Sport can be used as a way to mend broken bridges and in Rwanda they certainly hope that is true.

The country is still healing from the heinous events of 1994 when 800,000 members of the Tutsi ethnic group were slaughtered in a Hutu-led genocide.

Those horrendous events over the course of 100 days have inevitably come to define the African country, and are still what most outsiders will think of nearly 30 years on.

But local people are trying to move on and rebuild, and sport is at the centre of those ambitions. 

As well as Tutsi and Hutu and other labels, it is hoped that everyone will simply consider themselves as Rwandans. 

"Because of '94 and the genocide against the Tutsi, we used sport to bring people together," said Jean Jacques Mugisha, the Rwanda Chef de Mission for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

"Sport brings many people together after that time.

"It has been a good tool to unite people after the genocide."

In football, the most popular sport, a tournament called the Peace Cup is held and a number of charitable and humanitarian organisations attempt to get people active as part of their peacekeeping efforts.

Rwanda first competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 after joining the Commonwealth of Nations in 2009 ©Getty Images
Rwanda first competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 after joining the Commonwealth of Nations in 2009 ©Getty Images

One method of bringing people together through exercise is certainly eye-catching. 

"We have car free days," said Mugisha.

"We stop cars for three or four hours in the morning and people go into the street to exercise.

"They run, they use bicycles and, after that, they meet and discuss many things.

"It makes people connected and united.

"Those kind of activities bring people together." 

Mugisha will lead a team of 17 athletes to Birmingham 2022, in athletics, beach volleyball, cycling and swimming.

It will only be the fourth Games for Rwanda, a country which was a colony of both Germany and Belgium but opted to join the largely British-tied Commonwealth of Nations in 2009.

The country has not yet won a medal but has been welcomed firmly into the club.

World leaders are gathering in capital Kigali this week for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), while the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) General Assembly took place there in 2019.

"I can say it has a big impact on our country, economically," said Mugisha on joining the Commonwealth. 

"Being in this family of countries speaking English, it has a lot of impact.

"And hosting the CHOGM means a big event being here in Rwanda."

Rwanda's Government set the ambitious target of having "a higher percentage of population playing sport than in any other African nation".

It wants to be among the "top three African countries in basketball, volleyball, cycling, athletics and Paralympic sports, and the top ten in football".

There was a huge boost in September of last year when the International Cycling Union awarded the 2025 Road World Championships to Kigali, granting the event to Africa for the first time.

CGF President Dame Louise Martin urged Rwanda to bid for the Commonwealth Youth Games when the organisation gathered for the General Assembly.

"It's always good to host the Commonwealth Games family, they are good people ready to hear the discussions," Mugisha said.

"It's a big family that supports each other.

"Hosting the General Assembly here in Rwanda was a big success, because everybody enjoyed their stay and it was a good meeting.

"Many people who came stayed here for a little bit to travel around the country." 

Any Youth Games bid would centre around Kigali Arena, a 10,000-seat indoor stadium which was officially opened by the country's President Paul Kagame in 2019. 

Kigali will host the Road Cycling World Championships in 2025 ©Getty Images
Kigali will host the Road Cycling World Championships in 2025 ©Getty Images

The facility is the largest of its kind in East Africa and part of the process of rebuilding the country after the genocide.

It recently hosted the finals of the Basketball Africa League for the second year in a row, with the REG team plying its trade in Kigali. 

Last year, the men's AfroBasket tournament took place there.

Mugisha, a project manager for the Rwanda Commonwealth Games Association, was also Chef de Mission at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

He was team manager at both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

"It's a good experience to see the organisation of these Games and work with the athletes, supporting their performance," he said.

Birmingham 2022 is going to be a "big post-COVID event", Mugisha added.

"It will be a good opportunity for us to see the performance of our athletes in a good and organised competition," he said.

"COVID was challenging for our athletes and sport was the last thing to reopen.

"During that time, athletes didn't train or compete abroad.

"But activities have now restarted and we have organised many tournaments, so our athletes can start to compete and get familiar with competition."

The Kigali Arena is a high-class new sporting venue in Rwanda ©Getty Images
The Kigali Arena is a high-class new sporting venue in Rwanda ©Getty Images

Mugisha was among those to attend the Birmingham 2022 Chef de Mission meetings in March.

"I think it will be a successful Games," he said.

"Good facilities, good people, welcoming people...

"Everything was perfect and I think these Games will be great."