Pastor Antoine Rutayisire is a busy man. If he is not speaking at a conference, he is ministering or meeting his flock in his office. Once he gives you 10 minutes to meet him, better keep time because the queue is long.
Born 56 years ago in Ntete Village in Kiramuruzi on the shores of Lake Muhazi, now Gatsibo District, Mr Rutayisire was only five when his father was killed in the first round of tribal clashes in 1963.
“He was not a politician, he was just a businessman. That was probably the biggest injustice that first affected me,” he recalled.
Mr Rutayisire tells tales of injustices he faced all his life because he was Tutsi, including, being sacked as a lecturer at the National University of Rwanda.
Shortly after completing his primary education, Mr Rutayisire joined a junior seminary with the hope of becoming a priest but he faced challenges.
In late 1970s, against all odds, Mr Rutayisire joined the National University of Rwanda where he studied Literature and Linguistics. He says that even joining university for a Tutsi was an uphill task.
The jolly man of God is known for his oratory skills and witty stories, which even though painful, are told in a way that does not depress the spirits of his audiences.
However, his critics have labelled him a “political pastor,” but this does not bother him at all.
“I don’t care if some people think I am a politician. I never give political views. I always give personal views on national issues. As a matter of fact, I always tell people that if I speak about reconciliation, good governance, economy etc, they should not make me a politician.”
According to Mr Rutayisire it is not possible to be nationalist without giving views about the way the nation is governed.
“I believe in activism, pragmatism and results. I am a pastor with a position on national life,” he said.
Mr Rutayisire said as a victim of many injustices at the hands of previous government, he has a right to have views on the current government.
In 1973, Mr Rutayisire was kicked out of school in the first expulsion of Tutsi students and those in civil service. He later rejoined school. Injustices were institutionalised, he said.
For instance, in 1977, after completing secondary, he went to apply for a university scholarship at the Ministry of Education but believes his application was rejected on ethnic grounds.
“When I reached the directorate of bursaries, a receptionist went through my papers and when she read that my identity was “Tutsi,” she sneered and dropped my papers on the floor.”
“Later on I got the scholarship but that kind of treatment was humiliating, irritating and discouraging to see that in your own country as a young man you are treated as something disgusting,” he recalls.
Humiliated, Mr Rutayisire retreated back to his village where he took a teaching role in a primary school.
“I never thought I stood a chance to go anywhere,” he says, but miraculously he got the bursary, joined university and graduated with a distinction.
In 1982, he was recruited as an associate lecturer at the university, but a year later, he was informed that he had been “redeployed,” a term the government used to remove a Tutsi from a certain position.
“I was redeployed to a secondary school in the countryside. I spent eight years in Rulindo Secondary School until 1990. I got an opportunity to go to the UK for a short course. However, the university decided to retain me for a Masters course,” he recalls. He spent one year in the UK where he pursued a Masters degree in applied linguistic at North Wales University.
Mr Rutayisire settled for a secondary school teaching post, a job he accepted because of his passion for the profession.
“I could not process all these things happening at the same time,” he says, recalling that even when the headmistress of the school recommended him for the position of a deputy head teacher, officials at Ministry of Education rejected the proposal due to his tribe.
At this time, tensions were beginning to rise. RPA Inkotanyi had waged a war on former president Juvenal Habyarimana, a signal that Tutsis would be targeted even more.
Mr Rutayisire very often commuted along the Kigali-Ruhengeri road since he was doing Christian work in universities, which were all located in the north. Several road blocks had been mounted on the road, manned by soldiers whose job was to remind Tutsis how their exiled tribesmen were fighting the government.
“You are in your country but every time you are reminded that you are a second class citizen. On many occasions I raised my voice and told people ‘this is not acceptable anymore.’ It was my small way of saying no to injustice,” he adds.
Mr Rutayisire said the “horrible times” he went through acted as a furnace to purify his resolve.
In September 1990, Mr Rutayisire who was then working with Christian student’s movement had just returned home from Togo to his family when he was briefly arrested and interrogated for allegedly meeting exiled Rwandans in Nairobi. He pleaded his innocence and he was released. Five days later, the RPF attacked. There was tight security — many Tutsis were arrested on allegations of being linked to the Tutsi rebels.
What followed between 1990 and April 1994 when the genocide broke out “was hell” according to Mr Rutayisire. Tutsis were subjected to constant checks, arrests and murdered.
“The genocide was the culmination of four years of humiliation and torture. We were insulted, beaten and dehumanised. Actually I can write a whole book on that period alone, detailing all these injustices,” he said.