Afrobasket electrifies Kigali's sports scene

Thursday September 02 2021

Players take part in the Rwanda and DR Congo basketball game on the first day of 2021 FIBA Afrobasket tournament taking place in Kigali. PHOTO |CYRIL NDEGEYA


Kigali's sports and entertainment scene came back to life in August, with the start of Afrobasket — the biggest basketball event for national teams on the continent.

The two week tournament started off on August 24 at the Kigali Arena, in a game that saw Rwanda beat DR Congo 82:68. The atmosphere in the arena was a tad muted compared with how electric basketball events used to be before the pandemic, but at least people are back to watching games and cheering for their teams.

It is a must for Rwandans attending the event to present their Covid-19 vaccination certificates, which of course has kept many away since most people are still not vaccinated. But, the country started vaccinating 18-years-olds, which helped increase the number of attendees.

The first game saw participants in their thousands, including sports loving President Paul Kagame. The cheers were more muffled, probably because every attendee had on a face mask and there was social distancing.

The atmosphere pales in comparison with sporting arenas in Europe and the US, where fans attend basketball, tennis and football events mask-free and without socially distancing, drinking beer, hugging and celebrating with total abandon.

However, sport events have returned to normal in Europe and the US because their governments had financial muscle to purchase vaccines very early on, and had their citizens vaccinated in big numbers.


The premier league, perhaps the most powerful sports tournament on earth after the World cup, kicked off a few weeks ago, and every one in Africa watched with envy how fans had gone back to stadiums in big numbers, mask-free and not socially distancing.

The recently concluded Olympic games in Tokyo were without fans and the coronavirus restrictions took a toll on participants. The virus took the soul out of the Olympics. The US open tennis tournament will kick off on August 30, and both the players and fans are extra motivated because the bubble at all courts will be filled with fans cheering and celebrating, as opposed to the debilitating atmosphere that punctuated the Wimbledon and Roland Garros events a few months ago.

The Afrobasket tournament in Kigali attracted 16 teams, ranging from the usual powerhouses like Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, Egypt, to smaller ones like Cape Verde, Kenya and Rwanda.

The Rwandan team had the easiest path to the tournament after getting a direct ticket to the competition, which wasn't the case for other teams that had to compete in qualifiers.

The event has also given a lease of life to some local entertainers who had spent more than a year without any income because of not performing. For instance, popular Djs, Marnaud and Toxxyk are slated to grace the events, while other entertainers like celebrated afro-beat musician Bruce Melodie — who has a running contract with Kigali arena — will perform during some of the events.

Many people in Kigali and the rest of Africa will follow the games live on TV and on the event's YouTube channel, but the expectation is that as more people get jabbed, more will be able to enjoy the games live.