Rwigara Asinapol’s Family Harassed By Kagame Agents

By: Jennifer Fierberg

The Government of Rwanda has a solid historical record of forced disappearances, unsubstantiated convictions and strict social control on civilians within the country. These acts are carried out when people become vocal critics of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) or even if the suspicion exists that they are talking negatively about the government. This kind of behavior is not tolerated and a simple Google search will provide a quick list in the authoritarian rule and harsh consequences imposed on vocal dissenters. 

Assinapol Rwigara was a wealthy businessman living in Rwanda all of his life. He started numerous businesses from the early 1970’s and raised his family in the country. He fled Rwanda briefly in 1990 when the civil war began and he was a strong financial supporter of invading group known as the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), which formed in Uganda under Fred Rwigema and then later under the current president Paul Kagame.  According to members of his family, he never questioned the practices of the RPA/RPF and was known as one of the strongest and most consistent financial supporters. On February 4, 2015, Mr. Rwigara died under suspicious conditions in a car accident. The Rwanda National Police have issued statements that the accident was random and all investigations were completed with no official or sinister cause.

The family of Mr. Rwigara disagrees. Family members have been vocal with the local media asking for further investigations into the case.  After months of raising their concerns, the wife of Mr. Rwigara was arrested and then released within hours after being questioned by the Crime Investigation Division (CID). She has subsequently been brought in for questioning on a daily basis for the last seven days. Today, two of Mr. Rwigara’s sons and his daughter were brought in for questioning by the CID as well.

One of Mr. Rwigara’s sons, living outside of Rwanda released the following statement:

Full and unedited testimony of Aristide Rwigara:

 Hello. My name is Aristide Rwigara. I am the son of Assinapol Rwigara, who was one of Rwanda’s most prominent businessmen. My father was assassinated on February 4, 2015, and my siblings and I petitioned the Rwandan president for an investigation into his death in the month of March. I would like to bring attention to the tragic events that have been unfolding in the aftermath of my father’s assassination.

A few days ago, the city of Kigali ordered my family to demolish our hotel located in the neighborhood of Kiyovu, in Kigali. They ordered us to demolish it by August 15 of this year. They said that our hotel was built without the proper permits, and that it presents a safety problem. They ordered my family to destroy the building ourselves, and to pay over 7 million Rwf to the company that performed the bogus study about the safety issue.

 This is just part of their plan to ruin our family after my father’s assassination. Indeed, we built our hotel with all the proper permits and are still in possession of those permits.

Moreover, to say that the building was built without following rules of safety is an incredibly brazen lie given the conditions in which it was built. Indeed, the city monitored every single step of the construction since they ceaselessly harassed my father in order to make him abandon the project.  For example, they would grant him the permit to build only to stop him immediately after work had begun, with new and invented reasons for the halt.

The hotel being one of the most valuable buildings in the area, they even illegally took it at one point. My father went to court over the matter and won his hotel back. The city then offered to buy the hotel from my father, which he refused to do.

It is unbelievable that the mayor of Kigali would now say that our hotel is not safe, when the city’s own officials and experts were sent to test the solidity and safety of the building, and emphatically asserted that everything was according to regulations. Moreover, observers of the situation are wondering how the city of Kigali could have allowed for the construction to happen until completion without the permits (the construction took very long because of all the tribulations my father faced).

Last week, my mother, Adeline Rwigara, was approached by branches of the media over this matter. She publicly denounced the authorities for harassing our family. Indeed, the hotel matter is just one of a long series of actions to thwart my father’s ventures and smother us economically.

The city has gone after three other of our plots in Kiyovu. One of them was grabbed with the sole explanation being that the land was not being used productively. However, the city had, without cause, refused to grant us the permit to build on it. So really, we could not use it at all.

We are not being given information on whether we are allowed to build or not on another one of our plots; so despite the fact that we own the property, that building remains under the city’s control.

There is a third plot that my father had acquired by paying the residents of that land so that they would move. Nevertheless, the city of Kigali then told him that they were taking possession of that land. My father told them that they then had to reimburse him for the payments he had given to the former residents so that they would move. The city refused to pay so my father took them to court. He won, and the city was ordered to pay him close to a billion Rwandan Francs. However, the city refused to pay my father. Shortly thereafter, he gave an interview to a newspaper in Kigali where he discussed the injustices he was being subjected to. Ten days later, he was assassinated.

My father was assassinated because he is the only businessman in Rwanda who would not allow the state to enter into his businesses. He refused to comply with the usual model of doing business in Rwanda, which is to forcibly give shares of one’s companies to the state, and then watch them take over the entirety of one’s hard-earned assets. Many other businessmen have fled the country to save their lives once their companies went under assault from the state. The others who remain have no control over their own businesses.

My father refused to be intimidated, which is why he has been continuously targeted since 1995, enduring many other persecutions unmentioned here. Ultimately, he paid with his life because he stood up for his economic rights.

The state has now gone after my mother for publicly speaking out about this latest attack against our family, and telling the media the truth of the matter, which is that my father was assassinated so that they could take his possessions.

Last Friday, August 7, more than 30 police and military officers jumped over the gate of our house in Kiyovu, Kigali, threatened to smash open the doors and arrested my mother. They took her to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). But the media learned about it almost instantly and the story immediately spread over the internet. Given the attention her unlawful arrest was receiving, the CID had to let her go after hours of interrogation. But she was ordered to come back the next morning.

She went back to the CID a third time on Monday morning, August 10, and was there again this morning of August 11. It bears repeating that she has not committed a crime, other than talking about the never-ending persecution of our family by the state of Rwanda.

The Rwandan police released a statement on Sunday night intended to justify the authorities’ recent actions against our family, and which contained, among many other blatant lies, the following incensing assertion concerning our request for a thorough investigation following our father’s assassination: “Even when the family raised other concerns surrounding the incident later, further systematic and thorough investigations were conducted and findings were also shared with the family, who expressed that their concerns were addressed and revealed that their accusations were just based on hearsay”.

My family wants to set the record straight about the “so-called” thorough investigation by the police. There was no investigation at all!  The whole thing was a farce in which my family was called at the CID where we were grilled for hours as if we were the ones on trial. During this mockery of an investigation, they attempted to discredit each one of the proofs we put forward concerning our father’s assassination. Their ultimate finding was that the man driving the truck involved in the fictitious accident that night was not at fault, and that our accusations against him did not hold up. Actually, that man was never even once mentioned while we were at the CID! Therefore, the police produced findings that were not even related to the facts we put forward!

Our family also never expressed that our “concerns were addressed” or that our “accusations were just based on hearsay”. That is simply a lie! Our concerns certainly were not addressed by the police’s sham investigation, and our accusations were based on what members of my family witnessed themselves, not hearsay!

I would like to insist that the only political party my father was ever part of was the RPF. He had been a major financial contributor since 1990, and remained one until his death. He had absolutely no political ties to any other party.

It is also important to know that the night of his assassination; my father was carrying, among other things, a blue folder with a great number of documents concerning all the plots his family is still being embattled over. He had been requested to bring those documents over by the people he was meeting that night, under the false promise of helping him solve the issues we are still dealing with. After the assassination, we were never allowed to recover those documents.

The usual result of denouncing the authorities in Rwanda for an injustice is death, torture, imprisonment, or exile; which is why our family’s situation requires urgent attention.

I strongly hope that you will publish this story, in order to expose this great injustice. Thank you very much.

End Statement



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