Eddie Balaba is the newly elected President of Rwanda Cricket Association. He casually introduces himself as the President of Rwanda Cricket and speaks so freely that you can easily identify him as just an ordinary lad watching cricket.
I requested Balaba for an interview and he agrees to one in Kyambogo while his Rwanda Schools Select team is playing but to his and my own disappointment, when we get to Kyambogo the game has been shifted to accommodate the more important decider between Kololo SS and Mukono Parents.
Eddie Balaba was elected President of Rwanda Cricket Association in April this year replacing long serving President Charles Habba and he is quick to praise Habba for his invaluable contribution to RCA.
Balaba who got cricket going in Rwanda in 2000 says;
For the first 10 years there was virtually nothing – no office, no structures, but as we speak now Charles left us a structure on to which we can build cricket in Rwanda.
We have an office with a General Manager, an Operations Manager, a development manager and 2 office administrators. We have only added an operations manager and an extra administrator.
Balaba is no stranger to Kampala as he went to Kings College Budo for his O-level before joining Ntare School for his A-level and later graduated from Makerere University. In fact his family lives in Kiwatule so he is always in and out of Kampala.
The Rwanda Schools Select side was invited to play in the ongoing schools cricket week, though was only on the premise that Rwanda meets its own cost and Balaba knows that its money well spent.
Our team has played 5 games and won 2, losing only to favorites Mukono, Kololo and Nyakasura.
We selected this team out of the best kids in our schools competition and most of them have never been out of Rwanda.
This kind of competition helps our kids compete against their peers who are more superior to them in terms of skill.
As we chat, it’s obvious RCA is making huge strides and cricket being an expensive sport, I am forced to ask how much help RCA gets from government.
Balaba confirms how much the government has helped them not only acquire 14 hectares for the Gahanga Project but also put up a cricket academy for the best players.
The government gave us 4.5 hectares for our our stadium the Gahanga Project but most importantly we now have a cricket academy that will be admitting 15 boys and girls every year identified as future stars.
These players are admitted to do their A-level (s4-s6) with a programme involving them studying till Lunch time and then sports training in the afternoon but the programme has a mixture of sports science.
The project is under the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) with other sports also included.
The government also meets all preparation costs for national teams going to compete in World Cup Qualifiers.
In October this year, a celebrity cricket game between a Micheal Vaughan XI and a Brian Lara XI will face off at the official opening of the Gahanga Project.
The project funded under the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation was a brain child of the Late Conservative Party MP Chris Shale who promised to do something about providing a proper playing facility for Rwanda after playing on bare ground at the old cricket ground at Kicukiro.
Unfortunately he passed on when he returned to the UK but his family made it a point that his promise was full filled with the help of many other friends of Rwanda Cricket.
The Umubano (Friendship Project) between the UK Conservative Party in Rwanda has given Rwanda the first international standard ground outside of South Africa. The stadium under the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCFS) is 95% complete and has so far taken up to 1 million pounds all of it raised from friends in the UK.
Balaba is excited as well as skeptical about the project as they require up to $5000 every month alone to maintain the facility and given that they only receive $140,000 from the ICC they will have to find a way of maintaining the stadium.
However, he glows when he speaks about what it means to have this kind of facility in Rwanda.
We want Gahanga to be the Lords of Africa. People should aspire to play at Gahanga. We want to make the stadium iconic for players across Africa by organizing world class tournaments.
We already have one of the head line tournament for the ladies in Africa the Kwibuka Peace tournament and we hope to have Namibia and Zambia part of the tournament next year.
The Stadium will be officially opened on October 28 with the celebrity cricket game but prior to that an invitational tournament will be held from October 22-29 for all East African countries.
We talk about the future of RCA, and he is ambitious about the future but the project planner in him doesn’t allow him to be unrealistic in his ventures. He mentions three things that are the focus for his term in office.
We want to improve on the facilities and have at least add four more facilities to the two we already have, get all 30 districts in Rwanda playing cricket so far we only have 9 of these districts playing cricket and lastly make sure our U19 boys and ladies national teams are competitive in the region.
Our senior men’s is still a challenge because we have a high turnover of players we shall find a solution soon for now we focus on those 3 things.
In our discussion Balaba is full praise for Uganda Cricket Association without whom he feels RCA would be stranded.
Without overstating it, there would be no cricket in Rwanda without the help of UCA. We have relied on UCA for not just good competition like these invitational games but they have also provided us with equipment, human resource in terms of coaches and administrators.
Joshua Mwanja was our General Manager for a long time and now Davis Turinawe is our Development Manager.
We have also modeled most of our programs from what we see working here in Uganda therefore we appreciate the generosity UCA has extended to us.
Eddie and his new board has three years and two months to leave an impact in Rwanda. They have been using the first 8 months to equip themselves of the way things run and starting January, they will only be about implementing their programs. Creating pathways for their kids from U15, U17 and U19 through a clear development programme is on top of their agenda.
And with the Gahanga Project complete Cricket in Rwanda will have something tangible to go with the social impact the game has had on the people since the war ended.
It’s clear RCA is envious of its neighbor Uganda in terms of talent but as long as they keep doing the right things, cricket in Rwanda will take the kids playing it places.