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Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema's untold story

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd November 2015 07:11 PM

The death of Gen. Aronda Nyakairima on September 12; eclipsed the 25th year death memorial of Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema which is commemorated every October.

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The death of Gen. Aronda Nyakairima on September 12; eclipsed the 25th year death memorial of Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema which is commemorated every October.

By Muwonge Magembe

The death of Gen. Aronda Nyakairima on September 12; eclipsed the 25th year death memorial of Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema which is commemorated every October.


Rwigyema died strangely in October 1990, after launching a military invasion against President Juvenal Habyarimana. Before he left for Rwanda, Rwigyema parked a coffee brown Mercedes Benz (G-Class) near the residence of than special administrator for Mbarara district, Henry Rwigyemera.

Rwigyema started living in Uganda when he was only three years following his parents’ relocation from Mukiranze village, Kamonyi district, Rwanda to Nshungerezi refuge camp, Ankole and Kahungye, Toro.

There relocation was motivated by the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry leading to the 1961 coup plotted by a Hutu; Dominique Mbonyumutwa against Tutsi king, Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa while the king was in Zaire meeting United Nations secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld. President Grégoire Kayibanda maintained the rivalry after taking over when Belgium granted Rwanda independence on July 1, 1962.

Frustrating refugees from returning home continued when Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana who was Kayibanda’s defense minister and fellow Hutu ousted Kayibanda on July 5, 1973. This motivated the 19-year-old Rwigyema to joint the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) as a springboard to gaining military expertise he eventually exploited to launch the RPF invasion.

In 1979, after Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) toppled Idi Amin; Rwigyema who was part of the struggle lobbied for the inclusion of his tribesmen for military training among the 300 recruits slots President Julius Nyerere offered at Tanzania Military Academy, Monduli.

However, Lt. Col. Oyite Ojok, the UNLA chief of staff cautioned the four regional commissioners charged with recruitment never to register Banyarwanda refugees. The four commissioners cautioned by Oyite were; Balaki Kirya (Eastern), John Kabaireho (Western), Aloysius Darlington Lubowa (Central) and Brig. Shaban Opolot (Northern). Central region was offered 100 slots where Katumba Wamala (now a General and UPDF) enrolled on the advice of his elder brother, Benon Sentongo.

Eventually, Rwigyema’s wish for his tribesmen gaining military expertise availed in 1981 after NRA launched it's bush war and more so when state agents increased there persecution of Banyarwanda refugees following there alleged involvement in the gruesome murder in Rakai of an aide to Agriculture minister, Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo.

Aware of there exodus to NRA, Obote protested to Habyarimana highlighting that his refusal to let refugees back home was availing NRA a recruiting base. Habyarimana reluctantly reacted by subjecting the refugees to a Kinyarwanda language proficiency test as a condition for there return.

Habyarimana falsely believed that once NRA took overpower, and many Banyarwanda refuge fighters took over top administrative posts; they would abandon there wish for returning home.

No wonder, Habyarimana accepted an invitation as chief guest at the formalization of NRA army ranks at Lubiri barracks on February 6, 1988, during which Rwigyema was decorated as Major General. Rwigyema than seemed at home given his outgoing character with sports lovers.

He often watched his favourite club- SC Villa at Nakivubo. In the meantime, Villa chairman, Patrick Kawooya and his business associates; Faison Damulira and Mohamudu Kajumbi lobbied him to push for there cash payment from defence ministry outstanding since Obote II regime when Paulo Muwanga was defence minister.

Than, army commander, Elly Tumwine was reluctant recommending it's clearance cognizant of the many questionable contracts Muwanga engineered for his protégés in return for kickbacks.

Actually, before Obote was ousted in July 1985, he was mindful of Muwanga’s controversial contracts. That is why in 1984 when Chris Rwakasisi advised him to tractor Muwanga from being minister of defense to finance, Obote angrily responded- “You do not know Paulo Muwanga! If I appoint him minister of Finance, he will finish all the money”.

