Genocide, football and peace in Rwanda
Our photographer from Rwanda is Didier Bana, a coach and project coordinator with Football for Hope, Peace and Unity (FHPU). FHPU is an organisation that uses football to encourage young people and their communities to fight against prejudice and intolerance in Rwanda and beyond. FHPU is underpinned by a common cause of raising awareness of the atrocities committed during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against Tutsi (which killed over 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu), and laying a positive foundation for reconciliation and unity in the future. We spoke with Didier about FHPU, the legacy of genocide and football helping rebuild Rwandan society.
How did FHPU begin?
FHPU was founded by Eric Murangwa Eugene, former captain of the Rwandan National Football team and a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. During the Genocide Eric lost 35 members of his own family including his youngest brother, who was just 7 years old at the time. He owed his survival and that of his family to the protection they received from fellow members of his football club Rayon Sports F.C. This included Rayon board member Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka, otherwise known as Zuzu, a notorious leader of the Interahamwe militia – a man subsequently imprisoned for his role in the genocide.
Eric often says football saved his life. It transcended ethnic differences and ultimately gave him hope for the future. It is this faith in the beautiful game that led Eric to establish FHPU.
How did you become involved with FHPU?
For many years after the Genocide, I kept asking myself “why me?” And only recently I came to realise that those who survived had all survived for a purpose, which is to make sure our loved ones weren’t lost in vain. The only way we can do that is to make sure that what happened to them, and to us, never happens to our children; and this is why FHPU is here today.
Like many young Rwandans I started playing football at a very young age on the streets of my neighborhood. I got involved in FHPU because I was a close friend of Eric’s brother Ishimwe Jean Claude and met him on frequent business or family visits. Eric established FHPU in 2011 and in 2012 he asked me if I would like to be part of FHPU, which I accepted without a second thought! I accompanied him on a tour of the country meeting all our local partners and I was appointed as FHPU Rwanda Coordinator.
Why is football so important for Rwanda?
We say, “Football in Rwanda is not just a game!” Since it was introduced to Rwanda by Catholic Church missionaries in the 1920s football has affected every Rwandan, and the role it has played in the rebuilding and reconciliation process of Rwandan society since the Genocide of 1994 is very special. Football in Rwanda is a powerful story of colonialism, political struggle, friendship and solidarity!
King Mutara III Rudahigwa (1931-59) endorsed football and turned it into the nation’s number one sport. The first ever football clubs were created from the traditional “Itorero” cultural schools. Football then became a refuge for Tutsi people who had to run away from some parts of Rwanda and went to live in the capital Kigali. Clubs such as Kiyovu Sports were born from this social struggle - a group of Tutsi joined with a Muslim community to found the club, when every other form of social gathering was banned.
In the 1970s and 1980s football became a tool for the radicalisation of the nation, with many clubs being created based on a political agenda or regionalism. Throughout the 1990s football was at the heart of the war and Genocide, as the first Interahamwe militias were recruited from youth football clubs.
During the genocide sporting solidarity became a matter of life and death when some players and fans survived because of their football connections. During the Arusha Peace negotiations football was important for morale and discipline of the RPF soldiers - an inter-battalion championship was created to keep the soldiers busy during the long ceasefire period.
How has football helped rebuild Rwanda and Rwandan communities?
Football played a role to bring back a sense of peace and hope for future among Rwandans. The first public gathering after the end of the Genocide in 1994 was a game of football between Rayon Sports F.C. and Kiyovu Sports, two of the biggest rival football clubs in Rwanda. That game took place just a month after the Genocide. Football became an engine for forgiveness, reconciliation and unity when families of genocide victims and genocide perpetrators met on the football field as players or as fans supporting together. A number of tournaments at local and national level were organised to raise awareness and encourage national unity. Football helped people to come together for a common cause.
Football has has also played a huge role in promoting the new Rwandan image abroad through our national senior and youth teams. In 2004 Rwanda qualified for the African Nations Cup for the first time ever, and in 2011 a team of young players born during or just after 1994 genocide qualified for the 2011 Mexico U17 World Cup. Rwanda has also hosted a number of major regional and continental football tournaments such as the CECAFA Club Cup, the 2009 African Youth Championship (U20) and the 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN).
What is the ethnic background of the children and coaches in the photos? Are they Tutsi, Hutu, or both?
We have no idea of which ethnic background our coaches or children are because the new Rwanda does not look at its sons and daughters as Batutsi, Bahutu or Batwa! We only know them as Rwandans and members of FHPU football family - that is all. There's a good chance that the people in pictures have stories connected with the genocide because every Rwandan has that link.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
The photos were taken during one of our main projects in Rwanda “Play For Hope: Rwanda20”. This is a coaching programme in collaboration with our partner Coaches Across Continents, designed to work with local community groups and build a network of coaches able to deliver both sporting skills and social values back into their communities. This programme is run every summer and it has so far worked with over 700 local coaches.
The kids in the photos come from our youth football academy called Dream Team Football Academy (DFTA) and were taken at DTFA’s training ground at IPRC-Kicukiro college in Kigali. The coach with a group of young children is Ntwali Patient and is a graduate of DTFA’ s Young Leaders programme, which develops former academy players into coaches. The other photos - including the young player juggling a football - were taken at Gihisi football field in Nyanza Southern province.
The wider meaning was all about demonstrating the power of football in modern Rwandan society.
How is FHPU helping Rwanda?
FHPU is cementing this legacy and has strong support from local people. We educate participants about the importance of unity and reconciliation in the cause of Rwandan national unity and promote the values of fair play, team spirit, discipline, understanding, tolerance and respect. In 2011 FHPU started the Dream Team Football Academy (DTFA) in association with the Association of Former Rwandan Football Players. DTFA has gone on to become one of the most successful sporting programmes in the country having trained 1500 individuals. Our partnership with One World Futbol project also donated 35,000 durable footballs to Rwandan children.
Each of our coaches has 50-150 boys and girls between the age of 5 and 25, and our groups are a mix of disadvantaged families and young people from different family backgrounds. They play because playing is a way of life for them.
What is the future of Rwandan football?
The future of Rwandan football is in the hands of our young people in the same way the future of Rwanda as a nation is in their hands. We believe the future of Rwandan football is bright because they have had an education in hope, peace, unity and development.