Great expectations of Rwanda’s new arena

Friday September 27 2019

The Kigali Arena has the capacity of 10,000 seats. There is plenty of activity on game night at the Kigali Arena—fathers bond with their ecstatic sons, couples hang out courtside, and the game is perfect background. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG


A few months ago, little was known about a construction project in Kigali’s neighbourhood of Remera, adjacent to the Amahoro stadium. But that changed the day the building was inaugurated by Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently.

Completed in a record six months, the Kigali Arena is the latest addition to the city’s skyline.

A fortnight ago, Kigali was abuzz when the arena hosted the final game of the Bank of Kigali Basketball National League, featuring the Patriots against REG. The arena was packed to the rafters with 10,000 basketball fans.


The final game of the national basketball league between the Patriots against REG at the Kigali Arena. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG

The Patriots beat REG 65-59 in Game 7, winning the championship. In the preceding games, the Patriots avoided elimination twice to get to Game 7 in the finals, after REG went up 3-1.

The Patriots will now represent the country in the Basketball Africa League.


The arena marks a major milestone in Rwanda’s national sporting life where despite football being the most followed game, basketball and cycling also have a large fan base.

And the future seems bright for the Kigali Arena. Next year, the venue will host the first-ever Basketball Africa League (BAL) final four games and the finals of the proposed 12-team men’s basketball league.

The announcement was made by BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall in Darkar in July. The planned format of the proposed league will be similar to the UEFA Champions League and Africa Basketball League.

The tournament is a joint effort between the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the US National Basketball Association (NBA).

BAL also announced that sports apparel maker Nike and Jordan Brand will be the exclusive outfitter of the new professional league featuring 12 club teams from across Africa.

The Kigali Arena is the third largest on the continent in capacity, only bested by the one in Dakar, with a 15,000-seat capacity and the one in Luanda, sitting 12,000. The arena has raised Kigali’s profile as a sports destination.

Although the official construction cost of the arena is not public knowledge, it is estimated at $104 million.

Remera is home to small bars and restaurants, which despite hosting Amahoro stadium for years has been lifeless and wilting away, save for one or two establishments that have survived largely on the fact that the area is a well-known red light district.

For many years squalor has punctuated the surrounding area, until recently when the neighbouring Gisementi caught on with the urbanisation wave that swept other neighbourhoods in Kigali. However, little of Remera’s local economy was attributed to sports and the stadium.

The Kigali Arena has now injected life into the neighbourhood, and the bars and eateries that opened here to serve the Turkish contractors have stayed. The opening of the arena means the social night life here will thrive.


A bird’s-eye view of the Kigali Arena. PHOTO | URUGWIRO

The recent Kwita Izina concert which was headlined by American R&B singer Neyo was the inaugural event held at the arena.

It attracted fans from all walks of life—from politicians to corporate people—mingling freely with the multitudes of millennials from Kigali’s gated communities.

Although there were complaints about the sound being of poor quality, by the end of the show Kigali party lovers had finally found a home.

Like all cities in the region, the social nightlife of Kigali has been thriving, driven by a youthful population seeking thrills and pleasure. The only drawback is the limited number of hangouts. There are a few casual but modern premises available.

Although partygoers had made hotels such as the Marriott and Radisson Blue their turf, these are not ideal places for the free-spirited hard partying types who will enjoy the Kigali Arena.

It is this scarcity of social venues that the Kigali Arena comes to fill, which explains why it has become the place to go to, especially when there is a basketball game to watch.

Although the attraction to the game is undisputed, watching basketball at the Kigali arena is more of a lifestyle, similar to the corporate class of Kampala who can be found at the Kyadondo Rugby Club every weekend.


The Kigali Arena hosted the Kwita Izina concert. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG

Kigali residents took to Twitter to gush about the arena: “Rwanda has worked on different infrastructure projects but for the young generation, the arena was one of the best the country has ever worked on,” Robert Mckenna Cyubahiro tweeted.

There is plenty of activity on game night at the Kigali Arena—fathers bond with their ecstatic sons, couples hang out courtside, and the game is perfect background.

Many of the people who have turned up for the basketball game night since the arena opened are not necessarily hardcore fans, let alone understand the game.

However, the allure of being with the cool crowd in the place to be seen is hard to resist. The moments are captured on smartphones to be shared on Instagram and Twitter, while others just soak them in.


The American R&B singer Ne-Yo thrills the crowd on September 8th,2019 inside the Kigali Arena. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG

But there have been public complaints of poor management, especially with ticketing. Some people who paid for VIP seats have ended up missing seats and having to stand.

“Toilets lack simple things like soap or toilet paper, the security was lacking to manage traffic, entrance was not diplomatic at all, a lot of push push,” reads one tweet.

The arena management has promised to address the issues.