Leon Mutesa is a Geneticist and Director of the Center for Human Genetics at the University of Rwanda in Kigali. He talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced his work and research, as he has implemented various research projects and coordinates a COVID-19 Task Force for Rwanda.


Who are you and what is your profession?

My name is Prof. Leon Mutesa and I am the Director of the Center for Human Genetics at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Rwanda in Kigali.

What are you currently working on?

So, I am currently leading three research programs. One of these projects focuses on the transgenerational transmission of the impact of genocide exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder in women survivors of the Rwandan genocide and their offspring. And since the COVID-19 outbreak in Rwanda, my research group and I have implemented various research projects aiming at building human capacity for COVID-laboratory diagnostic and management. In addition, I am also currently coordinating the Rwandan Task Force for COVID-19 laboratory testing under a WHO consultancy.

Can you describe your workplace in two words?

Inspiring and very attractive for scientists.

Which trend will influence your work/ research the most?

Definitively the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the mRNA vaccines can be looked at as a genetic-based therapy, this is exactly my research field as a Geneticist. Also, together with my group we recently published a Nature’s paper on pooling testing strategy which shows a cost-saving approach for better use of COVID-19 limited testing resources. In this regard, it’s great to see that BioNTech is currently evaluating the establishment of sustainable vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Rwanda.

Who would you like to work with some day?

Every day, today and in the future, my students! 🙂

What keeps you awake at night?

Definitively grant application writing as well as writing manuscripts for paper publications.

Tell us a fun or unknown fact about you!

I really love to go swimming with my kids in my free time! In fact, this summer holiday was the first time we did it all together.

What is your favourite spot in Berlin?

I really like Berlin, I have been to the city four or five times already, as a visitor. I think one of the most interesting places I have been to so far is the Berlin Wall Memorial, that helps you better understand how it was when the city was divided. In this regard, I also like the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum), where I found the links between Germany and Rwanda particularly interesting when it comes to the 1885 Conference of Berlin and its declaration that would put Rwanda and Burundi under German influence and control.

What is your part in this year’s 6th Berlin Science Week?

I will be speaking at the panel, organized by the StArfrica project team, on the topic of entrepreneurship education in Rwanda. In my work with young and inspiring students in the field of genetics, the topic of turning promising innovations into businesses or startups is very interesting and promising when it comes to COVID-19, for example. My ultimate goal is also to provide a counter-narrative to the singular story of the African continent when you look at its way to fight the Covid-19 pandemic on the ground – with Rwanda being a great and innovative role model.

What is the most delicious thing you ate this week?

It was a Belgian dish, called Carbonnade Flamande, which is a Beef and Beer stew, it was fantastic. A Belgian colleague of mine had cooked it for me.


If you want to learn more about Leon Mutesa’s research and his ideas check out the event by StArfrica ‘The Potential of Entrepreneurship Education in Rwanda‘ on 3 Nov at 4pm.