By David Himbara
Obama famously stated that history is on the side of brave Africans fighting for democracy and “not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power” and that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” By joining the NBA Africa as a strategic partner, Obama is joining one of the most brutal African strongmen. Rwanda’s strongman General Paul Kagame is fully embedded in the NBA Africa project. The actions and statements of the NBA leadership have established Kagame’s central role in their African adventure.
It unclear how and when the bromance of Rwanda’s strongman General Paul Kagame and Masai Ujiri, the President of the Toronto NBA team, the Raptors, begun. Be that as it may, the two men became joined at the hip for the past decade. The bromance led to Kagame awarding Ujiri a 2.4-hectare plot of land in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, according to reports. This in a country where the population density is 504 people per square kilometre, which makes Rwanda the most densely populated country in Africa.
Through Ujiri, Kagame captured the NBA. Kagame was the NBA’s special guest at the all-star game in Toronto, Canada, in 2016. A big NBA and Golden State Warriors fan, Kagame watched the Warriors’ 104–100 victory over the Houston Rockets in 2019. It was on this occasion that NBA commissioner Adam Silver praised Kagame for supporting the NBA to grow basketball in Africa. As Silver put it, “President Kagame and his family are very knowledgeable NBA fans, and we appreciate his support and that of other African leaders to grow the game across the continent.” In the same year, Kagame was a special guest at the NBA Africa Forum alongside Commissioner Silver on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, New York City. Kagame was the keynote speaker.
Meanwhile, Kagame was building a basketball arena in Kigali which cost US$104 million in a country whose 59% of the central government expense comes from foreign aid. It was a no-brainer that the Kigali Basketball Arena later hosted the inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League which kicked off on May 17, 2021. The NBA establishment pretty much guaranteed that Kagame would host the inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League.
Now comes the bombshell. The NBA announced on July 27, 2021, announced that former President Barack Obama had joined NBA Africa as a strategic partner. In a speech delivered in the Ghanaian parliament on July 11, 2009, Obama famously stated that history is on the side of brave Africans fighting for democracy and “not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” By joining the NBA Africa as a strategic partner, Obama is joining one of the most brutal African strongmen. In its review of Rwanda’s human rights record in May 2021, the US government cited “credible allegations of unlawful or arbitrary arrests and detentions, killings, and enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, political opponents, and journalists.”
Make no mistake about it – Kagame is fully embedded in the NBA Africa project. Obama is ill-advised – this is a big mistake.