Behind the Presidential Curtains: Gen Kayonga spoke out before his detention

By: Noble Marara

Towards the end of M23 war against the FIB, SADC, and FRDC the Rwandan President Paul Kagame consulted his top generals with the idea to seek advice of attacking and helping out the M23 in order to fight the enemy tirelessly and not withdraw. Among those attended the meeting was Gen James Kabarebe, Gen Charles Kayonga and Gen Kamanzi Mushyo. Gen Jack Nziza, most of all the generals, advised the President to hold fire due to the anxiety of knowing what the outcome may be. They believed that the FIB soldiers as well as other forces involved might end up attacking Rwanda, of which most people thought was inevitable.

After the meeting the President decided to send more Special Forces in DRC without agreeing on that, however only Gen Jack Nziza was aware of this plan. Surprisingly, while in another senior officers meeting Gen. Kayonga suggested that the soldiers, in operations such Special Forces who were fighting alongside the M23, should have their monthly payments increased. This enraged Gen James Kabarebe and he told him to shut up, of which Gen Kayonga did not like and he immediately told Gen Kabarebe that he did not know what he was talking about. The anger and animosity between these two generals is not new because they have served the same positions in the army since joining the military. They were always promoted at the same time and appeared to live in a love/hate relationship all the time.

After a few days, Gen Kayonga reported to the President that he had found an anonymous letter in his office, which detailed that all RDF forces are tired of wars. In Kinyarwanda the letter stated that there was no reason for going back to DRC and no one was willing to fight in the war. In conclusion, according to our intelligence staff, the letter advised the president that if he continues to attack DRC, his government would lose even the little they have. (Meaning the RPF government being overthrown.)

President Paul Kagame immediately instructed Gen Kayonga and Gen Jack Nziza to investigate, and detain all the suspects of whom he thought were the planners of the above incident. Gen Charles Kayonga reported that he had failed to trace the authors of the letter. Unfortunately, Gen Nziza also reported to have failed to find the people behind the letter but suggested that after reviewing on how Gen Kayonga handled the situation he may have been part of the plan. It was immediately ordered that Gen Patrick Nyamvumba should replace him and Gen Charles Kayonga was put on house arrest. Also arrested after that was the head of the Republican Guard, unit Brigadier Gen Johnson Hodari just for being Gen Charles Kayonga’s closest friend. Brig Gen Hodari, who was endorsed by Gen Kayonga to become Kagame’s head of protection, had remained loyal to Gen Charles Kayonga of whom they served together while in Bravo mobile task force. Brig Gen Hodari was accused to have used the government vehicles in his personal deals, they were both later detained but for Gen Charles Kayonga he is no longer under house arrest instead his whereabouts are unknown.

Prior to his detention, he had confided to a close friend that he always wanted to do the best for the soldiers but his bosses do not listen. He reported that the South African soldiers had weapons that the RDF do not have. Gen Kayonga said that the RDF use to buy ammunitions from South Africa until their relationship became sour, ‘’they know all our ammunitions and so they are prepared to wipe us out if we continue to interfere in DRC issues.” Gen Kayonga highlighted that the FIB was shelling super quick rockets, delayed rockets, using BMS, new tanks not like their old tanks, “and with our soldiers meant to be assisting the M23 were dying like flies, would I have just kept quiet?  The South Africans are more equipped with ammunitions to an extent of exporting weapons to the UK and USA now days, but we still believed that we could force them out with an AK47?”

“We promised the M23 that we will meet the ammunition needed to combat the enemy but when time came, the drones were on top of us and nothing could be done. Surprisingly, when Gen Nziza made that promise he knew that the drones were going to be sent in the area’’.

Gen Kayonga pointed out that the final war against M23 was planned by the South Africans for eight weeks and was finished in just six days, that shows our weaknesses. Still our top commanders have no idea how dangerous this was especially after losing more than a thousand troops of just RDF in just six days.

Lt. Gen. Kayonga, a grandson to Bushogoro who originated from commune Rukara Karubamba, was born in 1962 to his mother Verediana Nyirasoni and his father Kayonga, attended Kajaho Primary school, then Kitabi Seminary in Mbarara District Uganda and later attended Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda where he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education.

Gen Kayonga Charles was encouraged by his sister, a nun from Vatican Rome, who had always wished for the young Kayonga to become a catholic priest, however after obtaining free education from the catholic seminary in Kitabi, contrarily to the sister’s ideas the young Kayonga, joined the army in late 1987. He trained in basic military skills in Luzira Uganda, attended cadet course in Jinja and was commissioned in Sept 1989.

Gen Kayonga also attended US Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The General had held various military appointments and his career highlights include the fact that he served in various capacities and rose in rank from Platoon Command to Battalion Commander, during the 1990-1994 liberation war.

Gen Charles Kayonga was criticised by fellow junior officers at the beginning of the 1990 RPF attack on Rwanda, this was after he mistakenly withdrew himself from the frontline on top of the hill in Kivuye. He reported that he had been injured on frontline, walked away and left his platoon on extended line. He was later discovered lying among the injured troops when he had not been injured.

His former comrade Gen James Kabarebe, who was then serving among Kagame’s entourage. spoke to Kagame about Gen Kayonga’s transfer to come to the high command and work alongside Kagame as his body guards till 1993. This saved Kayonga who was terrified of going back to war.  From 1993 through 1994, he was the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion that was popularly referred to as the “600 Bn.” This contingent was responsible for security of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Politicians in Kigali as part of the implementation of the Arusha Peace Accords.

Among the top commanders that helped Gen Kayonga build his profile in the RPA were Maj Kwikiriza and Col Jacob Tumwine who fought incessantly to chase the enemy out of Kigali.

He later commanded the Bravo Mobile Force during the campaign against Genocide, during the 1996-1998 counter insurgency operations; he was as an Infantry Brigade Commander, Commanding Officer of the Mechanised Battalion as well as Task Force Commander. After that Gen Kayonga was sent in USA on a military course but refused to come back in his country after he found out that he was likely to be imprisoned due to a corruption scandal. He was accused of stealing the cows in Gishwati and killing the owners of those cows, having been among the few people who planned and executed the former president Juvenal Habyalimana.

Kagame had to drop all charges and Gen Kayonga was begged to return to his country. Upon his return in 2000 to 2002, was rewarded to serve as the Defence and Military Advisor to President Paul Kagame. Later in 2002, General Kayonga served as the Army Chief of Staff land forces, under CDF Gen James Kabarebe.

Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga is married to Caroline Rwivanga and the couple has three children. Since he was relieved of CDF duties he spent a few months under house arrest, and later the sources held indicate that his current whereabouts are unknown.

Edited by: Jennifer Fierberg

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