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From Refugee to Madam Ambassador: One Woman’s Recollections

by Jean de la Croix Tabaro
4:00 pm

HE Matilde Mukantabana, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the USA

From the region of Mayaga, current Nyanza district during the era when the turmoil started in Rwanda was born Matilde Mukantabana in 1958.

She started Primary school in Nyanza which was still a village, now a town, before proceeding with further studies in Kibuye, currenly Karongi district, Western Province.

Some of the sad stories from Rwanda in the life of Mukantabana can be traced even from Kibuye where she was dismissed, because of ethnic segregation.

This targeting of the Tutsi in Rwanda forced many families to flee to neighboring countries from the 1960s onward. It culminated into the Genocide against Tutsi in 1994 in Rwanda where more than one million Tutsi were massacred between April and early July.

Mukantabana’s family fled to the neighboring Burundi but later continued further to the United States where she resumed her studies and stayed until the Liberation of Rwanda which gave her right to the motherland-Rwanda.

In the United States, Mukantabana became a very successful lady who, on top of taking good care of her family, served in different capacities, including teaching in Calfornia for nineteen years.

She has now earned a title of Professor.

“I had two degrees, including social work which I actually’ launched at University of Rwanda. However, in Calfornia I taught History,” Mukantabana told Kigali Today’s Multimedia editor on the sideline of Rwanda Day-Washington D.C last month.

In this interview, Ambassador Mukantabana said, that she was blessed to be appointed Ambassador to the USA, a position she held for the last ten years.

She has also been serving as non resident Ambassador of Rwanda to Brasil, Mexico and Argentina.

“My President had trust in me and found that I could give my contribution in this capacity. The rest is to make sure that I serve unreservedly,” Mukantabana said.

“An embassy is like Rwanda abroad. That means I have to be the eyes for my country here, to build good relationship for my country with the USA. Not only that; I also have to be available for Rwandans in diaspora, reason why we work closely with Rwandan community abroad.”

On top of this, the ambassador has to promote economic and educational relationship.

“It is a wide range of things that fall under our responsibility. We have matters to handle with the State Department, the office of the president, the military, and the congress, among others,” she said.

Mukantabana said, that in her office, she did not start from the scratch, rather, she built from the foundation that was laid by her predecessors.

When she joined in 2013, the association of Rwandan community was already formed, but they were only from three states. They continued to have them well organized and their number has now increased to 27 associations from different states.

Currently, there are nearly 50,000 Rwandans in the diaspora community of USA. They work in several areas, including Computer Science, Medicine, Human services, coffee dealership, and so on.

The community has now started to invest back home in schools, farming and real estates.

That Rwandans are investing back home, she said, it promotes national development.

“Despite being far away from the country, Rwandans from diaspora are proud to send remittances and to invest directly,” she said.

The embassy has improved relationship with the community, because they are country’s sixth province. They have decentralized services like acquisition of IDs and Passports.

Rwanda Day

The request to have Rwanda Day emanated from the demand of the diaspora community because they said they wanted to see their president live, according to Ambassador Mukantabana.

She said, that the popularity of President Paul Kagame is indisputable.

“You may check. There is no other president who would attract the crowd as our own President Kagame does. Some others tried to organise events of this kind, but, despite being popular, they failed,” said Mukantabana.

She is thankful that the Rwandans in diaspora are very friendly and present no harm whenever they gather for an important event like Rwanda Day.

“It is not difficult to organize Rwanda Day here. When Rwandans come here, there is no harm to any public asset, no fighting, no robberies and cause of insecurity. America knows and feels very surprised with that,” she said.

In America, she said, it is strange that five thousand people can gather in the same place and there is no harm. “That is Rwanda’s uniqueness,” she said.

According to Mukantabana, Rwandans in diaspora are respected because of our president whp taught us to be kind and polite. This is a year of presidential elections. Everyone wishes to show him support,” the Ambassador said,

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