Rwandan women shining in their various areas of influence

Friday March 07 2014

Several Rwandan women today are leading in the various sectors of the economy, some not always in the limelight but their impact in society is outstanding. Photos/Cyril Ndegeya/FILE

Rwanda has been praised globally for having women in top positions in politics, socio-economic development  and in the armed forces.

Several Rwandan women today are leading in the various sectors of the economy, some not always in the limelight but their impact in society is outstanding.

As part of the International Women’s Day, Rwanda Today features some of the women who have been proactive in different sectors, highlighting their achievement.

Odette Uwamariya

Odette Uwamariya is the governor of Eastern Province, Rwanda’s biggest province, since November 2011.

She’s been credited with the major agricultural and socio-economic reforms that have transformed the province from one of Rwanda’s impoverished and drought-hit regions to a national food basket.


Prior to her appointment, Uwamariya was the project co-ordinator of Rwanda Investment Climate Project (RICP),  which was behind major doing business reforms in Rwanda.

When Uwamariya took over the job, Rwanda was ranked 167 in the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report” but in the space of two years, Rwanda was ranked the world’s top global reformer and moved to the 58th position globally. 

Uwamariya is one of the few women who have served at high levels in local government.

Zulfat Mukarubega

Zulfat Mukarubega, 53, is considered one of Rwanda’s leading entrepreneurs. She is the brains behind Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC).

Ms Mukarubega’s rise is a story of from grass to grace. In 1973, she invested her savings, Rwf5, 000 in a small restaurant in Kayonza district, Eastern Province.

Little did she know that the small restaurant, which targeted mechanics and taxi operators, would mark the beginning of a dream journey to the top and make her dine with global CEOs and business minds.

Her journey to the top was marked by hardships, personal struggles and resilience.

Mukarubega studied but did not practice medicine. Instead, she took on a job as a secretary. From her earnings, she saved to start the small restaurant.

“I realised that I could make money by opening a cheap restaurant. I had only Rwf5, 000, which I used to buy sugar, bread and a few foodstuffs for the first day at work. I had my targeted clientele,” she says, adding that the gamble paid off.

As the restaurant got stable, she also opened another business in Kigali, selling men’s clothes. She got married in 1979 and teaming up with her husband, they started a technical training school in Muhazi, where she served as the deputy headmistress. She continued to juggle education and business.

In 2002, she began pursuing her ultimate dream, which was setting up a tourism and hospitality college, similar to those in Kenya and South Africa. In 2006, the college opened its doors to students. Today it boasts of about 18,000 students and has two branches and a third one is in the offing.

Her life mantra is “never give up” and it is the kind of spirit that has seen her rise to the top business echelons in Rwanda.

Caritas Mukandasira

Caritas Mukandasira, 42, is the new face of Rwanda’s local government, having been appointed the governor of Western Province on February 24, 2014, replacing Celestin Kabahizi who was last year elected to the East African Legislative Assembly.

Prior to her appointment, Mukandasira was a member of the Lower Chamber of Deputies. Rising to the top for the mother of three has not been easy.

“It is not an easy job but I will live up to the expectations of those who entrusted me with the job,” she says.

The INILAK law graduate, who is also a member of the Social Democratic Party contested in the 2008 Parliamentary polls, winning the seat. She contested again in September 2013, winning another term but months into her term, she was appointed governor.

Mukandasira attributes her growth in leadership to hard work, even when many would think her appointments are “political rewards.”

Lt Col Rose Kabuye

She needs no introduction. Lt Rose Kabuye is considered one of the leading women in Rwanda for her role in the liberation struggle in the 1990s and the different leadership tasks she  took up after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

However, she came to international limelight in November 2008, when she was detained in Germany, following arrest warrants issued by French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, targeting top Rwanda Patriotic Front commanders, accusing them of downing the plane that was carrying presidents Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira.

The subsequent events after the highly publicised arrest defined the relations between Rwanda and France and helped settle some of the longstanding disagreements between the two countries.

Her trial and triumph over what many called French aggression towards Rwanda earned her a heroine’s tag back in Rwanda. She was to later to fall from grace, when she was dropped from her post as Director of State Protocol.

Nevertheless, Lt Col Kabuye remains an icon in the eyes of many Rwandans for among other things becoming a “sacrificial lamb” of the political intrigues between Kigali and Paris.

