After the third attempt on the life of former Chief of the Rwanda Defence Forces, Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, exiled in South Africa, Robert Mukombozi talked to him recently in an exclusive interview.
The exiled general discusses what he calls the dictatorship in Rwanda and compares President Museveni and his own Paul Kagame. Below are excerpts:
Let me take you back to the events on the eve of March 4, 2014, when assassins stormed your Johannesburg home. Can you tell us what really happened?
What happened is that a group of gunmen stormed our home and held the security guards of the residence hostage. They then proceeded to break the doors, enter the house and searched for the occupants.
I did not see the men, obviously. However, it is clear that these men were not common thieves; they came with orders, a calculated plan, looking for nothing, but the occupants of the house. No items were stolen, even items that society’s stereotype thief would yearn for, [such as] laptops, a television; they were untouched. The house, with all wardrobes and doors open wide, was not the scene of a robbery but, rather, some sort of sadistic game of assassins.
Surely the gunmen had “overpowered” the South African police officers guarding your resident. Do you think you would have survived the attack?
I do not know, but somehow we survived. You would not expect them to guard a refugee with rocket launchers. I also suspect they believed there was some sense of respect and decency from those whose diplomats were expelled.
However, I learnt that the gunmen were armed with rifles against modestly-armed police guards. In that kind of scenario, the odds were against us. As cliché as it may sound, I believe that when it is your time, it is, and one cannot change that.
The Kigali establishment has vehemently denied involvement in the recent attempt…
Rwandan opposition leaders have a similar, but strange way of dying which does not occur to refugees from other countries living in a similar environment. Rwanda will always deny the assassinations abroad and at home. If they were not involved, how do they know it was a robbery?
Are they insinuating that they ordered a robbery not an assassination? Denials by the Rwandan government are what inform its international relations. Look at what has been happening in DRC. For the last eighteen years, Rwanda has been denying its involvement in that country despite credible reports from reputable researchers, human rights organisations and United Nations experts.
Why does the government of Rwanda behave in that manner?
The Kagame regime is similar to Russia under Stalin, where show trials were a common occurrence, extra-judicial executions were blamed on the victims and assassinations formed part of foreign policy. The Rwandan population lives under fear and self-denial. Some people say Rwanda is an open prison.
Are you suggesting that Rwanda is a dictatorship?
Rwanda is not only led by a dictator; the country is governed in a totalitarian manner…
Civil liberties are suppressed in Rwanda than in any other country in Africa. Independent journalists have been forced to flee and critical media houses closed. Civil society organisations have been co-opted, including ‘opposition’ parties lumped into what is known as the forum. Each one has to be a photocopy of the other to think the same and compete only in supporting the RPF.
Rwanda under Kagame has had problems [with too many countries]. There were political assassinations of Rwandans in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and abductions in Uganda. Uganda twice threw out Rwandan diplomats because of misconduct. The American government demanded the recall of the Rwandan defence advisor. Rwanda did not retaliate out of fear.
Sweden threw out a Rwandan diplomat because of harassing refugees. South Africa recalled its High Commissioner from Kigali in 2010. Rwanda closed its embassies in France and Germany and abolished the teaching of French language in Rwanda. With this litany of events, are all these countries and their leaders wrong and Kagame is right?
But President Kagame calls you a traitor.
What else would you expect him to say? He thought we were his slaves and he is annoyed because we broke the bondage. This is the most unfortunate outcome of our struggle because President Paul Kagame imagined and believes that we went to war for four years, lost countless colleagues for the sole purpose of putting him in power.
Let me remind him that we went to war to fight for democracy, liberty and freedom, an independent judiciary, a representative parliament, free media and end the question of refugees, among other things.
It must also be understood that we disagreed with him, not with the country. Look, if we demand liberty and freedom, does that make us traitors? If we refused to be personalised, how does that affect the country/people? True, Kigali is clean but peoples’ hearts are bruised and sour. Rwandans are told to be eternally grateful for a clean city and keep quiet when their compatriots disappear, [get] imprisoned or killed.
South Africa kicked out three Rwandan diplomats and one from Burundi after the botched assassination. Do you think that was an impulsive decision?
On the contrary they have been too patient and tolerant. They are not the only ones enduring the Rwandan belligerent foreign policy. The British warned Rwandan residents in Britain that the Rwandan government was planning to assassinate some of them and Paul Kagame was accordingly warned to desist from trying those actions on British territory.
Like earlier stated, expulsion of Rwandan diplomats has also taken place in Kenya, Uganda, DRC, France, USA and Germany. No other African country has a similar turnover of expelled diplomats. This should not surprise anybody because that is the nature of the regime in Kigali.
South Africa’s Justice Minister Jeff Radebe talked of sending “a very stern warning to anybody anywhere in the world that our country will not be used as a springboard to do illegal activities.” Have they produced any evidence to back these allegations?
He was quite unequivocal when he stated: “They were involved in a murder and an attempted murder.” South Africa would not take a rush decision because all relevant institutions have to scrutinise and agree on such important decisions.
They can only take that decision when they are sure and have shared the information with all stakeholders. It is not a simple matter that a government wakes up one morning and expels diplomats.
