Round-faced, medium height and with the stocky build of a mountain dweller, Nzabonimana was born in 1953 in Nyabikenke (Gitarama prefecture, central Rwanda). His parents were peasants eking out a living on barren land.
Despite his humble background, Nzabonimana achieved an impeccable academic record. After finishing secondary school, he was admitted to the University of Dijon (France) where he graduated in geology. Subsequently, he obtained a Ph.D. in geology at the Polytechnic Institute of Lorraine (Nancy).
According to his lawyer Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, Nzabonimana could easily have found a job in the French mining industry. Yet he decided to return to Rwanda, where President Juvénal Habyarimana soon spotted him and made him Secretary General of the Presidency in 1984.
Five years later, he became Planning Minister and, in 1990, he was appointed minister of Youth and Community Organization.
When multiparty politics were legalized in June 1991, Nzabonimana stuck with the President's MRND party while most southern intellectuals joined opposition parties mushrooming in the south.
He was confirmed as Youth Minister in the first coalition government of national unity on April 16, 1992, and again in July 1993 in the second coalition government led by Agathe Uwilingiyimana.
The downing of President Habyarimana's plane over Kigali on April 6, 1994, was the spark that triggered the genocide. Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana was murdered the following day. Several MRND officials, including Nzabonima, sought refuge in the French embassy as large-scale massacres were being perpetrated in Kigali.
On April 9, 1994, Nzabonimana was sworn in as Youth Minister of the interim government under President Théodore Sindikubwabo and Prime Minister Jean Kambanda. Three days later, Kigali came under attack by Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels led by Paul Kagame. The interim government fled first to Gitarama (central Rwanda) and then on May 29 to the northwestern town of Gisenyi, on the border with Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).
The RPF took Kigali on July 4. Two weeks later the rebels also took Ruhengeri in the northwest and were preparing to march on Gisenyi. Members of the interim government fled into Zaire.
For Callixte Nzabonimana, this was the beginning of a long exile. Indicted by the ICTR in 2001 for genocide and crimes against humanity, he was on the run from international justice until February 18, 2008, when he was arrested in Kigoma, Tanzania.
© Hirondelle News Agency