OBITUARY: Death robs Rwanda of a distinct linguist

Kamanzi’s works includes the publishing of the first Kinyarwanda-French Dictionary, in 2005 SOUTHERN PROVINCE BUTARE — Last week Rwanda lost one of her great scholars and preserver of the Rwandan Culture.

Kamanzi’s works includes the publishing of the first Kinyarwanda-French Dictionary, in 2005


BUTARE — Last week Rwanda lost one of her great scholars and preserver of the Rwandan Culture.

Mourners from across the country trekked to the Southern Province town of Butare to pay final respects to the fallen linguist, Thomas Kamanzi who passed away on the 17th of August after a long battle with cancer.

At 79, one would be tempted to think that Kamanzi got a well deserving rest but the mystery that always surrounds death creates emptiness amongst mortals and thus mourning becomes the only logical resort.

He excelled in his field and this called for national recognition in the same realm as other Rwandan great scholars like Monsignor Alex Kagame.

Kamanzi devoted his last days to take care of the Archives of Monsignor Alex Kagame.

He  was born in Mugombwa Sector, Gisagara district in 1929 to Benoit Ruhulinkima and Stephanie Nyirambona.

He attended primary school at the Mugombwa mission from 1938-1943 and joined Kabgyayi Minor Seminary for secondary education and then Nyakibanda Major Seminary where he studied philosophy.

In 1963, Kamanzi joined the National University of Rwanda (NUR) where he studied linguistics until 1966.

Between 1972 and 1980, Kamanzi carried out research and did training programmes in Belgium and France.

At an early age of 22, Kamanzi began a long working career that was to span for 42 years.

In 1951, Kamanzi worked with J J Maquet as an assistant researcher in anthropology at the Institut pour la Recherché Scientifique en Afrique Centrale (IRSAC), now Institute of Scientific and Technological Research (IRST).

In 1952-1973 Kamanzi began collaboration with a Belgian, Andre Coupez with whom he worked at the Institut National pour la Recherché Scientifique (INRS).

It was during this time that he started a life long project of realising the first Kinyarwanda-French Dictionary in partnership with Coupez, Simon Bizimana et al.

After nearly 45 years the project was finally realised and the dictionary hit the shelves in 2005.

Being the perfectionist he was Kamanzi was not impressed by the final version of the dictionary.

He embarked on editing the 2005 version of Kinyarwanda-French. The final copy was produced in 2007.

Kamanzi not only did research but also taught at the NUR and in schools in Burundi. 

One of his students at the National University of Rwanda and currently the Dean of the faculty of Arts Deo Byanafashe, said of his respected teacher, friend and Country man.

According to Byanafashe, the late Kamanzi advocated for the preservation of the Rwandan culture and all its traditions.

“He helped many young men ‘negotiate’ for their brides in the traditional Gusaba ceremony where he always led the ‘negotiating’ team. He was the principle ‘negotiator’ during the give- away ceremony of my elder daughter,” said Byanafashe.

Like any other great scholars, Kamanzi worked hard to propagate his own ‘school of thought’ especially as regards the Kinyarwanda language.

He greatly disagreed with Monsignor Alex Kagame as regards intonation in the Kinyarwanda language.

Celebrated Rwandan historian and musician Cyprien Rugamba, in one of his songs ‘Jya Umenya Gusaza’, stresses the treasure of growing old; free from conflict, antagonism and betrayal.

According to Byanafashe, Kamanzi’s old age was modelled along this script.

Political upheavals of the early 70’s in Rwanda forced Kamanzi to flee to Burundi. During his stay, Kamanzi taught Kirundi in many schools and did research.

Between 1976- 1991 Kamanzi worked at the Bureau d’Education Rurale (BER) du Burundi where he conducted research on the Kirundi language.

Gregoire Muramira, one of his students at the Ecole Saint Esprit in 1958 in Burundi described him as a respected teacher while in exile in Burundi.

While in Burundi Kamanzi tried to impact the Kirundi culture albeit unsuccessfully.

There were vivid differences especially in some cultural ceremonies especially that of Gusaba (marriage ceremony).

Kamanzi returned to Rwanda in 1994 to resume work at IRST until he was retired 12 years later.

At the IRST, Kamanzi headed the Human Science department. Despite being retired, Kamanzi was employed on contract to enable him complete the two projects he had embarked on; Récits historiques II and Dialectologie rwandaise.

He did not live to complete them.

His last days were also devoted to keeping the archives of Alex Kagame, a job he did with great passion.

According to Mzee Mihigo, Kamanzi was always ready to help people of all walks of life access the treasure left behind by one of Rwanda’s greats, Alex Kagame.

Some of his works include; Geography of Meaning, Topography of Struggle in A Kinyarwanda Dictionary, Inkoranya y’íkinyarwaanda mu kinyarwanda nó mu gifaraansá which he co-authored with André Coupez, Thomas Kamanzi, Simon Bizimana, et al, Proverbes du Rwanda; which he wrote  with Laurent Nkongori.

Politicians too did not miss out on paying tribute to the fallen linguist. Polisi Denis from the Rwanda Patriotic Front Inkontanyi (RPF) described Kamanzi as a patriot and a staunch member of the party.

“He served the Country and party well. He embraced the values of heroism, tolerance and humility,” said Polisi Denis.
The late Thomas Kamanzi was laid to rest in Mugombwa Sector, Gisagara district in fulfilment of his death wish- to be buried next to his parents, a wish that was duly respected.

Government and prominent officials at the burial ceremony included; RPF spokesperson Servellien Sebasoni, the Secretary General in the Ministry of Internal Security Amb. Mutaboba, Jean de Dieu Mucyo (of the Mucyo Commission), Brigadier General Jack Nziza, former deputy parliamentary speaker honourable Polisi Denis and over 40 former members of parliament who came to console their former colleague in parliament Athanasie Gahondogo, wife to the deceased.

He is survived by a wife and five children.


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