Part 2: “Being stateless impelled me to join politics and commit to my country” -Charles Murigande

On May 31st, when Dr. Charles Muligande’s retirement news started circulating in different news outlet and social media, one could not help but notice praises and appreciation from different kinds of people towards him. He has been in education sector for 12 years and had retired at 62 years old.

A man whose courage to tirelessly serve the country has never wavered in 26 years, deserves nothing short of praises and appreciation.

This interview was conducted right after he handed over responsibilities he has been carrying for the last for years to the new Acting DVC in Charge of Institutional Advancement, Yanzigiye Beatrice, his last day in office.

In this last part of his interview, he talks about his career journey as a politician who grew up dreaming of becoming a medical doctor or engineer but was impelled to join politics to save his country. Below are the excerpts:

You have been serving the country since the 1990s and served in different important positions.  What kept you committed for all those years?

It is not easy to pinpoint a single factor but probably what kept me committed to this country is the fact that I grew up as a refugee for 34 years of my life. A refugee is basically a stateless person. But that may not convey the feeling. You start understanding the meaning of that when you start traveling with a travel document not a passport because you are not a citizen of any country.

I remember when I got my travel document it was indicating that I was allowed to travel to any country except Rwanda. It was in 1980. That travel document had a tool bar on one of the corner which in police language means “this person must be thoroughly checked”. So you would arrive at the airport and be asked to step aside so that normal people are processed first and abnormal people like you –refugees and stateless- are processed last. So I know what it means not to have a country.

When I got one, I valued it so much that I wanted to work hard and make my small contribution to make it a better country that would not produce refugees again but would progressively and steadily become a better country where all citizens would feel comfortable and happy to live in.

What was your dream job when you were young?

In my teen age, I wanted to be a medical doctor. It was my dream job because I love serving people and doing well to people. I thought by becoming a medical doctor, I would be given an opportunity to do good when people need to be cared for. I tried to join medicine schools but because I was doing very well in almost every subject, I was propelled to join a polytechnic school to do mathematics for the reputation of my secondary school. I ended up studying mathematics.

Even then I wanted to become an engineer but unfortunately I started becoming sickly and was missing a lot of courses so I had to choose mathematics even if I missed classes whereas engineering required to be present.

How did you do mathematics and end up doing politics?

The state of being stateless affected everybody and called us to do something about it. Whatever vocation, every Rwandan was almost compelled to do something about that statelessness. I ended up participating in the liberation struggle in my own ways – explaining the cause for which we were fighting. Eventually I became a politician not because I was prepared to do politics.

What are your best memorable moments at UR?

Graduations are always very memorable in life of the university. Particularly for me, over the last graduation, I was responsible for preparing and coordinating them. It takes a lot of work to make sure that the ceremony runs smoothly especially when it is held at small stadiums like Huye stadium.

Always when you see ten thousand graduates in their graduation gowns, it gives you joy and pleasure that what you have prepared is finally done successfully. The last two graduations were really memorable because they brought back to the city of Huye. You would see even residents being happy that the city is back to life.

Another joyous moment was when I was asked by Vice Chancellor and colleagues to lead the process of applying for a new UR-Sweden program. Through its International Development Agency, Sweden has been funding capacity development for research and teaching and our program was about to end and we needed to apply for a new one. The process was very demanding.

The concept note I presented was one of the best they have ever seen. I led the process of finding collaborating universities abroad and developing a full convincing proposal that ended up earning us a funding program worth $35 million. That also brought me joy.

How was your daily schedule in work days?

Not only here but in places I have been, I have tended to work very hard. In this office, most of the time, I did not have enough staff and yet had responsibilities. I have had to cover those missing staff to ensure that we deliver at a reasonable level and for that I have had to work many hours,

Normally, I get up at 4:30 am and pray then I go for a walk and then prepare to go to work. I have been arriving at work between 7:00 and 7:30 am for long. And then I remain in the office sometimes without even taking lunch until 7 or 8 pm and then I go home. In some days, which unfortunately tended to be many days, I would wake up in middle in the night and work on urgent documents. This would continue even in the weekends except Sunday mornings when I go to church.

How do you feel when you see people commending your humility and commitment?

Until now, I am still receiving messages on my phone from people thanking me and appreciating my humility. That adds to stories and comments in newspapers. All I can say is that God is the only one capable of making me look like that in the eyes of people and I am very thankful.

What do you do when you are not working?

Unfortunately it has been rare that I was not working. I don’t have many hobbies honestly but sometimes I read books, do some sports like walking. I have a stationary bicycle that I ride. Very rarely I watch some movies and listen to Christian music.

I haven’t been doing a lot of hobbies because delivering on my responsibilities I have had over the last 26 years was so demanding and I prioritized that.

Retirement plans?

I don’t have a clear plan but one thing for sure I will do is take more time to read the bible, pray and listen to gospel preaching. I grew up loving people. But the nature of my responsibilities over the last 26 years has prevented from doing that. I intend to be doing that. I am sure I will find ways to continue contributing to my country in one way or another without being overstressed as I was here. I would definitely use every opportune and inopportune time I get to defend, advocate and lobby for my country.

What advice can you give to young people today?

I would tell them that in life one needs an anchor. Mine has been serving God and it has helped me a lot. I advise them to fear and respect God. That will keep them away from useless distraction that are dominating today’s world.