African Nations Championship Notebook: In Rwanda, Bitok is an icon

African Nations Championship Notebook: In Rwanda, Bitok is an icon

@MutindaStano in Kigali, Rwanda

Paul Bitok, Malkia Strikers head coach truly left a lasting legacy on the Land of Thousand Hills.

When you have achieved so much and won so many trophies like he did during his 10-year tenure as coach of both the country’s both women and men national teams, you create something special.

Malkia Strikers is taking on Tunisia in their third preliminary matches on Wednesday evening at the magnificent Kigali Arena, and on the stands are a handful of fans, of course no fans allowed inside due to stringent Covid-19 rules, and they have gone to great lengths to wear shirts with Bitokeh name on the back.

When I approached one of them, I was not interested to know why they were in so much love with the lanky Kenyan tactician because the records are there to tell, but my aim was to find out why they refer to him as Bitokeh and not Bitok.

His name, Bizimana Kimenyi, he simply told me they ‘fine-tuned’ the Kenyan name into Kinyarwanda, and that he is respected even by President Paul Kagame for taking the sport to the next level in this tiny East African country.

I went back to my plastic seat and he, alongside his colleagues, continued to chant, Bitokeh wapige hao, tunakupenda sana wapige hao (Go get them Bitok, we’re rallying behind you).

Malkia Strikers won, and outside the Arena, a place where I’m allowed to do my interviews, I find the fans surrounding the coach already signing their autographs, and in the midst I hear one of them asking loudly with his ‘broken Swahili’, “Bitokeh mbona katoka Rwanda wewe aki” (Why did you quit on us, Bitok?).

The coach signalled me to wait and he was conversing with them in pure Kinyarwanda and after five minutes they left, and then we carried on with our interview.

Kenya faces Rwanda in the semi finals and I still don’t know where the hearts of these fans will be!