Léandre Karekezi, president of the Rwanda Volleyball Federation (FRVB), says that volleyball was at the forefront – among sports – in shaping a peaceful and shared future for Rwandans after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Volleyball is one the sports that were greatly devastated by the Genocide, having lost at least 51 members of the fraternity including players, coaches and administrators.
As early as 1995, just a year after the 100-day gruesome atrocities that claimed over one million lives, FRVB organised the inaugural Genocide Memorial Tournament, making them the first sporting federation to do so.
“Volleyball played a big role in the complex and long process of peace and reconciliation after the Genocide against Tutsi,” Karekezi told Times Sport in an interview. “We lost many members, and being part of rebuilding the country was the best way to honour them.”
Karekezi, himself a retired volleyballer, participated in the annual tournament from 1995 until his retirement in the early 2000s, representing the University of Rwanda (formerly National University of Rwanda) and APR.
Having started as a local showpiece, it later on turned into a regional competition, opening doors for regional teams and, Karekezi says, there are provisions to expand it to a continental level tournament.
“The entire continent needs to learn and pick lessons from what happened in Rwanda, it should never happen anywhere else. During the tournament, we pass messages of unity, reconciliation, sportsmanship, the proactive role of youth in nation-building, etc…”
When the tournament turns continental, Karekezi notes, Rwanda will not only share valuable lessons to the participants, but it will also gain agents in the fight against the Genocide denial.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, Karekezi says that this year’s memorial tournament will not take place in June as it usually happens, but ‘it will definitely take place” when the pandemic is over.
Full list of 51 members of the volleyball fraternity who were killed during the Genocide 26 years ago:
GSO Butare: Eugène Gabiro, Dominique Ngonga Sebalinda, Alfred ‘Toto’ Butare and Innocent Rwagashayija.
Virgo Fidelis: Innocent Hategekimana, Jules Sebalinda, Camile Gakebuka, Jean Marie Vianney Ngarambe, Jean Bosco Tumukuze, Toussait Rutiyomba, Alphonse Rutsindura, Abdallah Munyemana and Aimable Semanzi.
KVC: Martin Mukeshimana, Vénant Ulimubenshi, Jean Marie Vianney Rukamba, Jean de la Croix Mugandura, Callixte Gasana, Innocent Ntaganira and Théogène Rwabuhungu.
Minitransco: Marcellin Rugira, Vincent Gakwaya and André Kayigamba.
Electrogaz: Esdras Ngamije, Jean Pierre Rudandi, Sosthène Kabagema and Chrisostome Gakwaya.
Kigoma: Jean Bosco Rugira
Les Lionnes: Marie Goretti Kamazi and Clarisse Mignone Umulisa
GS Save: Ignace
Saint Andre: Alexandre Ntampaka and Landourd Rugenera
Petit Seminaire Ndera: Jean Berchmans Ugeziwe
ES Byimana: William Mugaragu
Minijust: Fraterne Rutayisire
GS Shyogwe: Clément Murego