Mukunzi on his healing after the Genocide – and how volleyball helped

Christophe Mukunzi parted company with Gisagara Volleyball Club in September 2018 after helping them to the 2017-18 league title. File Photos.

National volleyball captain Christophe Gasarasi Mukunzi was only six when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi occurred.

His father, Mathias Gasarasi, was killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Yet 25 years later, the family is yet to locate his remains so they can accord him a dignified burial.

“People give us contrasting information about the possible whereabouts of my father’s remains. We are yet to succeed locating them,” Mukunzi told Saturday Sport in an exclusive interview this week.

Mukunzi is the senior national team captain since 2011. He says the family is yet to find the remains of his father 25 years later.

Mukunzi says doesn’t know the exact number of family members he lost during the Genocide, but his father’s whole family was wiped out.

Born and raised in Birambo Sector, of Karongi District, Mukunzi is the second-born in a family of four boys. And, miraculously, the four brothers – and their mother, Veronique Nibasenge – survived.

As the country starts the 25th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi on Sunday, Mukunzi says it is a time not only to grieve, but also to “remember and cherish all the beautiful memories our loved ones left us with.”

Mukunzi joined Rwanda Energy Group (REG)  from rivals and two-time champions Gisagara last September.

The 31-year-old says the death of his father changed his life and that of his family, recalling how tough it was as his mother struggled to singlehandedly raise him and his brothers.

By the time of his father’s killing, his mother was pregnant of their last born, Clement Gasarasi, who followed in Mukunzi’s footsteps to play volleyball.

When asked how volleyball played a role in his healing, Mukunzi responded: “I can’t imagine my life and where I would be without volleyball. The sport has given me the future I never thought I would have.”

“Volleyball makes me feel alive.”

Twenty-five years since losing his father, – who was killed along one million Rwandans, Mukunzi is now a father to a son, Kian Ryker Bagirwa Mukunzi.

He is married to his long-time friend Nice Muhizi Giramata.

Rise to volleyball stardom

At the age of 20, Mukunzi made his league debut with Kigali Volleyball Club (KVC) in 2009 – a few months after completing secondary school. Prior to his maiden league player licence, he had featured for different school teams in local and regional 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. The following season, he inspired the club to KAVC Memorial Tournament title in Kampala, Uganda.

Turning Pro

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 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 deal.

Early 2017, Mukunzi switched to Bulgarian first division side VC Marek Union-Ivkoni on a one-season deal.

Back to Rwanda

After the expiry of his contract with VC Marek Union-Ivkoni, which the club was reluctant to extend, Mukunzi moved back to Rwanda to join Gisagara in October 2017, and immediately helped them to their second consecutive league title and Carre d’As double.

Last September, he joined Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and has inspired them to the final of the post-season Play-offs where they will face defending champions Gisagara in the later this month.

International career

Mukunzi earned his first cap in the national Under-23 volleyball team in 2010 when the side participated in the 2010 Africa U23 championships in Libya. He captained the youthful Rwandan side to fourth position as Tunisia won the tournament.

In 2011, he was called to the senior team and featured in the FIVB/Africa Zone V championships hosted at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, and won by Rwanda.

The regional triumph earned Rwanda a ticket to the 2011 All-Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique, where they also finished fourth, behind champions Cameroon, Algeria and Kenya.

In 2013, he was part of the team that finished second at the FIVB/Africa Zone V championships in Kigali to reach the final round of FIVB World Championships qualifiers held in Cameroon.

Rwanda finished third out of five countries, behind hosts Cameroon and Algeria.

The soft spoken player was again part of Paul Bitok’s final squad that competed at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. There, Rwanda finished fourth.

Mukunzi has been the captain of the senior national team since 2011.