They have grown businesses from scratch. They have dismantled the “men’s world” myth. Some have done things men cannot. Their talents make them forces to be reckoned with when they step on the starting line. They are not bothered by speaking their voices to oblivion because social impact activism is their life. KT Press has gone across Rwanda to look for them to tell their story. As Rwanda celebrates International Women’s Day 2018 this March 8, here are the women that are making Rwanda go round – or so, ‘the world go round’.
DISCLAIMER: There are tens of thousands of women in Rwanda that are helping shape its destiny. They have had tremendous impact in all spheres. Others have mind-blowing accomplishments. We are fully aware the two dozen names highlighted here are only a drop in a very large ocean. We ask you to nominate any Rwandan woman you feel we left out, and they could feature in the next publication.
For more than 20 years, the face of theatre in Rwanda can be summed up into two words: Hope Azeda. She is the founder of Mashirika Theatre Company that has provided a platform for Rwandan artists, actors, musicians and dancers gathered together under theatre. One of Mashirika’s biggest projects is the annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival that brings groups from all across the globe to shape the world view on the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. Azeda and he team at Mashirika approach the pain of genocide with such artistry and love. Another of Azeda’s theatrical projects was “Africa’s Hope”, which the Huffington Post described as “not just a story of healing, it is healing”. Mashirika is, true to their founder’s name, a company of hope in a country that has experienced despair for too long.
Some 22 years ago, Theopiste Nyiramahoro requested a Rwf1, 500 loan (approx. $1.4 today and $4 back then) from Mothers Union to set up a small business selling grilled peanuts. Today, at 57, you cannot speak about coffee production in Rwanda, which is one of the country’s biggest exports without mentioning her name. Unlike the days when even the guards at banks would suspect her if she tried to enter any branch, today banks are falling over each other to give the loans to the mother of three. She still lives in Kirehe district despite her status. Her hand is helping to feed thousands of families.
Apostle Mignonne Alice Kabera
The local press is full of scandals about churches. The pastors are either fighting over property, ownership or involved in sex scandals. At the Women Foundation Ministries founded by Apostle Mignonne Alice Kabera, however, harmony reigns. The spread of the word of God has remained the practice in her church. To have a feel of the power she wields in this country, visit her magnificent church in Kimihurura surburb of Kigali on any day of the week – especially evenings, and you will come thank us.
Despite her supposed age, said to be in the 80s, Daphrose Nyirabahutu has earned the name “umukecuru wa perezida” (President’s granny). These names developed from her elaborate musical presentations mixed with poetry that she has sang at various national events with her cultural troupe of only grannies. From their based in rural Nyaruguru district, the grannies have become a national icon since they came on the scene in 2013. At the time, they were only known in Southern Province. When President Kagame visited then, they were invited to do a musical for the guests, and that marked a turning point for them. They have a skill of combining national development programs and how they have benefited along with the community, and present it all in form of poems and music. It is hard to describe the genre of their music. You need to search for videos to feel the power in their music.
Daphrose Nyirabahutu is the brain behind this group, and for that we feel she is worthy the recognition in this list because her efforts have changed not just her but a community. She will continue to be an inspiration to many.
The 29year-old Clarisse Iribagiza became a regional face after emerging winner from an entrepreneurial reality TV series some years ago. It marked the beginning of a journey from greatness to greatness. The latest addition to her CV is being member of the African Development Bank Group’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group (PYAG). She shares same platform with dollar millionaire investor Ashish Thakkar, the CEO Mara Group.
Iribagiza is herself the founder and CEO of Hehe Labs.
She was nominated in Forbes’ 30 under 30years for 2015, also among 20 the movers and shakers of African continent. She also appeared among 100 global thinkers by Lo Spazio della Politica, an Italian think tank.
Emma Claudine Ntirenganya
A 38 year old journalist lady, Emma Claudine Ntirenganya is the chairperson of Ikirezi Group that organises Salax Awards, which recognise Rwandan singers and music producers based on their annual performance. She is also the pioneer initiator of sexual reproductive health talk shows on local radio. When her initiative started on the University of Rwanda journalism school’s Radio Salus, whose audience is the tens of thousands of students; it was largely considered taboo to speak about sex on radio. Now, nearly every station has the segment.
