Former Rwanda Development Board (RDB) CEO, Clare Akamanzi, is destined for greater heights following her appointment as Chief Executive Officer of National Basketball Association-Africa (NBA-Africa), just over two months since she left the Gishushu-based government entity charged with promoting tourism and investment.
The Rwandan lawyer, public administrator, businesswoman and politician, who served as the executive director and CEO of RDB from February 2017 to September 2023, a period during which she pioneered a number of sporting, tourism and investment initiatives.
Effective January 23, 2024, Akamanzi will replace Victor Williams, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as CEO of the NBA’s initiative on the African continent, which is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The appointment makes her the first female to hold this position. KT Press takes a look at what she is capable of and expected to do during her time as the lead business broker for the NBA in Africa and the development of the game on the continent.
First things first. Akamanzi is seen as a capable choice for the job, considering her education background and track record, which makes her a suitable candidate for the job.
Akamanzi holds an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Concordia University, Canada, a Master of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School, an LLM in International Trade and Investment from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and an LLB (Hons) from Makerere University, Uganda.
Her personality and hands-on attitude has earned her a legion of fans. An open minded person and a renowned sports enthusiast, Akamanzi’s attributes fit in well in the sports world and her attachment to the basketball game is what has led to many seeing her as a driving force in the coming years.
Currently, the NBA Africa has operations in Cairo, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos, and recently opened offices in Nairobi (adding a 5th office to a network), but as an African multinational investment with over the $1billion will need more investment, shaping talent (grassroots basketball) and networks in major cities of the continent and places with potential talent.
Over the past years, Africa has seen growing basketball talent in Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon and South Sudan. Some of these countries even qualified for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.
The NBA Academy Africa, which opened in 2018, aims to help local players grow on the continent while bringing them closer to the NBA. Only 26 players are selected through physical, basketball, and academic tests, making it a life-changing opportunity.
NBA’s entry in Africa meant that this talent potential is inevitably one that you cannot overlook, especially that the continent has already produced formidable talent that plays and shines in the NBA.
For example, Joel Embiid from Cameroon, who finished second in the 2023 Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting in the NBA, or Pascal Siakam, an All-Star player who had an integral part in the Toronto Raptors winning the 2019 NBA championship.
“We want to train more teachers and coaches in the game to strengthen the administration of the game by also offering clinics to referees. We also want to work with prospective partners who see the game as a vehicle to engage young people,” Williams explained during the launch of the Nairobi office in November.
Akamanzi’s media friendly approach- to answer all questions however hard or controversial they seem to be, which she demonstrated at the helm of leading the RDB, could be an added advantage when it comes to selling the image of NBA to foreign media.
“Her administration and lobbying experience is very key for the NBA Africa. She will use her business contacts during the VisitRwanda campaigns in the US and Europe that she accumulated while at RDB to make the game more visible, even though she has no experience in the sporting world,” said Placide Ngirinshuti a media analyst and Legal Representative of the Rwanda Journalists for Sustainable Development (RJSD).
A track record of successes
Leading the RDB, Akamanzi has been pivotal in attracting Foreign Direct Investment and promoting local investments especially in tourism and industry.
However, she has been in the limelight for her pivotal role in enabling Rwanda to host the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL), Giants of Africa involvement in 2021 and 2023, as well as Rwanda’s engaging huge investment in the VisitRwanda campaign with renowned clubs such as Arsenal, Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and Bayern Munich, among other achievements.
“With your (Akamanzi) leadership, the future of African basketball is bright,” said the Rwanda Basketball Federation (FERWABA) on X.
Even after leaving RDB, Akamanzi was recently, at the Move Africa campaign in Rwanda, recognised by the Rwanda Golfing family, for being able to organise and pull off the first ever annual Visit Rwanda Golf Challenge which attracted players from across the world.
At the award ceremony on December 7, 2023, Andrew Kulayige, the Kigali Golf Club (KGC) Captain and its President Marcel Byusa said that Akamanzi led a group of women to make the event a success.
“If you want something to succeed, deploy women, if you want something done with precision, deploy women,” Byusa said in reference to Akamanzi and her team of ladies.
Akamanzi will start her duties on January 23, 2024 and will cross paths with her fellow Rwandan Pascale Mugwaneza, who was in August appointed a member of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA)’s Central Board representing Africa.
Coming from Rwanda, and banking on the country’s reputation of doing the impossible, Akamanzi (with the backing of Mugwaneza) will have to do the biggest tasks which include soliciting game sponsorship, expanding operations on the continent and selling the NBA brand beyond her predecessor.
The BAL is currently sponsored by sporting giants like NIKE, Wilson and big brands like Hennessy, New Fortress, Envol City, AGA-Africa and VisitRwanda.