Last week, the new Minister for Sports and Culture, Julienne Uwacu, received the instruments of power from her predecessor Joseph Habineza, a few days after she was sworn in by President Paul Kagame to take charge at the unstable ministry.
Besides making history as the first woman to lead Minispoc, Ms Uwacu has a difficult task at hand, which includes turning around the country’s sporting fortunes and faltering sports federations as well as completing pending and stalling infrastructure projects.
But high on Ms Uwacu’s agenda will be to ensure that Rwanda is ready to host the 2016 African Nations Championships (Chan) early next year, with reports indicating that the country has fallen behind schedule in terms of putting in place the requisite facilities to host the continent tourney.
The new minister however says she is equal to the task and that Rwanda will not only be ready to host the tournament but it will also go ahead and win it.
“Rwanda will be ready in time to host Chan,” Ms Uwacu said. “It is very possible that we can win Chan and go on to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2017.
“We need to prepare ourselves as early as possible. We need to prepare the national team early by organising friendly matches and beefing up training.”
Ms Uwacu’s appointment sent many Rwandan tongues wagging, especially on social media, with commentators questioning her capability to run the sports and culture docket. But she seems determined to prove her detractors wrong, and her knowledge on sports is something that has quickly won her plaudits.
Rwanda’s senior national football team, the Amavubi Stars, has seen its fortunes dwindle following the country’s disqualification by the Confederation of African Football from the qualifiers of the recent Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) last year for fielding an ineligible player.
However, according to Ms Uwacu, the government is ready to invest in reinvigorating not only the football team but also the country’s performance in other sports disciplines.
“We want to focus on nurturing new talent as the best approach to build a solid national team which would be able to challenge for regional and continental tourneys,” Ms Uwacu told Rwanda Today. “Rwanda will no longer rely on foreign talent.”
She also insisted that preparations for Chan are on course and all stadiums expected to host matches will be ready this year, adding that renovation and construction works are going on well.
The venues are Amahoro National Stadium, Kigali Regional Stadium, Umuganda Stadium in Rubavu District and Huye Stadium in Southern Province, which is currently under construction.
There are also concerns of accommodation and transport facilities not only for the players but also travelling fans.
Chan is an equivalent of Afcon but only reserved for players who play in their respective domestic leagues. Next year’s tournament will take place from January 16 to February 7.
Ms Uwacu takes over a ministry ridden with scandals, the latest being the exit of Mr Habineza and the former head of culture at the ministry, Lauren Makuza.
According to reliable sources, the duo left amid a saga around the organisation of Miss Rwanda 2015 and the handling of the contestants.
Reports indicate that there were cases of misconduct in handling the girls who took part in the contest, with claims that “some girls were taken advantage of” in an upcountry location at one of the regional auditions.
Allegations ‘not true’
Efforts to reach Mr Habineza for a comment of the matter were futile by press time but Mr Makuza, who resigned hours after his minister’s replacement, said the allegations were not true.
“All those allegations are not true” Mr Makuza told Rwanda Today. “I have heard about them but they are false and baseless; that is all I can say.”
Both Mr Habineza and Mr Makuza have remained tight-lipped about what transpired or the cause of their leaving the ministry. Several reports point at misappropriation of public funds as another reason the top officials at the ministry had to go.
While Mr Habineza denied that public funds were spent on the Miss Rwanda contest, sources within the ministry point to millions of francs allocated to the company that was organising the beauty pageant, Rwanda Inspiration Back-up, in form of sponsorship.
At the handover ceremony, Mr Habineza reiterated his position, also taking the opportunity to term the rumours as “untrue.”
He instead said that the ministry he was leading was always in the spotlight because it handles matters that Rwandans are emotional about, and that is the reason whatever happens at Minispoc attracts public scrutiny.
Prior to the latest scandal that led to the departure of Mr Habineza after less than a year in his second stint at Minispoc, the ministry was in the spotlight for failing to deliver the much-hyped Gahanga Sports Complex, a state-of-the-art sports facility that was expected to be completed this year in time to host the upcoming Chan.
Plans to build the stadium and its surrounding facilities have since been shelved after the deal between the government and the Turkish contractors fell apart.
The ministry was also in the spotlight in 2013 after it was forced by a journalist, Fred Muvunyi, to release its financial expenditure records using the access to information law.
The documents revealed extravagance at the ministry despite the country’s poor performance in various sports disciplines.