Rwanda: Linguist James Vuningoma Passes On

21 January 2020

Veteran academic, linguist and Rwanda culture enthusiast, James Vuningoma, passed away at King Faisal Hospital, after a short illness.

Vuningoma, who was considered by those who knew him as "a living encyclopedia", was until his demise on Monday morning the Executive Secretary of the Rwandan Academy of Language and Culture (RALC).

He had headed the institution since it was established in 2012 and before then, he had worked in different institutions, including the former Kigali Institute Education, (Vice Rector in charge of Academics), and The New Times Publications, where he once worked as Editor-in-Chief.

According to family members, Vuningoma had recently returned from India where he had gone to seek treatment for an undisclosed condition. He had only returned last week.

He was said to be getting better.

"However, on Saturday, his health condition got worse and was rushed to King Faisal Hospital where he was immediately admitted. He was then declared dead on Monday morning. We are still in shock," said a family member.

Speaking to The New Times, the State Minister for Youth and Culture, Edouard Bamporiki said that Vuningoma's passing on was a 'huge blow' to the languages and culture industry.

He pointed out that by the time of his passing, Vuningoma, who had already contributed a lot to this industry, had suggested many ideas which will still be developed to advance the cultural field.

"This is a huge loss. I spent the whole day reflecting on my conversations with him regarding the arts industry. For instance, he came up with the idea that we need to overhaul the whole arts and turn it into a proper money minting industry," he said.

Bamporiki says that Vuningoma had also suggested the creation of what he called a 'censure board', which would sieve through what "we can incorporate in the cultural projects and what we can't".

"The fact that he was seeking greatness for industry makes you realise what a big loss it is but he has left us with a firm foundation and we definitely have a direction.

"There are many things that he did, many publications that are not known by many regarding cultural ceremonies and language policies. At least we have the written word that will always remind us of him," he said.

More tributes

Through social media platforms, condolence messages eulogizing Vuningoma poured in from former colleagues, students and other old acquaintances.

Elizabeth Jeannette, Director of Early Grade Reading Coordination at Rwanda Education Board and a teacher by profession, called Vuningoma's death "heartbreaking."

"Heartbreaking news. I have learned so much from Dr. James Vuningoma, while supporting education and Ikinyarwanda. Mostly, I will remember his smile and kindness, as he treated all with respect and contributed greatly to the development of Rwanda," she said.

Through their 'Digital Umuganda' platform, local tech enthusiasts who were working with Vuningoma to build a data-set on Mozilla platform and enable the system to recognise Kinyarwanda among other languages, remembered zeal to put Kinyarwanda on the world map through technology.

"It is with great sadness we send our condolences to Dr. James Vuningoma's family and friends. He was a visionary who didn't shy away from the use of new technologies in putting the Kinyarwanda language on the world map. We lost a great man, Rest in Peace," they tweeted.

The 'Gasore Serge Foundation', a local-NGO that promotes early childhood development and primary education, said that their 'culture days' would never be the same after the passing of the former educator.

"You were such a great person. Our campus sends condolences for your family. Our culture day will never be the same without you. May you rest in peace," the NGO said of Vuningoma.

The Illume Creative Studio used Twitter to express their sadness upon the loss of a man who they credited for promoting the Rwandan culture.

"This is so very sad. What a great loss to all of us. Mr. Vuningoma was a living encyclopedia of Rwandan culture. Our love and support to his family," they tweeted.

Who was Vuningoma?

Born in 1948, Vuningoma pursued his education in different countries. From 1971 - 1974, he studied at Makerere University, Uganda, where he was awarded a Bachelors of Arts Degree. Concurrently during that time, he was pursuing a Diploma in Education at the same university.

From 1980 -1982, he was a student at Université de Bordeaux III, France where he acquired a Master of Arts Degree.

From 1984 -1989, he pursued and acquired a Doctorate in African Studies at France's University of Nice.

Professionally, Vuningoma had spent a lot of his time teaching.

From 1991 - 1996, he was a teacher of English at Lycée de Blaye-Bordeaux, France before he returned to Rwanda where, from 1998 - 1999, he was a part-time lecturer of English at Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management (KIST).

During that time, Vuningoma joined journalism serving as the Editor-in-Chief of The New Times before he quit to join the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as the National Expert in Human Resources from 2000 - 2001.

In 2001, he joined the Kigali Institute of Education where he was made the Head of Literature Department and later the Dean, Faculty of Arts and Languages at the same institution. He later was appointed the Vice Rector Academics.


From 2015 - to-date he has been heading the Communication and Journalism Commissioner in Pan African Movement/Rwanda Chapter.

2018- to-date, he was a Board member of the Media High Council.

Before that, he served as the President of Rwanda Association of Journalists (ARJ) in 2000, the President of the Rotary Club of Kigali - Virunga from 1999 - 2000, and the 1st Vice President of Rwanda Association of Journalists (ARJ).

RIP to the man who gave a 16-year old me the opportunity to work in the media while he was at the helm of @NewTimesRwanda. He was a mentor, a patriot and a font of wisdom. He will be missed.

- Sunny Ntayombya (@SunnyNtayombya) January 20, 2020

this is so very sad. what a great loss to all of us. mr. vuningoma was a living encyclopedia of rwandan culture. our love and support to his family.

- illume creative studio (@eeloom) January 20, 2020

It is with great sadness we send our condolences to Dr.James Vuningoma family and friends. He was a visionary who didn't shy away from the use of new technologies in putting the Kinyarwanda language on the world map. we lost a great man RIP Dr.James #Rwanda

- DIGITAL UMUGANDA ?? (@DUmuganda) January 20, 2020

We are deeply saddened by the death of Dr James Vuningoma,the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture- RALC. You are such a great person ,Our campus felt condolences for your family. Our culture day will never be the same without you. RIP@Rwandacademy

- Gasore Serge Foundation (@GSF_RC) January 20, 2020

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