Former University of Rwanda, APR and national team setter Elie Mutabazi is a true definition of a living legend of Rwandan volleyball. He continues to contribute to its development to date.
Mutabazi was one of Rwanda’s finest volleyball players of his generation that also included legends such as Jean Luc Ndayikengurukiye, Leandre Karekezi (current president of Rwanda Volleyball Federation), and Eugene Kayijamahe to name a few.
The 39-year old is currently the Assistant Coach of APR volleyball club.
Who is Mutabazi?
Born Elie Mutabazi, the veteran setter was born to Telesphore Mutabazi and Clotilde Nyiramubyeyi on January 6, 1979 in Gisagara District. He is the fifth child in a family of ten – seven boys and three girls.
He is married to Jilione Uwineza with whom they have two children; a daughter, Mina Elika III Mutabazi, and son Micah Kenwynn III Mutabazi.
He attended Gisagara Primary School from 1985 to 1992 before going to College du Christ-Roi Nyanza for secondary school where he did both his O’Level, and A’ Level in languages.
Mutabazi graduated from the University of Rwanda (formerly National University of Rwanda) with a Bachelor’s Degree in IT Applications Management in 2005.
He also holds two Master’s degrees; one in Marketing from Angers University in France in 2009, and another in Health Management Information System from ISSBA in France – earned in 2012.
Mutabazi says that former APR coach Emmnuel Ndungutse is the man who has the greatest impact on his career.
“Emmanuel (Ndungutse) made me everything I ever was as a volleyball player. He taught me how to play centre almost from scratch, and was there for me as personal mentor whenever I needed him. He helped me and shaped my career more than anyone else ever will,”Mutabazi told Saturday Times in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
His love for volleyball can be traced from his childhood days. His father had built a volleyball court at home, the reason why Mutabazi and his brothers grew up aspiring to be volleyball stars – and they didn’t disappoint.
Elie, the oldest of the famous Mutabazi brothers, that also I include Bonny Mutabazi, Bosco Mutabazi and Emmanuel Mutabazi – and his brothers all played for the national volleyball team.
The former College du Christ-Roi student never won any notable silverware with the school team but was always the driving force, in all competitions.
“Unfortunately, I never won any big title with my school team but I always fully contributed as a player,” he recalls.
In 1997, Mutabazi joined APR volleyball club, a team that was spearheaded by some of the club’s greats such as Lt Col John Bosco Muyango, Major Fiacre Rwamucyo, Capt Eric Kumuyange, Leandre Karekezi, Alexis Mbaraga and Michel Murame.
“I was warmly welcomed, which helped me to learn quickly from the best players. I enjoyed my five-year stint with the club – despite not winning any major silverware. NUR and Kigali Volleyball Club (KVC) were at the time the two leading powerhouses,” he recalls.
After five seasons with the military side, Mutabazi switched to then Huye-based archrivals NUR in 2002 and led the university side to the second place in the league before helping them to win the championship in 2004.
In late 2004, the volleyball sensation rejoined APR and was at the time the best setter in the country, inspiring the club to their first league title in 2005 before reclaiming it in 2007 and 2008 when he bid them farewell and headed to France for studies.
Mutabazi earned his maiden call-up in the national Under-21 team in 1995. Three years later, he received his first cap in the senior team during qualifiers of the All Africa Games in Yaoundé, Cameroon where they finished second to land the ticket.
The team was then under Prof Alexandre Lyambabaje.
Mutabazi was also part of the national team that played the 1999 All Africa Games in South Africa.
In 2003, Mutabazi was part of the team that represented the country at the CAVB Men’s African Volleyball Championship staged in Cairo, Egypt. Two years later, he was a key member of the squad that again competed at the 2005 edition.
In 2007, the African Championships were hosted in South Africa and Mutabazi was again part of the squad as a first choice setter.
Rwanda was eliminated from group stages on all the three occasions.
Mutabazi retired from professional volleyball in 2013, bringing to an end his 18-year career at club level and the national team, after which he immediately joined the coaching world.
In 2002 and 2005, Mutabazi was named as best setter of KAVC Memorial Tournament in Kampala, Uganda, – an award he again won during the 2007 All Africa Games qualifiers.
In 2008, Mutabazi was awarded as the best setter of the year in Rwanda after firing APR to two consecutive league titles in 2007 and 2008.
In 2010, still with APR, he was named best setter of the Genocide Memorial Tournament.
In 2011, Mutabazi won the award for the best setter in CAVB Africa Zone V Championship – and was also named on the six-member team of the tournament in Kigali.
The former APR star’s first job as coach came in 2006 while he was still playing. It was with Saint Joseph Kagbayi in the national interschool championship from 2006 to 2008.
When he moved to France, he was hired to coach Sporting club de l’Ouest (Sco d’Angers) from 2008 to 2012, before he crossed to REC (Rennes-France), for the 2012/2013 season.
Since 2016, the soft spoken Mutabazi is APR Men’s Volleyball Club’s assistant coach and a non-permanent assistant coach for the national team.
Last year, he was on the technical team of the national team that played Zone V championship in Kigali as the hosts finished second – behind Kenya – to qualify for the 2017 African Championship finals staged in Cameroon.
At the African Championship, Rwanda finished sixth out of 14 countries.
Aspirations in coaching career
Mutabazi says his mission as a coach is to promote the sport among the young ones and help produce the best volleyball players for the country.
He also aspires to be the best volleyball coach in Rwanda.
Advice to young players
Asked to offer a piece of advice to youngsters, the four-time league title winner said, “I would advise young players to take volleyball more seriously, and behave like professionals.”
“Work hard, be disciplined and always be quick learners. The rest will follow”.