The NBA’s Strange Relationship With Rwanda’s Repressive Leader

Many are questioning the NBA's decision to align themselves with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame
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Many are questioning the NBA's decision to align themselves with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who is shown here (above left) with NBA executive Masai Ujiri.

Last month, just two days after releasing his sixth studio album, J. Cole made his professional basketball debut in the NBA’s Basketball Africa League (BAL). The Grammy Award winner, regarded as one of the most influential rappers of his generation, played for the Rwanda Patriots Basketball Club, where he scored three points, secured several rebounds and a pair of assists en route to his team’s 83-60 win against Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers.

The match-up, which also happened to be the first-ever BAL game, was broadcast on national television in the United States and was met with widespread attention from international media outlets. The tournament’s inaugural season consisted of 12 teams from 12 African countries, including Rwanda, Algeria, Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, and Egypt.

However, the league has also drawn criticism for its decision to host its debut season in Rwanda, as well as the league’s growing relationship with Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

Dating back to 1994 when he was first appointed to political office, Kagame has been accused of widespread human rights atrocities. The alleged abuses include forced disappearances, assassinations of political opponents, torture and state-imposed censorship. His regime helped launch two wars in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which led to the deaths of more than five million people.

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