Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States: Who Is Mathilde Mukantabana?
Mathilde Mukantabana presented her credentials as Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States on July 18, 2013. The Washington post is Mukantabana’s first diplomatic position of any kind. She is also non-resident ambassador to Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina.
Mukantabana was born in Butare, Rwanda, and is a member of the Tutsi ethnic group. Her father was a primary school principal and owned a coffee plantation. Mukantabana and other Tutsis were forced to leave school in Rwanda in 1973, so she went to Burundi to finish high school and subsequently earn a bachelor’s degree in history and geography from the University of Burundi.
She came to the United States in 1980 to attend Sacramento State University, where she earned an M.A. in history in 1986. She also married a professor, Alexandre Kimenyi, who taught linguistics, ethnic studies, French and African languages. He was a Rwandan activist whom she had known in Rwanda. Mukantabana went on to earn another master’s degree, this one in social work, with the hope that it might help her rebuild her country.
Mukantabana began teaching history at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento in 1994. That was also the year of the Rwandan Genocide, in which thousands of Tutsi were massacred by members of that country’s Hutu majority. The same week that she was hired by Cosumnes River, she learned that among those killed were both her parents, three sisters, two brothers, six aunts, four uncles and all of her nieces and nephews.
In response, Mukantabana in 1999 put her social work degree to use, starting a program in that discipline at the National University of Rwanda. Many of those trained in the program work for local governments and non-governmental organizations, still helping survivors deal with the trauma of the genocide.
Also during her time teaching, Mukantabana co-founded and became president of the Friends of Rwanda Association. In 2013, Mukantabana was an executive producer of The Rwandan Night, a documentary on the genocide told from the perspective of seven viewpoints.
Raised Catholic, she said in an interview with Tony Platt of Social Justice Journal, “Until I left Rwanda I was a strong believer in the precepts of Catholicism and some of the beliefs I acquired through religion later enabled me to survive. I think it helps to believe in the idea that someone out there is looking out for you and is protecting you. Later, my views about religion changed when I learned about the relationship between colonialism and the Church. I’m no longer a believer in a traditional sense, but I am still influenced and inspired by the teachings of Christianity.”
Mukantabana has three children; two sons, Gitego and Ndahiro, and a daughter, Saro. Her husband died in June 2010.
To Learn More:
Cosumnes River Professor Mukantabana Named Rwanda’s Ambassador to U.S. (by Stephen Magagnini, Sacramento Bee)
20th Anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda: An Interview with Mathilde Mukantabana (by Tony Platt, Social Justice Journal)
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