Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors president and vice-chair and Giants of Africa co-founder, creates a hub for business, play, and entrepreneurship on the continent
KIGALI, Rwanda – Proudly African, sustainably-designed, and impact-driven: Masai Ujiri today broke ground on his first urban development project with a focus on community, hospitality, sports and culture.
Intended as a hub for social and cultural community gatherings and a magnet for sports enthusiasts, influencers and Africa’s booming middle class, the first Zaria Court – located within Kigali’s lively sports and entertainment district, adjacent to the newly-built BK Arena and under-construction Amahoro National Stadium – is slated to open in early 2025.
“We know that sport provides individual opportunities for work, for play and for wellness. But this project also shows that sports can act as a catalyst for neighborhoods and for nations – jobs, businesses, and whole economies can benefit from the presence of these spaces,” Ujiri said. “We’re excited to launch Zaria Court from the heart of Kigali, where there is unlimited opportunity for youth, women and entrepreneurs, and where we have seen very successful international sporting events held. We’re looking forward to hosting Rwanda, Africa, and the world at Zaria Court Kigali.”
“We are really grateful that we have been able to work together on many things, including the Zaria Court project and the whole ecosystem built around it. It doesn’t stop here, it spreads across Rwanda, the region and our continent,” said His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda. “The potential is enormous, it is actually limitless. This kind of investment grows infrastructure, it grows economies, it contributes to tourism. The impact is much bigger than what the eyes can see.”
The project in Kigali is the first Zaria Court on the continent and is centered around an urban hospitality hub which reuses existing buildings and features an 80-room boutique hotel, restaurants, a rooftop lounge, a gym, wellness spaces, co-working spaces and a podcast studio. At the heart of the site is a multi-purpose court, which will serve as a space for sporting events, festivals, performances, markets and other events.
Zaria Court Kigali includes a vibrant retail area which will adapt to the needs of the neighborhood and visitors. Shipping containers will be repurposed into shops and other businesses, creating an environmentally sustainable retail space serving as an incubation hub, targeted at women-owned businesses and young local entrepreneurs.
Fully 70 percent of the site is a biodiverse, sustainably designed open green space. Meant to encourage an ecosystem which includes play and rest alongside business, soothing spaces for relaxation and play areas for children are central to the plan’s design. Two five-a-side soccer pitches – available for tournaments and local leagues – are included in the green space.
Along with Ujiri, the project team brings together development experts in architecture, hospitality, sports and entertainment. It includes Kunlé Adeyemi, the founder and principal of NLÉ, an award-winning architecture, design and urbanism practice with projects across the globe. Andrew Feinstein, the project co-sponsor, is a real estate developer with experience in urban renewal projects and developing arts districts. QA Venue Solutions, responsible for the campus, is a Rwanda-based, pan-African event and venue management company with a focus on the sports and entertainment ecosystem, and Aleph Hospitality, a pan-African hospitality management company with a growing pipeline of hotels across Africa and the Middle East, will look after the hotel property. Financing for Zaria Court was arranged by Bank of Kigali, Helios Sports & Entertainment Group, and a consortium of local and international investors.
The goal is to develop Zaria Courts across the continent in booming cities, with initial target markets to include Accra, Ghana; Lagos, Nigeria; Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Nairobi, Kenya. The potential feels limitless: Africa is the globe’s youngest continent, with a median age of 201, and is increasingly urban. It has the fastest growing consumer class in the world, and its population will double by 20502 – with two-thirds of that growth happening in cities where Zaria Court will have a presence. Each Zaria Court is estimated to create at least 500 local jobs.
Ujiri, who grew up in Zaria, Nigeria, is the vice-chairman and president of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. In 2003 he co-founded Giants of Africa, which aims to empower the lives of African youth through sport.