Rwanda Delivers the Holy Grail of the Kwibuka in Front of a Passionate Home Crowd

Winners: Rwanda
Runners Up: Uganda
Participating Teams: Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana
MVP: Queentor Abel (Kenya)
Best Batter: Queentor Abel (Kenya)
Best Bowler: Henriette Ishimwe (Rwanda)

Having been privileged to be at the Gahanga its official opening in 2017, Kigali’s public looked a little anxious, not sure how much the place will contribute to their lives.

Fast forward to 2023, the crowd this time was pensive, not anxious for they know how much they have already gained from the cricket being played there. Today, the crowd are now more demanding of the result for the wait of the final was starting to drag.

The Kwibuka Tournament, an annual women’s event, started in 2014 as a bilateral series between Uganda and Rwanda as a remembrance for the victims of the genocide in 1994. Since then the tournament has grown in leaps and bounds from just a bilateral series into an international tournament. Brazil and Germany visited during the eighth edition, Mali was part of some history in 2019, and Nigeria, Botswana, and Namibia have become permanent fixtures to join the East African teams.

The Kwibuka might have influenced the decision of the Rwanda Cricket Association to invest in women’s cricket to give themselves a good chance of winning their own tournament and nine years later RCA is starting to see a return. The U19 girls qualified for the first edition of the U19 Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa and their performances at that World Cup especially against the West Indies and Zimbabwe won them the ICC Associate Women’s Performance of the Year 2022.

The core of that team is now leading at the front and centre of the success of the senior women’s team, Gisele Ishimwe and Henriette Ishimwe might be the most celebrated but the young off-spinner Rosine Irera, wicketkeeper batter Merveille Uwase and the live wire fast bowler Belise Murikatete have settled in alongside the experienced Margie Vumiliya, Sarah Uwera and Captain Diane Bimenyimana.

Bimenyimana and Uwera are some of the players who have been there since the inception of Kwibuka and for them, the wait was too long with scars of many battles they have failed to conquer, while the new generation for them it was time to show the likes of Kenya and Uganda that they can compete at the same level.

Rwanda never had it their way in the round-robin stages and will be grateful to Botswana for holding off Nigeria in a game that handed them the initiative to make their maiden final. In the final they met a side they had never defeated a couple of days before had been bundled out for 31 against the same opposition. With defending champions Tanzania and Namibia missing at the ninth edition Uganda was the favourite to win by virtue of their world ranking and form coming into the tournament.

However, a day before the final Uganda lost to Nigeria, a loss that burst their bubble and created some doubt in the favourites. A doubtful Uganda was good for a home side that was playing with an expectant 12th man. The last time Gahanga was that packed was its official opening and this time they were backing a side that was ready to deliver on a debt.

Uganda failed to post a strong total when asked to bat first even if the total was something to bowl at but once Gisele Ishimwe clobbered two sixes off the bowling of Concy Aweko that set the tone for the rest of the run chase. Merveille Uwase in her newfound freedom at the top of the order held things together as the others played around her to ensure the win by six wickets.

The sight of the next generation running onto the field to celebrate with Henriette Ishimwe and Marvelle Uwase was an indication of things to come, for one generation this was the beginning of their time and for another, it was finally the monkey off the back.

Uganda failed in a game that mattered most and Rwanda was successful in their first final.

“One of my KPIs when I came here was to win the Kwibuka,” Leonard Nhamburo, Head Coach of Rwanda’s Women, said.

“It’s taken two years for us to be champions and it’s been a process. The amount of cricket the girls have played and matches played has got us here.”

Leonard is a man who knows a thing or two about beating Uganda, when he was with Namibia they dominated Uganda and now that is in the neighbourhood and with a generational talent team that first win might not be the last one against Uganda.

Uganda, Nigeria, and Rwanda will meet again later in the year in Kampala for the T20 women’s World Cup Qualifiers in December while Kenya and Botswana have to go via the Division 2 qualifiers in Botswana.

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