Following comments that triggered a barrage of angry responses from Rwandan football fans and legends alike, Rwanda Football Federation (FERWAFA) president Vincent ‘Degaule’ Nzamwita has apologised to the nation and the country’s former footballers for belittling Rwanda’s historic appearance at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in Tunisia.
While unveiling the new Amavubi head coach Antoine Hey on Tuesday, Nzamwita suggested that the country’s representatives to the 2004 AFCON finals were not a true representation of Rwanda since most of them were mercenaries.
His comments didn’t go down well with most of the ex-internationals who played a part in that campaign, including former Amavubi captains Desire Mbonabucya and Olivier Karekezi, who called on the FERWAFA chief to step down for undermining the country’s greatest achievement in football to date.
Nzamwita had said on Tuesday: “We want to build a strong Rwandan team which can qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. To me, it is like Rwanda has never featured in any AFCON finals because we had many players who were not Rwandans during the 2004 edition, we need to plan for sustainability, not for a one-off,” he added.
Responding to Nzamwita’s comments, former Rwanda international Desire Mbonabucya, who captained the 2004 Amavubi side, asked Nzamwita to resign from his position with immediate effect.
He wrote on his Facebook page: “This is too much for us as sportsmen and we ask you to step down because you don’t deserve to be in that position. President Paul Kagame and government officials did a great job to give us everything to go to 2004 AFCON (finals), so how can you come and deny that Rwanda did not participate in the tournament because it had many foreign players?”
“People used their means and power to play in AFCON and (now) someone who has not even done one thing for the country puts us down, we need him to step down,” Belgium-based Mbonabucya added.
Another former Amavubi skipper Olivier Karekezi said: “I don’t know if it is because he studied fish farming. He (should) be happy for what the country has achieved after 1994; I think he does not merit that position.”
Like Mbonabucya, Karekezi was part of the team that played in the AFCON 2004 finals where Rwanda pulled off a decent performance even as they were eliminated in the preliminary stage having won one game, drawn one and lost another.
“It is unacceptable for him to attack Amavubi legends and I think a decision has to be taken. We need to get the right person because that’s not what officials in that position should say. The FA president should concentrate on developing our football instead of talking nonsense,” said an infuriated former forward.
He added: “(Since) Nzamwita has shown that he is not fit for that position, he has to resign – and to be honest there must be plenty of people out there who know football and are capable of taking us to another level”.
Former Amavubi right-back Jean Remy Bitana, another of the 2004 AFCON legends, said: “Strangers are people you do not even know, then as soon as you know them and you share the same passion, they cease to be strangers. Makelele is a French or Congolese?”
He was referring to the Congolese-born former French international Claude Makelele, a member of a generation of naturalized French footballers who represented France at the highest level of world football, winning the European nation so many trophies.
However, Nzamwita on Thursday seemed to backtrack on his remarks insisting that he was quoted out of context.
Speaking on Rwanda Television, the former APR FC secretary-general said: “All I wanted to say was that we should put much emphasis on youth football development. Strategically, developing football will pave way for Rwanda to successively feature in Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. This was the message I wanted to put across”
“I know what the country did in terms of investing resources to ensure that Rwanda qualified for 2004 Africa Cup of Nations finals and this was a memorable milestone.”
He added: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise to all Rwandans, who erroneously perceived my message which I said in my broken Kinyarwanda, most especially to Amavubi legends such as skipper Desire Mbonabucya, Olivier Karekezi, Jimmy Mulisa, Eric Nshimiyimana and Jimmy Gatete who felt insulted, and the former management of FERWAFA who played a big role in qualifying Rwanda to the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations,” he said.
Rwanda AFCON 2004 squad:
Patrick Mbeu, Jean-Paul Habyarimana, Hamad Ndikumana, Abdul Sibomana, Léandre Bizagwira, Frédéric Rusanganwa, Canisius Bizimana, Michel Kamanzi , Joao Elias Manamana, Jimmy Gatete, Olivier Karekezi, Henri Munyaneza, Elias Ntaganda, Saïd Abed Makasi, Désiré Mbonabucya, Eric Nshimiyimana Jean Lomani, Ramadhani Nkunzingoma, Karim Kamanzi, Jimmy Mulisa, Jean Rémy Bitana, and Jean-Claude Ndagijimana.