Rwanda’s first professional golfer, Emmanuel Ruterana has lived to tell the story of his near brush with death after surviving the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. His father was killed in the Genocide.
“We never knew we would live to today, we lost our loved ones but we survived for a reason and a good one, so we don’t have to feel lonely, discouraged or even depressed,” the 32-year-old said in an interview with this paper.
Ruterana says as a country we must use the tragedy as a source of energy to make us even stronger and hope for a brighter future.
Ruterana was born in 1990 in Nyarutarama cell, Remera Sector, Gasabo District to Emmanuel Karahamuheto (RIP) and Vestine Mukamuriza. He is the first-born in a family of four children, two boys and two girls.
His father was killed during the genocide but luckily his mother and siblings survived.
Ruterana attended Kagugu primary school where he completed his primary leaving exams in 1996. But unfortunately he was not able to enroll for secondary school due to lack of school fees.
Living near the Kigali Golf Club in Nyarutarama made it easy for Ruterana to pick interest in a game which is widely regarded as a reserve for the rich.
“I used to spend most of my time watching people play and I started by imitating them,” he told Saturday Sport.
Years later, Ruterana went on to become the biggest name in Rwandan golf and also became the first Rwandan to turn professional. He is currently ranked second behind Jean Baptitse Hakizimana.
Ruterana says plans to wed his long-time girlfriend are in advanced stages. “Sometimes plans change, but if all goes well, next year we will tie the knot,” Vanessa Niragire, said.
Before picking much interest in golf, Ruterana, like most kids of his age, used to play football, which is the most popular sport in Rwanda.
Two years after the 1994 Genocide, when Ruterana dropped out of school, life was tasteless for him and his young siblings.
He would spend most of his time at the golf course to see how the ‘privileged’ spend their free time—and for six years, he went through the same daily routine until he started to work as a caddie in 2002.
“It was tough in the beginning to even become a caddie because you have to get used to the people, the rules as well getting accepted at the club,” he recalls, before adding that, “I started by gathering scattered balls, but also tried to play whenever a chance came up.”
In 2003, he started carrying bags for players. But caddies had one day in a week (normally Mondays) to play amongst ourselves. “ It’s from there that I developed my talent. We would practice on Mondays and play a tournament once in two months,” he reminisces.
The following year, Ruterana continued to be a caddie but he had perfected his skills. This attracted the attention of Rwanda Golf Union officials and in May 2014, he was named on the national amateurs’ team. The team competed it the East African Challenge and finished second behind Kenya.
“I owe my first chance to play for the national team to Robert Byaruhanga (currently staying in USA) a former senior golfer at the club; he played a crucial role in promoting me to the national team and I will always be grateful to him,” Ruterena reveals.
Despite fast becoming the player to watch on the local scene, he continued to face financial problems to buy his own equipment until he met a one Joseph Ntaganda in 2005.
“I met Ntaganda and because of my talent he started helping me with equipment, paying for me club membership fees on top of giving me Rwf 100, 000 every month to cater for my other personal requirements,” he says.
By late 2005, Ruterana had become Rwanda’s star player. He won the Burundi Open, RwandAir Open, finished second in Uganda Open and helped the national team to finish second behind Kenya in the East African Challenge held in Rwanda.
He also played in the All Africa Golf Challenge in South Africa, which was his first major tournament outside this region.
In 2006, he was part of the team that finished joint third with hosts Tanzania in Arusha in the East African Challenge won by Kenya with Uganda coming second, Burundi took fourth place— his last tournament as an amateur golfer.
Early 2007, he landed a two-year sponsorship from I&M bank.
The first tournament that Ruterana featured in as a professional golfer was the 2007 GBG Open in Uganda where finished second behind Uganda’s top player Deo Akope.
In the same year, he competed in Kenya Open but missed the cut. He was also the first Rwandan to compete in South Africa’s Sunshine Tour that very year but also failed to make the cut.
Ruterana is a four-time Rwanda Open title winner in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. The Rwanda Open is Rwanda’s biggest golf tournament, which attracts golfers from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.
In 2009, he finished third behind champion Dismas Ndiza of Kenya and Uganda’s Akope. In 2011, he finished fourth behind winner Richard Henry (Kenya), Dismas Ndiza (Kenya) and Monday Godfrey of Uganda.
Last year, Ruterana also competed in various tournaments namely MTN Erikson Open, Burundi Open, Clean Bank Open (Uganda) and KBC Kenya Open and in all he performed fairly well.