Behind the Presidential Curtains
It has been nearly 22 years since Gen Fred Rwigema died in his mother-land leading before leading an exodus of Rwandan children who had been incarcerated in exile for over 30 years.
Fred Gisa Rwigema (10 April 1957 – 2 October 1990), born Emmanuel Gisa was a founding member and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Rwigema was born in Gitarama, in the south of Rwanda. Considered a Tutsi, in 1960 he and his family fled to Uganda and settled in a refugee camp in Nshungeezi, Ankole and later Kahungye in Tooro following the so-called Hutu Revolution of 1959 and the ouster of King Kigeri V.
After finishing high school still in his teenage years, it is said that he went to Tanzania and joined the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), a rebel group headed by Yoweri Museveni the current President of Uganda, his brother Salim Saleh (Caleb Akandwanaho) was a close confidant and friend to Fred. It is due to his turbulent life as a child refugee, the love for his country and hate for injustice that led him to liberate African countries including his own.
It was at this point that he began calling himself Fred Rwigema. Later that year, he travelled to Mozambique and joined the FRELIMO rebels who were fighting for the liberation of Mozambique from Portugal’s colonial power. In 1979, he joined the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), which together with the Tanzanian Armed Forces captured Kampala in April 1979 and ousted dictator Idi Amin.
Upon the liberation of Uganda and Idi Amin he was a member of the elite group that launched the National Resistance Army (NRA) with its leader Museveni, which fought a guerrilla war against the government of Milton Obote. After the NRA captured state power in 1986, Rwigema became the deputy Minister of Defence.
He was a regular on the front lines in northern Uganda during the new government’s offensive against remnants of the ousted regime disregarding his ministerial post. It is in these offensives that he was regarded as a god of war (mungu wa vita, Swahiri languge) by his highly motivated troops in the operational zones of Uganda.
He is still remembered as a father, husband, commander, brother, comrade to all soldiers he served with, and most of all a national hero to Uganda not only to his love of Express Villa Football Team but also a friend to many in that country.
Afande Fred was the best commander of all time in all of the countries he served. Afande Fred who was a Major General as a young man who always put his nation and people first. I am captivated to demonstrate how General Rwigema went the extra mile during his plan to return his people to their mother-land.
In preparation to his return to Rwanda, General Rwigema sought a unifying solution to all Rwandans not only his only for his own Tutsi ethnic group. It is demonstrated by the effort Rwigema used by including all Rwandans that had been harassed and exiled by the then dictatorial regimes. General Rwigema contacted among all Colonel Alexis Kanyarengwe and actually he became the chairman of the RPF while Gen Rwigema concentrated on armed wing which he maintained best soldiers. Col Kanyarengwe knew the regime’s in-and-out and according to Rwigema he would bargain better with the government that they were about to invade.
We all believed that he would live forever because of the love we had for him. I was only twelve years old when I first heard of General Rwigema in Uganda because we grew up with the stigma of being non-citizens. When Fred emerged as a high ranking official in Uganda, he became a hero to all of us, the youth, and the only hope to the Promised Land which we had been denied by the dictators of the time.
He selflessly pulled everyone together in a very limited time, not only in Uganda but the whole diaspora and he did all this in combination with other commitments which involved maintaining security of Uganda, his own young family (God bless them) plus building his Rwandan Army inside a host Army (Uganda).
He did all this with great sensitivity and concern for the departure of his forces that would not shake the Ugandan forces. His aim was to return the Rwandese back home but also to make sure that Uganda stays strong and un-shaken due to the withdrawal of the Rwandese forces.
Afande Fred Rwigema the man who arranged, planned and managed to put in action what was a dream to all of us from childhood, was meaninglessly lost within a day of his return to the land he had left as an infant.
Who killed Gen Fred?
The answer to this question is ambiguous up to the present day and the vacuum still persists in the hearts of many Rwandans and Ugandans alike. A lot has been said but still not convincing to people like me, and many others. Yes I was not a soldier at the time when Afande Fred Rwigema died however, having spent most of my early age alongside my fellow brothers who were in the Forces back in Ugandan and then joined the army in Rwanda a little while after, I strongly believe that General Fred Rwigema’s death should have been explained differently or much clearer.
Before I outline my concerns in this curtain series let’s look at what the government said about Fred Rwigema’s death:
Stray bullet theory:
There are several theories about the abrupt death of the General, the most commonly adopted by President Paul Kagame’s government being the stray bullet scenario:
“It is widely spread on all media outlets including the recent YouTube clip claiming that General Fred Rwigema was shot by a stray bullet from the enemy APC (armored personnel carrier) or military Jeep.”
