Former Amavubi and Rayon Sports goalkeeper Eugene Murangwa has said football has played a key role in unifying Rwandans after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, which claimed over a million lives.
The country on Saturday started a weeklong official mourning period as Rwandans pay tribute to their compatriots who were killed during the Genocide.
Speaking to Times Sport on Friday, Murangwa said football and sports in general have served as instrumental tools in uniting Rwandans over the last 24 years, considering that a large majority of Rwandans are sports fans.
“In my case, football saved my life, there are others who are alive today because of football,” said the former goalkeeper.
He praised the post-Genocide RPF-led government for promoting sports, which he said helped Rwandans to harness what unites them as a people than what divided them.
“Football has helped heal the wounds of many, including myself, my family as well as other Genocide survivors.”
Murangwa lost 35 members of his family during the Genocide, which he survived when militiaman identified him to be “Toto”, his nickname as Rayon Sports goalkeeper.
In subsequent days, he was hid and protected by club fans and teammates.
Born in Rwamagana in 1975, Murangwa was the eldest in a family of six.
“Football can unite even the worst of enemies and has been used as an effective reconciliation tool in many post-conflict societies,” he observed.
He said: “After my family was killed, I was rescued by fans and players of Rayon Sports.”
However, Murangwa, who stays in UK, said Genocide caused him a great loss, which he still struggles with to date. “It has not been easy. I have experienced many problems ever since; life has never been the same.”
“I will never forget my loved ones…even as football has taught me to forgive,” he noted.
Murangwa’s seven-year-old brother Jean Paul Irankunda was killed in the Genocide. But his parents survived.
Their family also produced several other prominent sports fingures, including his late young brothers Lambert Niyindorera and Claude Ishimwe (goalkeepers), former APR centre back Gilbert Kayumba and his sister Claudine ‘Mimi’ Niwemahoro, a former player with Kigali Volleyball Club.
News of the shooting of the plane carrying former president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994 reached Murangwa when he was watching a football match in a bar.
It would be the last time he would see many of his friends, colleagues and family members, including his younger brother Irankunda.
After the Genocide, Murangwa played for the national team Amavubi. Nonetheless, he would later suddenly stop playing and move to Europe.
First, he went to Belgium and then to UK in 1997.
But he has since been on a mission to tell the world the truth of what happened to his country in 1994, he says.
Just this year, Murangwa was given an MBE award in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for raising awareness and education about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in UK schools.
An MBE is given for an “outstanding achievement or service to the community, while the Queen’s New Year’s Honors are traditionally given to individuals who have gone an extra mile to help others or those who have achieved outstandingly in a particular field.
Murangwa says there are those who continue to misrepresent facts surrounding the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, with some deliberately using ambiguous language.
“24 years ago the Int’l Community led by the #UN not only failed #Rwanda by refusing to intervene and stop Genocide. But they also refused to call what was happening ‘GENOCIDE’ for some good time. 24 years later the UN and some countries still making the same mistakes,” he tweeted yesterday.
In Rwanda, different sports federations organise annual tournaments in honour of their officials, players and fans killed during the Genocide.