Rwanda's exiled former army chief Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa fell out with President Paul Kagame and fled to South Africa where he has survived three assassination attempts. Nyamwasa is first national vice-chairman of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a Rwandan opposition group in exile. He spoke to Saturday Vision on why he fell out with President Kagame and his plans for Rwanda.
Why are you against Kagame?
I am not against Kagame as a person. I oppose his bad leadership and his oppressive policies.
When did you start thinking things were going wrong?
The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was hinged on an eight-point programme that guided us throughout the struggle. In 1993, during the RPF conference at Mulindi, it was agreed that serving military officers should not get involved in politics. That is how Kagame, who was vice-chairman at that time, exited the RPF structures and Patrick Mazimpaka became Vice-Chairman in anticipation of implementation of the Arusha agreement. The war and the genocide generated a new narrative and Paul Kagame became vice-president and minister of defence.
Firstly, in 1998 Alex Kanyarengwe's term of office expired as RPF chairman and most people expected Pasteur Bizimungu, who was president, to replace him. The party elections were marred by suspicion and anxiety as many cadres considered the elections a military takeover.
The election, which many considered to have been rigged, made Paul Kagame chairman of the party and vice-president of the country, while Bizimungu became president of the country and vice-chairman of the ruling party. The 1998-2000 period was characterised by open conflicts between Bizimungu (president) and Paul Kagame (party chairman).
I happened to be close to both of them and would always be called to mediate. I decided to take an objective view, even in the RPF political bureau. Paul Kagame expected me to side with him, even when he publicly behaved in a condescending and overbearing manner against the president.
Secondly, in 1998, James Kabarebe (former Rwanda defence minister and now presidential advisor on security matters) was expelled from Kinshasa, where he was the army chief of staff. Initially, together with others ( whose names I do not want to mention for their security), had objected to his appointment as chief of staff and keeping Rwandan troops in DR Congo after the fall of president Mobutu.
We pointed out that our soldiers would be viewed as an occupation force, and it would be better to withdraw the troops before any conflict. Our views were not taken because Paul Kagame had personal motives that have persisted till today. After the expulsion of Kabarebe, Paul Kagame felt humiliated and called Kabarebe, Karegeya (former head of intelligence), Emmanuel Ndahiro and myself to discuss the course of action.
The three of us except Kabarebe advised against the idea of going back to DR Congo because there were no political, strategic or security reasons to justify the war. Nevertheless, the country went to war and we supported it, but the unjustness of the war created uneasiness between Kagame and Kabarebe on the one hand, Karegeya and many others including myself, wondering whether the war was worthwhile.
In the process, things went horribly wrong, especially the Kitona debacle, where we lost many soldiers and hundreds were captured. (Ugandan and Rwandan forces on August 4,1998 launched a surprise attack on Kitona airbase in western DRC, but were repulsed by Zimbabwean and Angolan forces supporting the then government). Recently, I heard Kabarebe praising the Kitona fiasco as a masterpiece and wonder: What did it achieve? In another jurisdiction, Paul Kagame and I should have resigned and Kabarebe court-martialled.
Thirdly, the Kisangani clash between Rwanda and Uganda was one of the most disappointing episodes. With Gen. Jeje Odongo and others, we investigated the clash. The reasons advanced by the commanders on the ground were embarrassing and tragic. Let me say, nobody won in Kisangani. Some insensitive people celebrate that they killed brothers and friends and won! They do not appreciate the consequences and gravity of the shameful clash.
While some people were celebrating success, Karegeya and I tried to mediate by visiting Kampala and inviting Ugandan officers to Kigali to explore ways in which the situation could be rectified. As you could have observed, President Kagame has described our efforts as a sign of our being sell-outs, yet we did all that with his blessings.
Fourthly, I opposed the shabby and treacherous lies about president Bizimungu that led to his ouster. I totally refused to be part of a cabal that was detailed to lie and witch-hunt him. It was sad to witness ‘mob lynching' of a comrade in a political bureau meeting. They quickly forgot Bizimungu's patriotism - a connected Hutu (during Habyarimana's regime), who defected and joined a Tutsi-dominated fighting force.
A man who committed societal suicide for a bigger political cause. The organisation lost its tolerant and compassionate soul, when Bizimungu was framed and imprisoned. Thereafter, a purging process started that swallowed almost all the original RPF cadres. We concede that leaders come and go, but it is not necessary for Paul Kagame to imprison and force others into exile to demonstrate that he fought the struggle single-handedly.