At 18 years, Nancy Kankindi has earned two black belts in martial arts. Stories about her have inspired young girls and boys to join karate training centers like never before. Incidentally, Kankindi is the daughter of Sinzi Tharcisse, himself a top notch martial artist. Using his fighting skill, Sinzi saved some 118 people in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis.
Inanga’s Sophia Nzayisenga
Not many women play the iconic traditional Rwandan music instrument “Inanga”, and no Rwandan does it better than her. But Sophia Nzayisenga, 37, has pushed the boundaries even farther! New York saxophonist Jeremy Danneman knows Sophia better. The founder of Parade of One Inc, an international musical outreach organization, has partnered with Nzayisenga – on the ‘Honey Wine’ musical project. YouTube lovers should have seen that trending video in the New York subway.
Nzayisenga’s collaborations have taken her to many countries and festivals.
Without the Association of Genocide Widows Agahozo founded by 50 widows in 1995 – months after one of the worst human tragedies had been stopped, it is hard to imagine how Rwanda would have handled the tens of thousands of women affected. It has acted as a home and platform for helping thousands of Genocide widows recover from their horrific experiences through psycho-social and economic support. It is for this reason that we pay tribute to their work.
Their biggest champion has been First Lady Jeannette Kagame.
Marathon winner Salome Nyirarukundo was unknown when she surfaced on national scene in May this year after winning a national marathon, beating even Kenyans who had taken part. Following her success, a national campaign was initiated to support local talent. Local stars are of late treated with a lot of reverence. The 25-year old has since been signed on by athletics management firm Global Sports Communication, which operates in Uganda, Kenya and China.
Rev. Sr. Helene Nayituriki
Sr. Nayituriki Helene saved more than 150 people during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis. She has been honoured with a national medal for fight against the Genocide. Despite the national accolades for her courage, humility is Sister Helene Nayituliki’s trademark. Strangely, she never ever wants to speak about her heroic act. She never accepts media interviews. Instead, to have her story told, KT Press, which is the only media that has previously profiled her, had to look for people who survived the horrors of death thanks to her sacrifice. She is currently a headteacher at Notre Dame de Citeaux in Kigali City.
When you compile a list of founders of institutions of higher learning in Rwanda, you will have acclaimed professors, PhD holders and then Zulfat Mukarubega. The widowed nurse and mother of three, married at 20 years many years ago with not much of an education, is the founder of the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies (UTB) based in Kigali.
The institution is releasing thousands onto the job market – helping to strengthen the tourism and hospitality industry that brought some $404 million into the national coffers last year.
Up until the campaign period of the August presidential polls, where Christine Murebwayire was chief campaigner for the RPF in Eastern and Northern Provinces – where she spoke at rallies to introduce the party flag bearer, she was not the household name you would expect.
The mother of four has a big alcohol and beverages factory working with hundreds of farmers in eastern Rwanda. Today, she is the chair of the agriculture chamber, one of the 10 chambers making up the Private Sector Federation (PSF).
Before the power and money, Murebwayire says she begged for food at one time.
Dr. Laetitia Nyinawamwiza
Researcher and educational leader, Dr. Laetitia Nyinawamwiza was the winner of ‘Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government 2017’ award at the CEO Global Africa Awards 2017. Dr Nyinawamwiza is currently the principal of the University of Rwanda, College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicines (UR-CAVM).
Her name appears on the boards of many research institutions.
Her story is such an inspiration to Rwandan girls. Esther Mbabazi, 29, is the first female pilot in the country. From a dream to continue her late father’s aviation career, her face that has stood side-by-side with the expansion of the national carrier RwandAir. Her story needs no introduction as it has been told by the media from all corners.
Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana
Going back several years ago, no one envisaged that at some point Agaseke – the handmade baskets knitted by mainly women for centuries, would turn out to be a major promotional tool of the country. Two siblings; Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana made that happen through their firm Gahaya Links. Like the saying goes; the rest is history!