Around 1989, Rwigyema was betrayed by a local security officer who leaked to Habyarimana all RPF preparation activities conducted at Lungujja, Makamba Zone near the residence of former Buganda Katikkiro, Paulo Kavuma.

Habyarimana became more furious when Rwigyema organised the successful escape from Rwanda of RPF top sponsors; Valence Kazigagwa and his wife (Mama Alien) in a red pajero driven by Nyamaswa.

Kazigagwa was a fuel trader. Other persons Habyarimana was briefed to be in concert with Rwigyema were; Gregory Karuletwa, Antoine Mazimpaka, Pasteur Bizimungu, Talatibu, Charles Nkanika, and Cyrus Majambere.

In reaction, Habyarimana through his wife Agathe allocated a cash budget to facilitate the assassination of Rwigyema. Col. Elie Sagatwa, infamous for planning the 1994 genocide under the code name unit-Network Zero, was among those tasked to eliminate Rwigyema.

Poisoning Rwigyma was the top option aware that he loved roasted meat and roasted matooke. They also plotted to ambush him in Kampala after getting details of his Volkswagen UPX, silver in colour he often travelled in while planning the invasion.

Habyarimana also sent a diplomatic note to French President Francois Mitterrand through French ambassador to Rwanda, Georges Martres, requesting for military support. The request was studied by Mitterrand’s security adviser, Francois de Grossoure who subsequently died mysteriously of bullet wounds in his office at Elysee Palace on April 6, 1994 after Habyarimana died in a plane crash.

Habyarimana was hopeful of Mitterrand’s military support owing to there friendship resulting in Mitterrand donating a Dassault Falcon 50 plane to Habyarimana that acted as his presidential jet. Somehow, Mitterrand and Habyarimana doubted the possibility of Rwigyema invading in 1990 when President Museveni was still chairman of O.A.U after succeeding President Hosni Mubarak on July 9, 1990.

There skepticism led to the delayed deployment of French ground troops’ in Kigali under ‘operation Noroit’ which occurred four days after the invasion. Rwigyema’s conduct also hoodwinked them.

For instance, on September 30, 1990, a day to the invasion, he was at Nakivubo stadium watching Uganda cup final match between SC Villa and KCC. KCC won by 3-0. President Museveni was also in New York, attending the 45th United Nations General Assembly chaired by Guido de Marco of Malta.

Before Rwigyema left, he had held a brief strategic meeting at Kansanga, Kiwafu zone in a storeyed house Idi Amin formerly used. One of the attendants advised him to instead coordinate the invasion from Mbarara and let Dr. Maj. Bayingana, Chris Bunyenyezi and Lt. Col. Adam Waswa command from inside Rwanda.

Rwigyema rejected that proposal. That counsel to Rwigyema related to Bayingana’s little respect for him based on there incomparable levels of education and clan background. No wonder, when Rwigyema was declared missing, the first accusing finger pointed at Bayingana who in the process kept telling soldiers that Rwigyema had gone to Libyan to lobby for money and arms supplies from Col. Gaddafi.

After Bayingana and Bunyenyezi also died mysteriously; Maj. Reuben Ikondere quizzed Bunyenyizi’s escort, Corporal John Sekamatte alias Birimumaso. Sekamatte, however, insisted that Rwigyema died of a stray bullet from government forces which is now the official version. Sekamatte later died at Luzira prison due to HIV/AIDS after he was detained for losing a gun formerly for Bunyenyezi.

That aside, Rwigyema’s wife, Jeannette, spent two years devastated over her husband’s death. Rwigyema never told her that he was going to invade. After she mourned her husband, Jeannette set up Butembo pharmacy on the Kampala Casino building.

In December 1994, she relocated to Rwanda with her two kids; Teta and Junior Gisa.

The writer is a researcher

Gen Fred Rwigyemas untold story

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