President Museveni said he was a witness to the economic growth in Rwanda and its stability. As a veteran patriot of the region, he also warned those who hobnob with the genocidaires to know that they will have to contend with the patriotic forces that defeated the traitors.
Do such comments from a sitting president of Museveni’s calibre worry you?
This world operates in very many strange ways. At one time, President Museveni was asked about the development in Rwanda and cleanliness in Kigali and he responded that ‘you cannot wash plates if you have not eaten.’
He was just being cunning, he knows Kigali is clean because all those involved in the informal sector business are rounded up and hidden in the villages or interned on Iwawa island. He is also aware that Uganda was stable under Idi Amin, but it was not peaceful.
Let me remind him that after the Kisangani clashes between Ugandan and Rwandan armed forces, President Museveni described President Kagame as treacherous and later in a letter to Clare Short, President Museveni categorised Kagame as politically bankrupt. In the same vein, during his recent visit to the UK, he described Boko Haram as bankrupt.
President Museveni knows that President Kagame has no capacity to see through the irony of his speech. The Rwandan problem will not be resolved by war, but through dialogue. President Museveni talked to his adversaries in the 1980s. I had the opportunity to take part in the organisation and discussion between the NRA and the UPDA in Gulu.
President Museveni had been in power for less than two years. At that time, skulls of those who had died in Luweero were all over the place, but were swiftly buried. In Rwanda, bodies of mothers, fathers and children are all over for public display and commemoration takes half a year.
People are ever traumatised by these sights and yet we could bury our loved ones, write their names on a huge memento at the memorial site, use a week for remembrance and give our people a chance to heal and reconcile.
Hobnobbing with the genocidaires! We must find a solution through dialogue even if it involves the genocidaires because that does not absolve them of any culpability, but it is important that we listen to everyone. President Museveni has been calling for dialogue and tolerance in Kenya in the wake of the 2007 massacres and in Rwanda he is praising extra-judicial killings and war!
What do you think is influencing/motivating the Ugandan government’s softening stance on Rwanda, despite the kidnappings of Rwandan refugees from Kampala, among other territorial violations?
I wish I knew. Dr Kizza Besigye stayed in exile in South Africa for five years and when he returned to Uganda, the FDC branch in South Africa is still operational and the government of Uganda does not call them terrorists.
Whatever the case, kidnappings and assassinations of Rwandans in Uganda – the actions you describe – have vindicated President Museveni’s description of the Rwandan regime as bankrupt. It appears President Museveni has given them chance and space to prove him right and they have not disappointed.
President Museveni has not killed Col Kizza Besigye and Gen Mugisha Muntu who were his minister and army commander respectively. He has not killed Olara Otunnu, who was previously accused of having called for negotiations with Joseph Kony. Compare [that] with President Kagame – incarceration of President Pasteur Bizimungu and the jubilation about the assassination of Col Patrick Karegeya.
The family of late Col Ogole has been promised assistance to repatriate his body for a decent burial in his home in Lango. Isn’t it strange that one exudes kindness and empathy at home and preaches mayhem in the neighbourhood!
There is also an element of capitulation when Col Patrick Karegeya was assassinated, the actions of the government of Uganda culminated in many of his Ugandan friends fearing to attend his memorial in Uganda and his funeral in South Africa because of fear of retaliation from Kigali.
The Ugandan media was reluctant to report about the assassination also because of fear. I find it strange that citizens of another country are terrorised by leadership in the neighbourhood. Well, the British tried appeasement and the Americans went into isolation after the First World War, but that did not stop Adolf Hitler from attacking them.
Let’s talk about the killing of former Rwandan spy chief Col Patrick Karegeya here in South Africa. As a former intelligence officer, what do think happened?
Col Karegeya was a generous and fair person. These excellent qualities were his undoing. He helped and trusted, and someone abused his trust. All I know, those who planned his assassination were motivated by jealousy and envy. Beyond that, they have gained nothing.
We cannot forget his intelligence nor can we replace his humour. He was an independent-minded thinker and this did not sit well with President Kagame. In 2005, he was held incommunicado for six months with an intention to break his spirit.
When Kagame realised that the incarceration had not changed his character, he immediately ordered his arrest and arraigned him in a kangaroo court that sentenced him to two years in prison. In 2011, while in exile, President Kagame again ordered another trial in absentia and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
After his assassination, the insensitive officials in Kigali celebrated his death and mocked his children. Why all the spitefulness? How does a leadership become so vindictive? The good thing is that they identified themselves and Rwandans cannot second-guess who is responsible for the crime.
How are you coping with the loss of such a great friend?
The shared adversities formed a galvanising bond between our families. Ours had become one big family and we would share a meal every week. What I find more challenging is to see Leah as a widow, Portia, Elvis and Richard, can no longer share the many jokes they used to share with their father.
However, Rwandans in exile and other foreign supporters clearly understood the nature of the regime in Rwanda and appreciated his plight and that of his compatriots. Col Patrick [Karegeya] was a man of the people and his loss is shared by many across the globe.
Source: The Observer