The light Magazine

The oldest school in Rwanda

Written by: George Kalisa
Thursday, August 2nd, 2018, 12:52

The Light Magazine’s Chief Editor George Kalisa spoke to Rev. Fr. Rwirangira Pierre-Célestin the second black Headmaster of Groupe Scolaire de Butare . He took him through the history of the school. His immediate predecessor Rev. Fr. Kayumba Emmanuel was the first black Headmaster in 1995 after eight white Headmasters.


Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare popularly known as Indatwa is the oldest school in Rwanda where many big names in politics, religion and business received their education. Rwanda was part of Ruanda-Urundi during the colonial days. There is still something unknown about this school aside from being the oldest and started by Belgian Christian missionaries, the White Fathers.

Historical background

Before 1920 the White Fathers like elsewhere in Africa only taught elementary instructions and catechism, a system which basically catered for the 3Rs – reading, writing and Arithmetics.


Later, the system would not catch up with the demands of the colonial administration and hence an overhaul of the system was inevitable, culminating in the founding of a formal education institution we know today as Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare.


In 1920 the colonial Belgian administration passed a policy to directly and fully control Ruanda-Urundi, a colony that constituted the present day Rwanda and Burundi.


The directive meant the colonial Belgian government was to man administratively and economically the central African colony.


The decision, however, met uphill challenges that ranged from critical lack of qualified and sufficient personnel to limited resources.


with which they could man a dream market economy. Yet, the colonial budget was too small to employ the European staff leave alone running the colony’s economy. 


It is against this background that the need to produce local elites became pertinent and more urgent than ever.


The need to have indigenous elites who serve as clerks, administrators, civil servants name it therefore prompted the colonial administration to found a formal

school in the territory that they had occupied, hence the establishment of Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare.


Still, that was not about to happen basically because they lacked qualified and experienced human capital in the field of education.


After thorough consideration of the basic technical and managerial factors theone option - to entrust the Christian missions from home who had qualified personnel and resources to sensitize local folks on the importance of education in improving their wellbeing. 


Thus, they started to source partners and connections with the Ecclesiastical authorities who would later exclusively man the education business on their behalf, leaving the entire colonial administrationin the hands of the colonial masters.


In 1925, the Royal Police Chief, Belgian MARZORATI proposed to the ministry in charge of the Belgian colonies in Africa to start an education institution in Ruanda-Urundi, which would host the Primary and Secondary sections as well as tertiary  and vocational sections, hence deriving its name Groupe Scolaire.


Brothers of Charity as founders


The dream of the Belgian government was not about to become a reality for the White Fathers had turned down the request to take up the responsibility of founding the school. This compelled the Belgian government to contact the congregation of the Brothers of Charity whohad success stories in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo).


Their devotion to offering excellent educational services on the continent in general was unequalled wherever they

had established schools.


Following this consensus the Belgiangovernment wrote a letter dated February 27, 1925 requesting the Congregation to start and manage a school.


In acceptance, Brother Philemon, Superior of the Congregation signed a binding contract between the ecclesiastical

authority and the colonial authorities which among others permitted them to find the site of the school.




A debate ensued on the location of the school on April2, 1927. The Choice of the Apostolic Vicar of Rwanda Bishop Classe was in Kinyaga near Kamembe in Rusizi District before he realized it was not central location in the territory since the colonial masters had Butare in a plan as an administrative capital.


Later a compromise was reached to establish the school in Astrida, a region which later became to be known as Butare in 1962. It had been named after Queen Astrid of Belgium. Initially, the school sat on 320ha.


Seven facts making Indatwa N’Inkesha School stand out

First storied building in Burundi and Rwanda.

Indatwa was not only the first school to host the tallest building but the first tallest building in Rwanda and Burundi (Ruanda-Urundi) was erected at the school’s premises in 1935. Save the shade that was added to it, the single-storey building locally known as large Kigoma is still in its original form alongside serving the purpose for which it was built.


One important feature of the imposing building, a visitor will notice instantly is the monument of the Holy Mary, the Mother of Jesus at the center of its upper face, just between two large glassy, cracked windows.  In front of it, stands a large, branchy tropical tree that is much taller than the building and it obstructs its view from strategic positions for a good photo. 


The building was built to serve as a dormitory to accommodate the increasing number of students. 

The school hosts the first stadium in Rwanda

The Olympic Stadium is located at the premises of  Katagara Secondary School. Kamena Stadium is believed to be the first stadium in Rwanda as its construction dates back to the infancy days of Groupe Scolaire de Butare. Before 1994 Katagara Secondary School was the Ordinary Level section of Groupe Scolaire. During and after the colonial days it used to host regional interschool games including athletics competition. This is because it was the only Stadium in the country meeting the standards and had facilities for nearly all the games.


It is traced to Brother Junius aka Kamena, a Sports teacher who mobilized resources to construct it, hence it is named for Brother Kamena.


Groupe Scolaire de Butare produced the first medical doctors in Ruanda-Urundi


The medical section of the school started in January, 1937 qualifying it the pioneer medical school in the Ruanda-Urundi colony since medicine was exclusively offered here by the time. The first intake automatically became the first

medical doctors in Rwanda and Burundi.


Prince Leopold of Belgium who visited the school in 1933 was accommodated in the Residence for Administration popularly known as CANA today.


Prince Louis Rwagasore

(January10, 1932-October13, 1961) was an old student of Groupe Scolaire. Aside from being a soldier the royal turned-politician served as the Prime Minister of Burundi before he was assassinated shortly after Burundi had gained independence.


King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa studied at this school though he never completed from there.



The school hosts the first swimming pool in Rwanda.


Alumni of Indatwa

Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare prides itself on contribution towards national development through developing human capital. Records obtained at the school show an endless list of old students that have variously contributed towards the transformation of Rwanda and the region.


The school boasts of students that have exhibited a high level of excellence in different fields of the Rwandan economy while others are giants in the world of academia. Most of them have served the country in

different ranks with excellence.

Their works reflect the school moto: Isuku, Umuco no Gukunda Igihugu.


These include: Prof. Jean Piere Dusingizemungu, the President of IBUKA, Prof Chrysologue Karangwa, a Senator, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, (BNR) Anastase Murekezi, the Chief Ombudsman of Rwanda and former Prime Minister,  Prof. Karemera Marembo Claver, former lecturer of Chemistry at the University of Rwanda,  Rev. Fr. Rwirangira Pierre-Célestin the Headmaster of Indatwa and Gaspard Mushimiyimana, teacher and Chief Librarian at the school.




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