London, Nov.20 : This week, the Central African nation of Rwanda will be welcomed into the fold of the 53-nation Commonwealth.
Rwanda will become the second African nation after Mozambique with no formal links to the British Empire, to be a full member of the Commonwealth.
Its unlikely inclusion owes much to cricket. Introduced to the country in 2000, the game has rapidly become the most potent symbol of the tiny state that has drifted away from the French-speaking world and towards Britain.
President Kagame, an Anglophone with a deep dislike of France, pursued membership of the Commonwealth to undermine French influence in his country, and his application was endorsed by Tony Blair, whose Government became Rwanda's biggest donor, contributing 46 million pounds a year.
When told of Rwanda's proposed membership, the former Prime Minister is reported to have said: "Well, they do play cricket don't they?"
"I think you can say we have batted our way into the Commonwealth," The Times quoted Charles Haba, president of the Rwanda Cricket Association, as saying. Haba has been successful in persuading six schools to start playing cricket and has gained affiliate status with the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The new found enthusiasm for cricket chimes with Kagame's desire that Rwanda, a former Belgian colony that became a close ally of France at independence, should adopt English as the language of choice.
A visit to the Kicukiro Oval in Rwanda stands testimony to the growing love for the sport. Here, eager schoolboys are getting to grips with the unfamiliar English game.
It is the only cricket ground in the country and its rudimentary pitch, where cows usually graze, lies next to the infamous École Technique, where 2,800 Tutsi men, women and children were massacred by marauding Hutus in the genocide of 1994.
"When we first started playing, we found piles of bones on the boundary over there," said Julius Mbaraga, captain and a founding member of Right Guards, the nation's first cricket club.
Language is an emotive issue because of its association with the genocide. Those responsible for the killings of some one million moderate Hutus and Tutsis were largely French speakers.
Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front rebel movement, which ended the genocide and now forms the bulk of the Government, was primarily English-speaking. It largely consisted of Tutsi refugees, whose parents had fled previous Hutu-led pogroms in the 1950s and 60s and settled in neighbouring English-speaking countries, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
Many of the Tutsi "boys" who grew up in exile learnt to play cricket.
When they finally returned home, they brought the game - and the English language - with them.
The game is now helping to overcome some of the divisions left by the genocide.
The country's five teams contain Hutus, Tutsis and several Rwandan Asians.
President Kagame is only too delighted if playing cricket and joining the Commonwealth ruffle French feathers.
Last year, he broke off diplomatic relations with Paris over its previous support for the hardline Hutu Government of Juvenal Habyarimana that masterminded the genocide.
Last week Cricket without Boundaries, a British charity supported by Andrew Flintoff and Gordon Brown, flew in to organise a six-day coaches' clinic in the country. Its members were impressed by what they found. (ANI)
© 2007 ANI