Rwanda: Emmanuel Rugamba - From Refugee Camp to American Major League NFL

History was made last weekend as US-based Emmanuel Rugamba signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns, a deal that made him the first Rwandan to join the National Football League - NFL.

The NFL, the highest tier of American football in the world, is one of the four major North American professional sports leagues alongside the Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL).

"This means the world to me, I just want to make a difference the best way I know-how. Forever proud to be Rwandan," he tweeted shortly after signing for Cleveland Browns on Sunday, May 2.

Rugamba's move to the Browns was big news and was welcomed by many Rwandans on social media, including some who know little to nothing about American football.

Before landing the draft to Cleveland Browns, Rugamba, 23, played for Miami University for three years where he established himself as one of the most physical cornerbacks.

Born in a refugee camp in Zambia, Rugamba and his mother, Daniella Umutanguha, moved to the United States when he was only aged three.

He formally began his career at the University of Iowa where he spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons before he completed his move to Miami RedHawks, playing for a team in the Mid-American Conference Championship.

The team represents Miami University where Rugamba also studies, majoring in sports leadership and management.

In an interview, US-based Rwandan journalist Ernesto Ugeziwe told Weekend Sport that he watched the games Rugamba played last year, and finding a team in the NFL did not surprise him.

"I've been following Rugamba playing and I always believed he would get even better. He is really incredible and I was always proud to see him growing in the game," Ugeziwe said.

He added: "I was so happy when the news broke that he signed for the Browns and, given his talent, I couldn't be happier for him hitting greater heights. I am sure he will keep achieving."

Rugamba's switch to the Browns was not only historic for him, but was also hailed by many as a national milestone as he became the first Rwandan to make it to the top of American football hierarchy.

Social media reactions

"I clearly was not a fan of the NFL but I am going to start watching the Cleveland Browns' games," reacted one G Mbokani on Twitter.

"I have been a fan for years. I am so excited to see Emmanuel [Rugamba] become a Brown," said another Twitter user identified as Sparkly Chicago.

And, clearly, the NFL and Rugamba's new team have won a new fan base in Rwanda.

"I can't believe I am just now finding out that there is a Rwandan playing [American] football. Do I now become a Browns fan?," wondered Erica Kaze.

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