17 February 2014

RWANDA : Akumuntu's Humble Journey to a Basketball Icon

APR women's basketball club has dominated the local scene. The club has won the league title back-to-back since 2007. Chantal Akumuntu has been one of the team's driving forces since joining the military side in 2011 from Rusizi BBC.Akumuntu was born in 1988 to Ignace Serugunira and Euphrasie Mukangarambe in Nyamasheke, Western Province (formerly Cyangugu). She is the fourth born in a family of five (three girls and two boys).The 25-year-old, says both her parents were killed in 1993 by the former regime that later masterminded1994 Genocide against Tutsi.Akumuntu attended Mwito primary school before heading to EAV Ntendezi for her Ordinary Level studies and later Ecole Secondaire Saint Francois de Shangi, both in Nyamasheke district for the Advanced Level studies where she sat her national exams in 2008.The tall dark-skinned basketball player is a fourth year student at INILAK pursuing a bachelors degree in Information System and Management.
Early days
"During my primary school days, I didn't have any preferred sport because we only had football as the game for everyone. But when I joined EAV Ntendenzi I picked interest in playing basketball," she told Saturday Sport.Her elder brother, Jean Bosco Bahati, was instrumental in shaping her career.
"He encouraged me to play basketball from the beginning up to where I'm today." Jean Bosco Bahati is a former Rusizi basketball club player.During her first two years at EAV Ntendenzi, she was not part of the school team, but due to hard work and determination to learn and improve, she was named on both the O'level and the school girls' teams.
"I was named on the O'level and school senior team in 2005 when I was in senior three. The O'level team went on to win the Provincial inter-schools' championships," she recalls.
After arriving at ES Saint François de Shangi (based in Nyamasheke district) for her senior four, she immediately joined the school team. The following year she was made the captain and under her leadership she won the Western Province inter-schools' championships two years in a row in 2007 and 2008.From Rusizi to Kigali  In 2008, the then 19-year-old Akumuntu featured for both his school team and the former national league side Rusizi women's basketball club.That year, she helped the club finish in third position behind champions APR and National University of Rwanda (NUR).She featured for Rusizi again in the 2009 season after completing her senior six, and again helped them to finish in the third position. But she says, "Because it was time to join university in Kigali, I had to shift (to the capital), that is how I left Rusizi BBC, it was purely for academic reasons," she explains.Fresh from upcountry, Akumuntu found adapting to life in Kigali a bit challenging. She spent the 2010 season without a club. "I spent the whole of 2010 without an address (club), I had just left Rusizi for Kigali and I had no connections here, so it was difficult to get a new club immediately, but I continued to do individual training which led to my move to APR in 2011," she narrates.
Happy at APR
After joining the military side in 2011, Akumuntu was warmly welcomed by the team's senior players Jositte Kabarere and Joseline Munyaneza who helped her settle in.She considers the duo along with former teammate Bibiche Kasongo, as her mentors.
"I am grateful to Kabarere and Munyaneza. They welcomed me at the club and helped me to improve my game. They are my friends for life," she gratefully acknowledges.Since joining APR, Akumuntu has known nothing but success as the club has won both regular season league and playoff titles for the last three consecutive seasons hence cementing the club's legacy as Rwanda's most successful women basketball club.The military side has won seven consecutive league titles.According to her coach Charles Mbazumutima, Akumuntu has grown from strength to strength every other season and played a big part for the club to win the Gisembe memorial tournament titles in 2011 and 2012.
In 2013 they reached the final but lost the title to rivals Ubumwe basketball club, with Burundi's Urunani winning the men's category after beating Espoir in the final."Playing for APR also enabled me to travel to countries like Burundi and Kenya for the 2013 Fiba Africa Zone V Club Championships and the 2012 East African Inter-Cities tournament respectively," she said.The 25-year-old is not planning to quit the sport anytime soon as she still has so much to accomplish in her career, including playing at the highest level possible.She said, "It's my dream to play in international competitions and possibly win something before I retire."
The women's national team has not been very active in the last two years, which as a result has limited the chances of Rwandan players, including Akumuntu to be able to test themselves against the continent's biggest teams.
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