Meet Burundi: The East African nation planning to follow in Rwanda’s cricketing footsteps

Burundi Cricket Federation President John-Clinton Nsengiyumva with a bat
Burundi Cricket Federation President John-Clinton Nsengiyumva with a bat

“When you love something, you bring it home and share with family,” states John-Clinton Nsengiyumva, speaking to Emerging Cricket.

President of the newly minted Burundi Cricket Federation; Nsengiyumva is certainly not shy about expressing his passion for cricket. Amazingly, he only discovered the sport through a good friend a couple of years ago in Canada. But it has been love at first sight ever since!

In my experience, cricket brings people together. An Indian friend introduced me to the sport and later I found out my other friends from Pakistan were also fans of the game. I gained a lot of good friends thanks to cricket and this to me is the beauty of sports,” he smiles.

Background and formation of Burundi Cricket Federation

A dual citizen of Burundi and Canada, Nsengiyumva is a man of many talents. After graduating from university in the mid 2000’s, he has built up a vast resumé; including involvement with a variety of sporting and humanitarian ventures over the last decade and a half. A man of Christian faith, he founded an NGO called Nsengiyumva Global Development (NGD) Foundation in 2008. The organisation carries out a lot of humanitarian work such as providing education services, health care assistance and empowering people through media as well as supporting and promoting sports in Burundi. 

John-Clinton Nsengiyumva with a bat
BCF President John-Clinton Nsengiyumva with a bat (Photo: Supplied)

Additionally, he has established the newspaper Magara Times and the radio station ‘Radio Magara Times FM’ in 2014 and 2019 respectively. But since cricket captured his heart during the pandemic, spreading the cricketing gospel in his country of birth has become his new major project.

“I am working very hard to ensure that the love for cricket is spread across the nation. It helps that I have so much experience in the sports industry,” says Nsengiyumva who divides his time equally between Bujumbura, Burundi and Toronto, Canada.

It was his efforts along with the initiative shown by the eighteen existing cricket clubs in the country, that laid the groundwork for the formation of the Burundi Cricket Federation (BCF). And now after receiving approval from the Ministry of Sports, the organisation is ready to commence operations.

Cricket scene in Burundi

On the ground, cricket is gaining momentum with clubs signing up and native Burundians showing an eagerness to learn and play, according to Nsengiyumva.

“To date, 20 teams have signed for the upcoming maiden National Premier League, scheduled to start in August 2023. Another 18 teams have also signed up for the provincial U19 league, planned to begin in April 2023. We had a couple of tournaments before as well in the two big cities, but that was mainly contested by expats,” he says.  

“Our total playing numbers are currently around 2,500, with each of our twenty affiliated clubs fielding four junior teams (U13, U15, U17, U19) and one senior team. We are also introducing ladies’ teams in every affiliated club; the plan is to start a women’s league in December. I’m happy to report that cricket is growing in numbers so fast and many soccer clubs are turning to cricket as well,” he further adds.

Indian expats playing cricket in Burundi (Photo: Supplied)

In a Francophone nation with extreme levels of poverty (more than 70% of the population live below the poverty line) and little to no history of the sport, infrastructure remains a big challenge. Currently, the teams are using soccer fields for training but Nsengiyumva is hopeful about obtaining cricket specific grounds soon.   

Following in Rwanda’s Footsteps

Rwanda and Burundi are neighbouring nations with a shared history and plenty of historical and cultural baggage. Since achieving independence from Belgian colonial rulers in the 1960’s, both countries suffered from simmering ethnic tensions between the minority Tutsi elite and the Hutu majority. It was the shooting down of the plane carrying the Hutu presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi in 1994 that escalated the minor skirmishes into an all-out civil war and put in motion the terrible events that led to the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremists.  

Things have thankfully become a lot more peaceful these days – both politically and socially. And on the cricket field, Rwanda have achieved tremendous growth, with women cricketers leading the charge. Just last month, the Under 19 girls made history by beating Full Members Zimbabwe and West Indies in Rwanda’s inaugural ICC World Cup event in any format. Nsengiyumva is eager to emulate Rwanda’s success, and in keeping with the spirit of the Kwibuka T20 tournament, hosted yearly in Kigali, he wants to use cricket as a social tool to promote unity and harmony in Burundi.

“Like Rwanda, Burundi has known civil wars and ethnic conflicts over the years. But now kids from different backgrounds find themselves in a cricket club, play together, have fun and ultimately become brothers and sisters thanks to this beautiful game. I think that cricket can not only rebuild our social tissue but also teach players new life skills and help them succeed in life,” he asserts. 

Rwanda’s U19 Women celebrating their victory over West Indies (Photo: ICC)
ICC Membership and Future Plans

A crucial step in Burundi’s cricket development lies in securing funding through ICC Associate membership. It’s something that BCF is already working towards, having recently sent an application through to the global governing body. As Burundi’s government doesn’t yet have a funding program in place for sports federations, BCF is currently relying on its own contributions to make ends meet.

However, Nsengiyumva remains nonplussed. He has many grand ambitions and dreams for the future of cricket in Burundi and is very hopeful that they will be realised over the next five years.

“My dream is to take cricket to all corners of the country, make it the second most popular and practiced game in Burundi after soccer. We want to produce competitive national teams for both men and women and help youths earn an income and a living through playing cricket at a professional level.” Most of all, he is determined to change the perception that “cricket is mostly for Indians” and make it part and parcel of Burundian culture.

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