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  • Vinod Jain

When a Former Prime Minister Became My Graduate Assistant

Imagine discovering that your new graduate assistant at Bowling Green State University was none other than a former Prime Minister of Rwanda. This extraordinary situation unfolded during my tenure as Assistant Professor and Director of the International Business Program at BGSU, presenting a unique intersection of academia and international politics. Pierre-Célestin Rwigema, a name that carried weight and controversy, was not just a student in the MBA program but also possibly a fugitive from his country—a most unusual addition to my long teaching career.

Each professor in our program was paired with a graduate assistant, but given my additional responsibilities as Program Director, I was allocated two. These students, in exchange for their tuition waiver, worked ten hours a week assisting the professor with teaching and research activities.

Sometime early in the 2001 fall semester, I received a phone call from the Associate Dean that he had a new MBA student to work as my graduate assistant. He also told me that the student was a former Prime Minister of Rwanda, Pierre-Célestin Rwigema. I was initially quite hesitant about Rwigema’s assignment to me. Could a former leader of a nation adapt to the routine tasks of a graduate assistant, like grading exams and photocopying articles for me in the library? 

However, the Associate Dean assured me of Rwigema's willingness to fully embrace his role. Excited by this unusual development, I shared the news with my wife, Kamal. Her subsequent online search uncovered unsettling details – Rwigema had been accused of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and fled to the United States seeking political asylum. When I conveyed these findings to the Associate Dean, he informed me that Rwigema had been cleared by the FBI and the U.S. State Department before his acceptance into our MBA program. (Pierre-Célestin Rwigema was eventually proven innocent of involvement in the genocide and granted political asylum in the U.S.). 

I was, of course, also concerned that once the news of a former Prime Minister accused of genocide and studying at BGSU became known, the campus would be swarming with news media. Sure enough, one day, an evening news anchor of Toledo’s ABC television channel came to meet and interview people at BGSU; reporters from Toledo Blade and other publications also visited the campus. The news anchor was waiting for me as I came out of a classroom and talked to me about Rwigema. Among the things I told her was that he was quite respectful to me. When the evening newscast came, she talked about her interview with me and that I had told her that he was very “respectable.”   

As far as I remember, his stay at BGSU was otherwise quite uneventful. I left BGSU in May 2002 to join the University of Maryland University College (now University of Maryland Global Campus) and thus do not have information about his second year in the MBA program. He was indeed quite respectful to me and even invited me to his apartment to meet with his family. Reflecting back, this unique intersection of global politics and academia offered profound lessons in understanding, empathy, and the multifaceted nature of human experiences.

In 1994, Rwanda’s population of over seven million was composed of three ethnic groups – the Hutu (who made up roughly 85% of the population), the Tutsi (14%), and the Twa (1%). Traditionally, the Hutu were farmers, the Tutsi were cattle herders, soldiers, and administrators, and the marginalized Twa were hunter-gatherers or potters.

The Rwandan Genocide catastrophic event occurred over a period of 100 days – from April to July 1994. Approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by extremist Hutu forces. As reported in press, it was orchestrated by the Hutu-led government. Extremist Hutu leaders used various forms of media to incite their followers to eliminate the Tutsi population, labeling them as enemies of the nation. The killings were carried out by government forces, militias, and even ordinary citizens who were encouraged to turn against their neighbors. The genocide finally ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel group, gained control of the country.

In 1995, Pierre-Célestin Rwigema, an ethnic Hutu, became Prime Minister of Rwanda, pledging to unite his ethnically torn country. In February 2000, the Rwandan Parliament forced him to resign, citing allegations of corruption. Rwigema fled to the United States and sought political asylum, claiming persecution by the Tutsi-dominated government. Later, the government issued an international arrest warrant for him alleging his involvement in the 1994 genocide.

Where is Pierre-Célestin Rwigema Now?

After completing his MBA at Bowling Green State University, Rwigema did his Ph.D. in Leadership and Governance at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. He is an elected member of the East African Legislative Assembly and lecturer at Kigali Independent University (ULK) at the master's level. He also lectures at Jomo Kenyata University at the Ph.D. level. (Information Source: Google search).

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