Uncle Joe, the man we all loved to call Minister of Sports

Monday August 30 2021
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Joseph Habineza, who died recently, seen here sharing a moment with former US President Bill Clinton. PHOTO | COURTESY


Years after he left­ government, Joseph Habineza remained Uncle Joe or Minister of Sports and Culture to ordinary Rwandans.

And so it was that when news came through on August 20 that he had died at a Nairobi hospital aged 56, the collective pain was shared across the country; so much so that several condolences from government officials, entities, and ordinary people have then dominated social media sites.

Among these was a tribute song dubbed Inshuti ya Bose (A Friend to All), composed by Jean-Paul Samputu, a renowned Rwandan Afro traditional and folk Rwandan musician.

Born 1964 in Kamonyi district, Southern province, Joseph Habineza, following his basic education he enrolled at the Institut Superieur d’Informatique in Gisenyi for a two-year course in ICT.

He later joined Montpellier University in France where he graduated in 1989. In 1990 he returned to Rwanda and was hired by Bralirwa Limited as an ICT analyst and programmer and rose to be head of ICT.

He was still working for Bralirwa in April 1994 when the genocide against the Tutsis started. He fled to Congo where he was hired by Heineken to work in the ICT department and was shortly transferred to Amsterdam to do the same job.


Habineza returned to Rwanda in August of 1994 a­fter the genocide against the Tutsi and rejoined Bralirwa, where he resumed his position as head of ICT.

He was commissioned by Heineken to lead a project harmonising all its ICT departments in Africa, which he co-ordinated from Kinshasa, Congo, until 1996, when he returned to Rwanda.

Habineza was later transferred to Nigeria in the same capacity and worked there for six years before returning to Rwanda in 2004. He was then appointed Minister of Sports and Culture, a position he held for seven years.

He was later appointed Rwanda’s ambassador to Nigeria and served until 2014. His re-appointment to the then Minister of Sports and Culture office, was massively welcomed by the youth, complete with a hashtag #WhileYouWereAway as people narrated what had happened after Mr Habineza’s departure from office.

He served in this office until February 2015. Among highlights of his tenure was the Pan-African Dance Festival, an African Union event that made an entry in 1998 as entrusted to Rwanda by the 67th Conference of African Ministers in Charge of Culture.

Besides his insurance and ICT consultancy services, Habineza had ventured into food processing, opening up a company manufacturing a spaghetti brand called Pasta Joe in Egypt, for distribution through retail outlets in Rwanda.

Habineza leaves behind a widow and two children.