Maxime Mwiseneza, the current head coach of local basketball league side Espoir and a former player, is one of the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
He lost his parents in the first month of the carnage that lasted 100 days. When the Genocide was stopped he was among the survivors, but the trauma took a toll on his life. However, he says basketball gave him hope to live a normal life again.
Mwiseneza, the fifth born in the family of six (three boys and three girls), was only 11 years when the Genocide against the Tutsi started. He survived together with his siblings but their parents were killed.
But for many like him whose families had been resettled in Ntarama sector of Bugesera District in 1959, for them, the Genocide had started as early as 1991.
“Honestly, for us in Bugesera, the Genocide begun as early as 1991, 1993 before it exploded on a wide scale in 1994, I witnessed all that,” the soft-spoken Mwiseneza told Times Sport.
Mwiseneza recounts that when the killings began in April 1994, his family was separated as everyone looked for a hiding place.
“My dad was one of the top targets, but for my mum, who was actually killed first, I witnessed her death. The first time the killers came and hacked her with machetes and left her for dead, but she narrowly survived.”
“Later, after a few days, they came back and finished her off, and I remember, to reduce on the torture, we had been through as children, our father buried mum by himself.”
Unfortunately, Mwiseneza’s father was also killed just two days before Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) reached their area.
“By the time my father was killed, we had all separated but I knew it and we were also close to getting killed but we were saved by our liberators (RPA),” recalled Mwiseneza.
After the Genocide, some of his relatives, who had survived adopted and raised them like their own children. Mwiseneza, who is now a married man, holds a degree in Civil Engineering, and is currently a senior engineer at Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA).
The power of basketball in healing
Mwiseneza reveals that after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, he was depressed and hopeless, and that desperation forced him to take up karate martial arts following what he had witnessed over those 100 days.
“It was hard, you couldn’t identify who is your friend and who your enemy is, and during that period, immediately after the Genocide, I had to start learning karate for purposes of self-defence,” he recounts.
In 1997, when he joined secondary school, Mwiseneza switched from karate to basketball in which, he says, he discovered his way to a normal life.
He noted that, “When I began playing basketball in 1997, that’s when for the first time, I felt relieved in my heart; I learnt to be open to everyone regardless of who they are, and I felt a sense of belonging to the society again.”
In his basketball career, the 32-year-old played for former Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) and later former KIST and Espoir before calling time on his playing career in 2010 when he was made the club’s assistant coach. Seven years later in 2017, he was appointed the head coach following the departure of Jean Bahufite.
Mwiseneza offers advice to fellow survivors: “Today, what I can tell any Rwandan with a similar story and is yet to fully recover, is to engage in sports because it gives you a family and it’s a very strong tool to unite people.”