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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 15:32 GMT
Rwanda's football mercenaries
By Martin Davies
BBC Sport, Bizerte, Tunisia

Rwanda's coach Ratomir Dujkovic
Ratomir Dujkovic unworried by players changing nationalities

Rwanda are at their first-ever African Cup of Nations finals, but it seems that many of their players don't have very close links to the country.

In a country like Rwanda, which has seen its population displaced and dispersed in recent years, there are bound to be players born outside the country but to Rwandese parents.

Take Jimmy Mulisa, who was born and grew up in neighbouring Uganda to a Rwandan father.

Following the war 10 years ago, he returned to Rwanda and now lives and plays his football there.

The rumours in Tunisia are that the Rwanda Football Association (RFA) are scouring Europe, and in particular Belgium, for any Africans who are good enough and willing to change nationalities.

An excellent example of the trend is Joao Rafael Elias, who scored Rwanda's goal as they lost to Tunisia 2-1 in the tournament's opening match.

"I was born in Luanda, Angola, before war there forced us to move to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and then eventually to Belgium," he explained.

While in Belgium, he played for several teams and also met the Amavubi captain Desire Mbonanbucya, who plays for Saint Truiden.

It was Mbonanbucya who suggested the switch of nations and Elias was then approached by top RFA officials.

He agreed to the swap, was soon naturalised as a Rwandan and made his debut for his adopted nation in a Cup of Nations qualifier against Uganda in June.

Despite now having both an Angolan and Rwandan passport, Elias admits he doesn't know any of the local Kinyarwanda language.

In my head I still feel Congolese
Ramadhani Nkunzingoma

The public in Kigali have taken him to their hearts and have given him the nickname 'Imana y Imana', God of God.

There is one player who will have mixed emotions on Saturday when Rwanda play DR Congo.

The Amavubi goalkeeper Ramadhani Nkunzingoma was born and brought up in the DR Congo but now plays for army side APR in Rwanda.

He admits that he is unsure how he will feel when the national anthems are played on Saturday.

"I have no idea how I will feel, I don't know what to say," he admitted.

"But in my head I still feel Congolese."

Rwanda's coach Ratomir Dujkovic is philosophical about the changes.

"It seems it is normal in Africa to allow players to change nationality easily," the coach explained.

"It is easy if they haven't played for another country.

"It is strange for me, but I have to accept that it is reality."

Rwanda beaten but proud
26 Jan 04  |  African Cup of Nations
Putting the past behind them
21 Jan 04  |  African Cup of Nations
Rwanda name finals squad
14 Jan 04  |  African Cup of Nations

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