Both in the ranks of club volleyball and in the Rwandan national volleyball team, Christophe Mukunzi figures among the most dangerous players. He uses his spectacular attacks to stand at the very top.
For the past eight years, the player with the “deadly” right arm and the breathtaking jumping ability, has been part of the senior national volleyball team. He received his maiden call-up in 2010 before being named the team captain the following year.
When he joined the current Rwandan champions, Gisagara Volleyball Club, last year, the 1.90m Mukunzi proved to be, arguably, the country’s best on his position and most influential player.
However, the 29-year old parted company with the Gisagara district-sponsored side last week to join archrivals of Rwanda Energy Group (REG) after inspiring them to three titles; the league title, Genocide Memorial Tournament title and the Carre d’As title – all in one season.
Saturday Sports’ Damas Sikubwabo caught up with the left-attacker this week.
Who is Mukunzi?
Born on February 8, 1989 to Veronique Nibasenge and Mathias Gasarasi (RIP) in Birambo Sector of Karongi District, Mukunzi is the second-born in a family of four boys.
He is married to Nice Muhizi Giramata, with whom they have one son – Kian Ryker Gabirwa Mukunzi.
Mukunzi attended Group Scolaire Rubengera for his primary school and went to Group Scolaire St Joseph Birambo, both in Karongi District, where he did his O’Level studies. After, he switched to Kamonyi-based Isetar Runda for his advanced level studies, majoring in construction.
“Since completing my secondary school in 2009, I am yet to enroll to university but I have plans to. I had to put studies on hold a bit so I can concentrate on my volleyball career, which I have to say has been a rewarding bet,” Mukunzi said in the exclusive interview.
He looked up to former Rwanda international Eric ‘Machine’ Nsabimana for inspiration. Despite his passion for volleyball, he is also a football fan but argues he has no favourite club, locally or globally.
Then at the age of 20, Mukunzi made his league debut with Kigali Volleyball Club (KVC) in 2009 – a few months as a secondary school leaver. Prior to his maiden league player licence, he had featured for different teams in local and regional inter-schools championships.
During his first season with KVC, the hard-hitting spiker helped the team to finish third in the league behind champions APR and University of Rwanda. While the following season, he inspired the club to KAVC Memorial Tournament title in Kampala, Uganda.
After two seasons with the former champions, Mukunzi was courted by Libyan side Tarsana Club in 2011, and the player grabbed the opportunity without hesitation. He featured for the team in Libya’s top-tier league for one year before making a U-turn to KVC for the 2012-13 season.
At the end of the season, Mukunzi was signed by Algerian side, Blida Club, for one year, from where he headed to Al Arabi Sports Club in Qatar – also on a one-year deal.
But his love affair with Algerian league was not done. He was signed by El Fanar Ain-Azel Club for one year but ditched the Algerian side in early 2015, after a few months, to join Turkish side Payas Belediye Sport Club on a two-year contract.
Early 2017, Mukunzi relocated to Bulgarian first division side VC Marek Union-Ivkoni on a one-season deal.
Back to Rwanda
After his contract with VC Marek Union-Ivkoni, which the club was hesitant to extend, Mukunzi moved back to Rwanda to join Gisagara last October for the 2017/2018 season.
“When I started playing for Gisagara, I realized how much I had missed our volleyball league. It was a great feeling at home again. I look forward to helping REG win their first championship next season,” said Mukunzi.
The former KVC attacker signed one year of contract with REG last week. The 2018-19 domestic volleyball season is set to start in November.
Duties in national teams
Mukunzi earned his first cap in the national Under-23 volleyball team in 2010, the team that participated at the 2010 Africa U23 championships staged in Libya. He captained the youthful Rwandan side a fourth position as Tunisia won the tournament.
In 2011, he was called to the senior men’s national team and featured in the FIVB/Africa Zone V championship hosted at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, and won by Rwanda.
The regional triumph earned Rwanda a ticket to the All-Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique where they also finished fourth, behind champions Cameroun, Algeria and Kenya.
In 2013, he was part of the team that finished second at the FIVB/Africa Zone V championship in Kigali to reach the final round of FIVB World Championships qualifiers held in Cameroun.
Rwanda finished third out of five countries, behind hosts Cameroun and Algeria.
The soft spoken player was again part of the Paul Bitok’s Rwandan national team that competed at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo. Rwanda finished fourth.
Last year, Mukunzi helped Rwanda finish second – after losing to Kenya in the final – in Zone V tournament in Kigali where they qualified for the African Championships.
Mukunzi is regarded as one of the country’s most consistent volleyball players of all time.
Piece of advice to youngsters
Mukunzi urges youngsters to always follow their instinct, work hard, be disciplined, never give up when things are not going well and be determined to achieve their goals.