this sport, as Rwanda’s Zimbabwean coach Leonard Nhamburo explains.
“There are more girls than boys playing cricket here in Rwanda,” Nhamburo tells This Is Africa.
“I don’t really know why this is the case, it’s just something I found here. I think it’s something that is in the Rwandese females.”
Actually, Nhamburo figures out why this is the case.
“Women here do not choose what to do,” he says.
“For example in other countries in Africa, a lot of women just do not do certain things. But here you see women do the kind of work that men do. I think its part and parcel of Rwandese tradition, to say whether you are a boy or girl, there is nothing that can stop you to do what you want.”
This characteristic of Rwandese women has given birth to a deliberate thrust by the government and the Rwanda Cricket Association to use female cricket as the entry point into the country.
“Women cricket is growing,” remarks Nhamburo.
“We looked at areas that give us an advantage. We looked at the boys, their pathway to the World Cup isn’t as easy as the women’s. The women’s route looks a bit easier, so we said let’s focus on the women for now so that we put the country and organisation onto recognition, while at the same time also working on the boys.”
Qualifying for the World Cup is a dream come true to the young ladies of Rwanda.
“We sat down with the players before the tournament in Botswana and asked them what they hoped to achieve,” Nhamburo says.
“They said they wanted to go to the World Cup. I said to them that ‘you guys have talent, you have this one opportunity to go to the World Cup’. So when they when we qualified, they were thrilled. You cannot explain the joy. And we are not going to the World Cup jut to make up number. We might be small in terms of name, but we are going there to compete and win games. We are aiming to finish in the top eight out of the 16 teams that are going to be there.”
For Nhamburo, guiding the team to the World Cup is also a personal achievement.
“Taking a team to the World Cup for the first time is overwhelming,” he says. “When I started coaching, this is something I always wanted to achieve. I didn’t know which team I was going to achieve it with, but it was one of my goals to say one day I must go to the World Cup. It makes me feel honoured, it makes me feel respected, knowing that I am the first person to have achieved that feat with Rwanda, such a beautiful country with beautiful people. Working in Rwanda as a foreigner you feel at home. They don’t show that you re a foreigner or what. I have never encountered that. They are a great people, and a caring people.”