Rwanda: The Man That Basketballer Gisembe Was - Family and Friends Tell His Story

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi affected every aspect of life in Rwanda, leaving behind a trail of poignant stories that still provoke tears when being told.

Sports, just like other industries in the country, lost a number of important personalities, among whom were players pursuing dreams in the different disciplines.

Basketball player Emmanuel Ntarugera, a.k.a Gisembe, is one of the renowned athletes that were killed in the dreadful 100-day bloodshed.

At the time of the genocide, Gisembe was 33-year-old and was a key member of the national basketball team. At club level, he featured for Espoir, one of the biggest teams in the domestic topflight league.

Born in Nyamirambo, a suburb of Kigali, the player was survived by a wife and three children. He is described by many as a family man.

With an admirable height of about 2 metres, Gisembe played as a center.

Gisembe played for and won several titles, including the national championship, with Espoir basketball club.

Former Vice-Chairman of Espoir basketball club, Henry Pierre Munyengabe, is one of the people that played with Gisembe. He says there is a lot to remember about him, for example his willingness to help young talents.

"I played with Gisembe for about 6 years. There are many things I remember about him, especially that he was one of the players that assisted our team (Espoir) to win league trophies, and he also loved to help younger players," Munyengabe told Weekend Sport this week.

At the time, the game of basketball was not as prominent as it is today in the country. Many competitions that were played then were local, but at times, there could come a chance to play against teams from Burundi or Goma - Eastern DR Congo.

How Gisembe died

Gisembe was killed in late June of 1994 in Kigali, Rwezamenyo Sector, where his home was.

It is said that his killers came from another sector since those in Rwezamenyo had spared him.

Munyengabe says the loss of such a player was a huge loss to the country because even today, he would be contributing to the game's development in a couple of ways.

"If he was still around, he would be having an impact on Rwandan basketball, especially on the youngsters that are coming up. He loved helping fellow players. Today, he would perhaps have been a great coach in one of the clubs in Rwanda."

Laetitia Umulisa, late Gisembe's sister, describes him as a person who was "calm and known for commitment to his work". He worked in MINITRAP - formerly the ministry of public works, and in the evening he would go for basketball training.

Nadine Niwemfura, his daughter, says that she knows her father through stories of those who knew him because he was killed when she was very young. "I grew up hearing people talk about how my father was there for everybody, especially the people with whom he played basketball."

"The legacy dad left for me is that of love and trying to help as much as I can."

In remembrance of Gisembe and other fallen members of the basketball fraternity, the Gisembe Memorial Tournament was initiated in 1996 before changing the name to Basketball Genocide Memorial Tournament in 2013.


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