The 2019 African Cup of Nations Championships kicks off in Egypt from June 21-July19. However, Rwanda’s national football team Amavubi (Wasps) returned home looking traumatized from the final qualifying match against Côte d’Ivoire.
All Rwanda’s neighbours and East African Community (EAC) mates Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya as well as DR Congo, will be in Egypt. Amavubi fans will have to watch the 24-team expanded competition on TV.
In final last qualifying fixture, Amavubi team was humbled 3-0 by the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire away at the Houphouet-Boigny stadium last Saturday.
The Elephants together with Guinea qualified from Group H with 11 and 12 points respectively.
Both the Central Africa Republic (6 points) plus Rwanda (2 points) failed to quality.
Out of six games played in this group, Rwanda only managed two draws and suffered four defeats.
Amavubi’s abysmal performance at the African Cup of Nations finals has triggered angry reaction in Rwanda as seen on local radio commentary and social media. At the airport, the team made a quiet return because no single official wanted to associate with them.
But just what is wrong with Amavubi team that has not won any match recently? Government has been adamant to make any intervention for fear of provoking action of the global football governing body FIFA which considers such actions as political interference.
It is all left to the fans and the local federation to deal with the mess.
Karim Kamanzi who featured in the Amavubi side during the Africa Cup of Nations debut in 2004 did not mince his words. It is annoying and heartening to see other teams qualifying yet they are not better than Amavubi, he said.
Kamanzi added, “One of the noticeable challenges is that Amavubi did not have any tangible preparations before traveling for matches. Since the come from different clubs, they have to play friendly games so that the coach can weigh his tactics or players’ performance.”
“[During our time], we played the championship without good opportunities. A player was supposed to make sure they personally work hard to join professional ranks. Today, it is very easy to be spotted by a big club since we have TV’s and agents that are out to scout for players.”
Kamanzi says soccer academies are urgently needed to develop players from bottom-up.
There is a sports academy in Southern Rwanda established by the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) which admits students from across different other sports fields.
One of the ways government is making intervention in football, outside the league is through the Visit Rwanda deal it has with premier league team Arsenal. It has been sending its legends and current players to conduct soccer workshops in Rwanda.
Amavubi last featured in the African Cup competition in 2004, when the finals were played in Tunisia. Even then, the Wasps in Group A finished the second bottom with four points from one win, drew once, and won a one-game against DRC.
Felix Romario Gakuba, a popular sports voice on local broadcast airwaves says there is no strategic planning for football in Rwanda.
“We tend to focus on immediate and quick positives results. You cannot expect positive results without long term planning. We need to start from grassroots, bring together all stakeholders on board including former players and coaches,” he said.
There is yet to be a reaction from FERWAFA. The officials are better of not making public appearances.
As local football struggles, there is wild support for cycling as the sport wins hearts and minds. The Côte d’Ivoire game with Amavubi passed without notice – indication that Rwandans have moved on.
During the recent Tour du Rwanda cycling competition, thousands lined streets and hills as the riders moved around Rwanda.
The international governing body has elevated Tour du Rwanda to category UCI 2.1 from 2.2 category race. That puts it only second to Gabon’s race on the African continent. But Tour du Rwanda will maintain “most grueling race” tag in Africa.
Team Rwanda has been significantly transformed. They are managed like a business as they have different teams of professionals. They spend hours practicing in training camps.
When it comes to football, the local league is embroiled in scandal after another. The most recent was when pictures surfaced of the despicable conditions in which Gicumbi FC players lived. It is one of the second league teams from which Amavubi expects to pick players.
Gicumbi FC players had no basics like food and slept on filthy mattresses, yet the district – like the others, pumps millions into the team. The cooking area was no different from a pigs den.
The poor performance of the national team is not new, and the uproar it provokes is not either.
Speaking at a youth conference in May 2017, President Paul Kagame castigated officials who he said were more concerned about themselves being present at international competitions. He wondered why young talented Rwandans were not being funded.
For football, he sounded more disappointed, saying: “In football I tried my best…I have not lost hope completely. I can never accept that we are not a footballing nation, or that we are unable to find players, or that we cannot manage to look after those we have.”
In June last year, FERWAFA released a notice seeking a coach for the U20 and U23 national teams. However, the notice was categorical that the candidate must be Rwandan – which was explained that the country’s young players needed a person with patriotic feeling to mentor them.
Back to the Amavubi supporters, the anger is still felt from the many and long radio sports shows on local stations.
“Côte d’Ivoire is far better than us in terms of all the basics of football,” sports journalist Axel Rugangura, who traveled with Amavuvi.
He told The Chronicles that Côte d’Ivoire had prepared well for the match which was visible from level of possession of the ball because the players were used to each other.
“You cannot prepare a team in just days against an Africa a giant like Côte d’Ivoire where football is like a religious conviction,” he said.
Rugangura added: “Against the Ivorian, the Amavubi coach tried out a back three formation when Ivory Coast was disturbing his defense. These are not tactics that you try out in a game. You need to have a plan of action and options.”
On social media, the reactions have been particularly heated.
“There are things that will not work out. We will keep investing so much in Amavubi but decades will run. We need change now,” wrote Nkotanyi Francis (@BAYINGANAF)
Rukundo Emmanuel said, “It’s only in the world of football that I feel ashamed to be called a Rwandan. You’ll never see heaven because of what you do to the fans, you’re the only sector that never develops.”