Today, Kabuye, who was born in 1961 in Muvumba, Nyagatare district, has settled in the business world and is now at the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs at the Private Sector Foundation.

Prior to serving as Director of State Protocol, Kabuye had served in different protocols, including as Member of Parliament and Mayor of City of Kigali.

She has since retired from the army. At Lieutenant Colonel, she was the highest ranking female in Rwanda’s military history. She was also among the first females to receive the Rwanda National Liberation Medal and the Campaign against Genocide Medal.

Majors Rose Urujeni and Lydia Bagwaneza

Like Lt Col Rose Kabuye, Maj Rose Urujeni, who heads the Gender Desk in the Rwanda Defence Forces and Maj Lydia Bagwaneza, the head of civil and military relations in the Republican Guard are outstanding Rwandan women in military service.

The two sisters, who grew up in refugee camps in Uganda, decided to join the struggle after experiencing injustices and discrimination in society as refugees. They were driven by the need to have a country they call home.

“As a child, I was bothered by the fact that we were treated as second-class citizens,” says Maj Urujeni

The duo ventured where most women and girls feared and some men gave up - to endure four years in a liberation struggle.

“We faced hunger, poor  living conditions, lack of proper clothing and shelter, and the death of friends – we knew that any day we might die,” Maj Bagwaneza says, adding however that they persevered because they knew what was driving them.

Today, Maj Urujeni is heading the GBV desk, handling many tasks aimed at ensuring equality in the armed forces. She also intervenes in cases where men in uniform and their wives are involved in domestic-related incidents.

Maj Bagwaneza ,on the other hand, spends her day at Village Urugwiro or State House engaged in her daily assignments in the Presidential Guard.

Mary Gahonzire

Mary Gahonzire was the Commissioner General of Police until October 2009, when she was transferred to Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS). She is the Deputy Commissioner General of the Prison’s institution.

Gahonzire is one of the few high ranking women in the armed forces. She has served the country’s security forces diligently having joined the liberation struggle in the 1990s.

She is soft spoken yet she maintains a tough persona and high level of discipline which made her respected and feared during her time at Rwanda National Police. She was renowned for cracking down on corruption.

She has been credited with major reforms in the country’s prison services, where agricultural production has almost tripled from the time she joined, making the facilities self-sustaining, while living conditions have also improved considerably.

According to Ms Gahonzire, her status as a refugee in Uganda prompted her to join the Uganda Police Force and later the struggle to liberate Rwanda.

Dr Anita Asiimwe

Dr Asiimwe has risen through the ranks to become one of Rwanda’s youngest and respected technocrats with a record that speaks volumes.

She is a specialist in Public Health and boasts a vast experience in designing and implementing strategies to tackle HIV/Aids and other infectious and non-infectious diseases.

The medical doctor by profession, was appointed Minister of State for Health in charge of Public and Primary Health Care in February 2013. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Health from Dundee University (UK).

Prior to being appointed Minister of State, Dr Asiimwe was deputy director general of Rwanda Biomedical Centre and head of the Institute of HIV, Disease Prevention and Control (IHDPC), where she was the overall co-ordinator of the national response to fight diseases.

Seraphine Mukantabana

She is the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs since February 2013. Her appointment got many people talking, considering that it was not even two years after she returned home from Congo-Brazzaville, where she had been living as a refugee.

But those who know Ms Mukantabana, 53, maintain that she is a “lady of substance,” who during her time in exile co-ordinated and mobilised Rwandan refugees in Central African countries.

Her appointment to the ministry was seen as a strategy by the Rwandan government to win over refugee communities in central and southern Africa ahead of the invocation of the cessation clause in July 2013.

Whether she has been able to meet her appointee’s expectations is a story for another day but what cannot be doubted is her influence.

Patricia Hajabakiga

Patricia Mugorenejo Hajabakiga has consistently served Rwanda in many capacities and is one of the most senior women politicians still in service.

As a politician in Rwanda and the East African Community (EAC), Hajabakiga is a strong advocate for legal preparedness for disasters in the region.

The environmentalist, who is currently at the East African Legislative Assembly, has served in many portfolios including Minister of State in charge of Lands and the Environment and as Permanent Secretary.

She is credited with Rwanda’s policies to banish plastic bags as well as different legislations and policies on disaster management.