In this theory we see one of the bodyguards of General Fred Rwigema, Happy Ruvusha who holds the rank of Colonel at this present time explaining the death of his beloved commander.
However what is very disturbing is the fact that Happy Ruvusha claims to have buried Fred with the company of only 3 other soldiers. He mentions one Matungo and Nkubito who are all senior officers at that time but the fact is that all these three individuals were non-commissioned officer at the time, and this leaves one to wonder:
- Why a military General would be buried by only 4 of his (NCO) non-commissioned officer bodyguards.
- Upon the death of Fred Rwigema, the RPA had senior officers who were actively in combat until late of whom some still survive to the present day. Here one would mention Lt Col Adam Wasswa, Maj Chris Bunyenyezi, Maj Dr Bayingana, Maj Steven Ndugute, Maj Sam Kaka, Maj Kabura, Capt Dodo Twahirwa, Capt Bagire, Capt Ngoga, Capt Charles Muhire, Capt Kayitare who was Fred’s Aide at some point, Capt Kizza, Capt Bitamazire, Capt Gashugi, Capt Musitu, Capt Sam Byaruhanga, Capt Alphonse Furuma, Capt Mico and many more combat hardened commanders. Major Paul Kagame was not among the officers and men who started the war, as he had decided to go for a course in the US while his comrades prepared to wage a liberation war.
- It is in the military norms that soldiers of the same ranks if not closer ranks bury their fallen comrade, therefore why leave him to be secretly buried by just his bodyguards.
- Matungo, Nkubito and Happy Ruvusha were all NCOs at the time of their boss’s death, none of them would drive, and it is common knowledge that Fred’s Driver was Sgt Blackman who died in Kigali years later. However Happy Ruvusha makes no mention of this individual.
- It makes no sense how people like Capt Kayitare, Emmanuel Kanamugire, Okwiri Rabwoni, Sgt Mtamani who used to drive Late Fred at times, Alex Rubamba Shumba and many more much senior soldiers might have missed out on their friend and boss’s burial however secretive it could have been
- He mentioned that they had been driving his body in the vehicle after his death, having not decided where to get him buried. How honorable would that be to drive the top commander’s body around in a truck instead of getting him to rest in the rear of the combat zone when it is documented that Kagitumba was made a tactical sickbay and headquarters upon the initial RPA attack on 1st October 1990.
- Why would Fred’s body be not taken back to Mbuya military morgue in Uganda as a norm to all fallen combatants in all operations no matter where, given the fact that Fred had not officially resigned from Uganda?
- What would have been the motive of burying General Fred Rwigema in secrecy? It doesn’t make sense to me nor any sane minded country loving comrade or citizen.
- Could Happy Ruvusha be covering something he knows well? This leaves me wonder. On the other hand however, I remember Happy Ruvusha very well, a person I worked alongside as Paul Kagame’s bodyguards. I remember he mourned General Fred Rwigema all the time and he seemed never contented of the loss of his boss due to the relationship Fred had with all his troops including Happy himself who was his Kadogo charged with his tent and meals.
The Bunyenyezi/ Bayingana theory:
The second version that caused trouble to the families of the RPA top commanders was the Major Peter Bayingana and Major Bunyenyezi theory. It is alleged that the two top commanders executed their boss over a power struggle. This theory further alleges that after his execution they were also killed by other soldiers in retaliation OR that General Salim Saleh came in himself and executed them.
This version drew much trouble not only to the families of the trio but also to Ugandan leadership especially Gen Saleh who was a close confidant since their high school times and a comrade of all battles they had both fought across Africa.
This version draws many more questions; since it was documented in the former government forces (FAR) Forces Armee Rwandaise in their monthly publication la victoire that Major Bunyenyezi and Bayingana were ambushed and killed in the Ryabega ambush and took the Artillery Pieces they were taking to reinforce Maj Sam Kaka who had sieged the enemy in Nyagatare. These Artillery pieces included a 14.5mm 4 barrel anti-aircraft gun and a 105mm Katyusha multi-rocket launcher. This incident does match with the confirmation that the duo was killed about 3 weeks after the initial attack. Their death would be heard later and be celebrated in Bikindi Simon’s heroic songs praising the bravely of the FAR.
Lt Kato Theory:
The investigations done by myself with the help of the fellow former RPA veteran women and men who were in the forces at the time, indicates that there is another version which has been kept a secret for so long. It is alleged that in the late 1980’s General Fred Rwigyema told Major Paul Kagame, the then Intelligence Officer who later ended up becoming the President of Rwanda after the death of almost every sensible officer in the RPA struggle, to select young men and women who would attend different leadership courses in preparation of the Rwanda offensive.
