Celebrating the life of Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi

Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

By Michael Halewood

We are writing this blog post to celebrate the life of Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi, who passed away in September 2016.

A number of us at Bioversity got to know Jean over the course of six years of working together on the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative. Jean was the national team coordinator for the project in Rwanda.  He was also, over the course of his career, a Project Officer at  ASARECA; a Senior Research Fellow in Tree Seed Centre; the Curator of Rwanda National Gene bank (RNGB); Head of Station for the Rwanda Agriculture Board; and a researcher at the Institut de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique. He was the Rwanda National Focal Point for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and also the National Focal Point for access and benefit sharing issues under the Convention on Biological Diversity. He was also a teacher, a pastor, a husband and a father of eight children.

Jean immediately impressed people with his generous, calm, open manner. One felt immediately at home in his presence, even though he was someone with a great deal of seniority, and professional gravitas.  He was wise, insightful, fun, sensitive, … even noble. Noble is not a word one hears used much these days to describe people, but it fits Jean.

I personally got to spend many, many hours with Jean, bouncing around in his truck, driving to distant project sites across Rwanda. And we met in many places around the world at conferences, negotiations and project governance meetings. He was informed and passionate about his country, especially the farmers and local natural resource managers.  He cared deeply about Rwanda, about Africa, about rural development, combating poverty and injustice. He was exceptionally serious about making the world a better place but managed to treat the rest of us to his light, warm, rolling sense of humour as he pursued that goal.

Jean was an excellent research partner and leader. He took a ‘big tent’ approach that was open and inclusive, drawing people into activities, getting the best out of them, making room for more junior partners, spending time to develop their skills, ultimately building teams that were greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Jean was a great man. We will miss him.

Jean with Michael Halewood and Leontine Crisson. Leontine spent 6 months working with Jean in Rwanda on the GRPI2 project.

Jean with Michael Halewood and Leontine Crisson. Leontine spent 6 months working with Jean in Rwanda on the GRPI2 project.

GRPI2 first project planning meeting, 6-10 February 2012, Rome, Italy. Jean is in the second row from the front, third from the left in the pink shirt. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

GRPI2 first project planning meeting, 6-10 February 2012, Rome, Italy. Jean is in the second row from the front, third from the left in the pink shirt. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

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