Her story has been featured on various global media. Together with her sibling, Patience Nduwawe, they setup www.tohoza.com. Similar to the popular Western website Craigslist, Tohoza is a web-based classified ad directory where Rwandans can post or look for job vacancies as well as buy, sell and rent just about anything — from houses and cars to watches and shoes. The platform gets tens of thousands of visits daily. Chance Tubane, 33, is also recipient of the Imbuto Foundation’s CYRWA 2013.
Mention the name Christelle Kwizera in the villages of eastern Rwanda, and everybody wants to say something about her. The elderly folks simply call her “umukobwa wacu” (our daughter). Outside Rwanda, she has been described as one of the “lionesses of Africa”. Christelle Kwizera, 24, is a startup story of a social entrepreneur on a mission to provide much-needed affordable water solutions to communities across Africa. Kwizera is the founder of Water Access Rwanda (WARwanda), a company that provides water filtration devices, products and services aimed at finding and exploiting underground water, as well as providing full community water development schemes and training programmes. Using her mechanical engireering skills, she has allowed thousands of homes to smile to the nearest wells – dozens of them actually. Even before she founded WARwanda, Kwizera led various social action platforms including: Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs of Rwanda and Isaro Foundation. Talk about social impact activism, and you will have Christelle Kwizera as one of your best friends.
The Queen’s girl Kellya Uwiragiye
While Kellya Uwiragiye completed her university dissertation on how Rwandan media serves people living with disabilities, she found a huge gap with regards those with vision impairment. She settled down to not just talk about it, but to doing something about it. She founded the “Media for Deaf Rwanda” campaign.
As result of the 25-year-old’s work, Kellya, as she’s fondly known, is one of the recipients of the Commonwealth Queen’s Young Leaders Programme award. She is also an awardee of Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers (CYRWA).
If you do not like listening to people who could give you ‘a piece of their mind’ when you do wrong, then do no invite Ingabire Immaculee to your event or step on her toes. She is a founding member of anti-graft group Transparency Rwanda that has not shied away from speaking truth to power. The local press is in love with her and when she speaks in interviews or press conferences, they type her every word. It is not because she was previously one of their own!
She has found herself on a confrontational path with private companies and state agencies as she denounces ‘sex corruption’ – where women are forced to provide sex to get jobs. Though Transparency Rwanda does not name individuals, it has ranked institutions.
Rwanda Women’s cricketer Cathia Uwamahoro has set the Guinness World Record for the longest net session in women’s history. The 22-year old batted for 26 hours straight to set the record at the Amahoro stadium. She has become an outstanding female cricketer and a massive role model for young people in the country, with cricket becoming the fastest growing sport in Rwanda.
Rev. Sr. Immaculee Uwamaliya
Rev Sr. Immaculée Uwamariya has a national community support initiative ‘Famille Espérance’ (FAES) which helps families and couples to live harmoniously. She is also a renowned motivational speaker. Sr. Uwamariya is also recipient of various national honours and awards for her work.
Sandrine Mutezinka and Christine Ashimwe
The girls are still attending high school, but are already nationally recognised entrepreneurs. The 17-year olds are the proprietors of Gashora Gold which produces peanut butter that has become choice for the biggest hotels locally. African Development Bank Group President Dr Akinwumi Adesina has witnessed firsthand the success of these young ladies.
Actress Laura Musanase a.k.a Nikuze
The names Nikuze or Laura Musanase may not ring on the minds of the elite, but speak to ordinary Rwandans and you will be surprised at its popularity. And if your source of news is the local English or French media, you probably may never know Laura Musanase.
The 24-year old plays Diane Nikuze on a local TV drama series ‘City Maid’, which is subject of constant reviews in the Kinyarwanda press. She is one of the faces keeping the vibrant tabloid press alive.
Project Compiled by Leonard Nshimiyimana and Julius Rwakarema
Graphic drawings by Simplice Sibomana