In the first graduation of the cadet officers selected by Major Kagamewas Lt Kato who was sent to attend a special snipping course in South Korea and later Libya acquiring very good sniping and Commando skills.
In the second Cadet intake to pass out just days before the invasion was 2nd Lts James Kabarebe, Kayonga Charles, Alex Kagame, Vincent Gatama, Tom Mphaka, Rose Kabuye and others. Paul Kagame knew James Kabarebe as he had been in Museveni’s bush war but had deserted due to not being able to cope with the situation. He would later come back to NRA after Museveni captured the country in 1986, which time he stayed until the attack of Rwanda.
It is alleged that slightly before the attack on Rwanda General Fred Rwigyema had been selected to attend a military course in America by President Museveni of which he declined the offer due to his preparation but suggested to send Paul Kagame to the course due to his lack necessary strategy.
Before his departure, it is alleged that Kagame introduced Kato and James Kabarebe to Fred Rwigyema, he stated that James Kabarebe was a Political Science graduate from Makerere University and was going to make an excellent advisor on international relations issues, he also explained to him the importance of benefiting from Kato’s skills.
Rwigyema trusted Kagame from their childhood like any honest person would. A source from the RPA veterans goes on to explain that General Rwigyema owned a sniper gun he handed to Kato and joined the soldiers on his entourage. It was also the time when Kagame indicated the need for James Kabarebe to replace Emmanuel Kanamugire as the ADC to General Fred Rwigyema however Rwigyema objected and Kabarebe was left with no post.
Kagame left to America for training and afterwards the RPF/RPA attacked, it is alleged, that it was with the sniper gun that Rwigyema had handed to Kato which was used to shoot General Fred Rwigyema. It is alleged that Kato was seen coming from the hill and everyone was fighting to hide the death rather than finding the killer.
This Veteran explains that Kato was made close to Paul Kagame after his return from America and was subsequently deployed to join Kaitare’s Mobile Unit. It was James Kabarebe who informed Kato that he was being transferred and on his way and hence shot by Silas Udahemuka who is Kagame’s cousin blaming his death on an enemy ambush.
It is alleged that his execution was to hide the information regarding General Fred Rwigema death as the war was heading to an end during peace talks. Kato was a brother to Major Mupenzi who was injected with a poison just after we captured Kigali, Mupenzi was a very reliable man and a twin brother to Kato, and he had attended the same cadet course with Kato. He was killed to hide information like his brother.
After Kagame arrived from his unfinished course he was appointed by Museveni to take over from Afande Adam Wasswa who later died of an undefined death.
It is further alleged that after the execution of General Fred Rwigema by Lt Kato on Kagame’s orders, Kagame rushed in to deceive Museveni into believing that it was Bayingana and Bunyenyezi who had killed him therefore deceiving Museveni in revenging his friend.
It is therefore alleged that Museveni then ordered his brother and best friend to General Fred Rwigema, Gen Salim Saleh, to personally execute the two with immediate effect.
It is said that contradictions appeared in the high command of the RPF as to the advisability of launching the attack when peaceful prospects were clearly becoming plausible. General Rwigema was ready to accept Habyarimana’s welcoming hand if he ever did, while other members of the RPF Command favored a military solution and hence the extermination of their top leader.
This theory like the preceding ones raises disturbing questions:
- Given the number of General Fred Rwigema well trained combat hardened bodyguard, why would they spare Lt Kato the Sniper, after he shot their boss?
- What reason would Kato have had in executing a commander who was much loved by his own troops?
- How simple would it have been for General Saleh to cross into Rwanda, execute the two officers and walk back to Uganda untouched?
- Why is it that the bodies of Bunyenyezi and Bayingana have never been buried or recovered? Could it be because they were actually taken by their killers in the Ryabega ambush?
- Why has President Kagame never carried out a thorough investigation in the deaths of these commanders to clear our suspicion? Could he be hiding something by relying on the evidence of Happy Ruvusha who held the rank of Corporal at the time of Gen Rwigema’s death?
- Why is Gen Rwigema’s death and history fading away in thin air as we speak now while President Kagame assuming the heroism that he never deserved.
- If Paul Kagame was hero enough as he self-portrays, why did he decide to attend a course as the whole group was planning such an important move?
- It should be remembered that the original RPA hero’s day was first and foremost to commemorate the death of General Rwigema and other fallen heroes and hence the 1st of October of each year. Why has President Kagame changed this date to different dates?
- Why is General Fred Rwigema membered and respected in Uganda than Rwanda the country of his birth and subsequently his death?
- On the 1st of October yet we will remember our hero Gen Fred Rwigema oyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Either way the question remains as to who really killed our hero Gen Fred Rwigema!!
Submitted and edited by: Jennifer Fierberg