Lastly, the run-up to the 2003 elections generated paranoia, murders and disappearances of opposition leaders. The independent media was quickly muzzled and journalists disappeared, were imprisoned or run into exile. Civil society organisations crumbled or were forced into co-option; liberty and freedom were curtailed. All this was crowned with the rigging of elections, allocating 95% of the outcome to Paul Kagame.
From then on, RPF was unrecognisable, its ideals dead and buried. The democratic values we fought for were cast aside, national unity was undermined and corruption was institutionalised, where the president captured the state through Crystal Venture, which eventually became wealthier than the state.
Security institutions were monopolised and used to abduct, imprison and force people into disappearance, thus generating a rise in refugee numbers. The paranoia extended across borders, and the country pursued an aggressive and belligerent foreign policy.
When did you feel it was time to flee?
In 2009, I was summoned from India, where I had been posted as ambassador, by the minister of foreign affairs, who did not give me a reason why I should report to Kigali. Two hours before I went to the airport, she called back and cancelled the trip. A few days later, a diplomat from a certain embassy (country withheld), asked me if I knew the names of a certain non-commissioned officer (NCO), who had been serving in the Presidential Guard.
I knew the soldier and responded in the affirmative. I was informed that the NCO had fled the country having been assigned to assassinate me in Kigali on my arrival there. Apparently, the cancellation of the trip was prompted by the fleeing of the NCO. After three months, President Kagame visited India. I inquired from him why I had been summoned and he feigned ignorance about the matter, but I could see he got tensed and guilty.
All along, many military officers had been coerced to denounce me in preparation to provide fabricated evidence in the event of my arrest.
In February 2010, my mother died and I had to go for the funeral. After the funeral, I was summoned to the RPF secretariat for provocative questioning. Fortunately, I had been warned in advance by someone who knew what would follow. Throughout the questioning, two people kept receiving calls and coming back with new flimsy questions.
I could easily discern the source of the questions and the motivator. To cut a long story short, I was gone the following morning. Eventually, I met the NCO in exile and he narrated the full story. The embassy to which he reported was kind enough to give me the audio recording of his statement.
Kagame says the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) is a terrorist organisation and that you fled Rwanda because you had committed crimes
That is how all dictators describe genuine opposition. It is also common knowledge that dictators construe political criticism as crimes. Even where crimes do not exist, Kagame will fabricate them to justify a witch-hunt. Look at Bizimungu, Charles Ntakirutinka, Victoire Ingabire, Gen. Frank Rusagara, Col. Rugigana, Col. Byabagambaa and Lt. Joel Mutabazi, all prisoners of conscious, but convicted of imaginary crimes.
Considering the publications of Human Rights Watch, court decisions in South Africa, international media reports in relation to Kagame, it is amazing how he gets the audacity to call anyone a criminal compared to his record. Before he labels other people criminals, I wonder whether he knows how other people view him.
What do you say about Kigali's claims that Uganda supports you to destabilise Rwanda?
If Uganda was supporting me, they would not be in power. They know very well what happened when Uganda supported them (although they deny it now).
Have you approached Uganda for support to fight Kagame?
We wrote to President Kagame seeking a peaceful dialogue. We have approached many governments to assist in resolving the Rwandan political impasse, including Uganda. That can hardly be interpreted as seeking support to fight.
What are the objectives of RNC as an opposition group?
Institutionalise democratic governance, particularly the rule of law in all its aspects, stop and prevent violent conflict and eradicate a culture of impunity for human rights violations, create a conducive, progressive and inclusive environment for social and economic development.
We also intend to establish an independent, non-partisan, professional civil service, undertake security sector reform, create a conducive environment for community, national reconciliation and healing, promote harmonious, mutually beneficial and collaborative foreign policy relations, resolve the chronic problem of Rwandan refugees and nurture a culture of tolerance to diverse ideas, freedom of speech, discussion and debate of critical issues.
Kigali says RNC has no vision
I have articulated our objectives. We do not expect any validation from a dictatorship.
What do you think of the Rwanda-Uganda border closure?
It stopped children from going to school in Uganda, yet, the children of those closing the border are studying in the most expensive colleges in America at the expense of the poor population. Rwandans cannot trade with Ugandans and are forced to buy expensive goods hoarded from Crystal Venture stores.
What do you think is the cause of Rwanda-Uganda standoff?
Paul Kagame thinks he can control, dominate and dictate to neighbouring countries. If any other leader wants to assert his authority in his country, it becomes a source of tension and conflict.
Look at what has been happening in DRC for decades, to the extent of lobbying for reversal of a court decision after announcing an election in DRC. He quickly forgot accusations that he had rigged his own election to the tune of 98%. Tension with Tanzania was palpable during the time of president Kikwete. It is common knowledge that Rwanda facilitated a failed coup d'etat in Burundi. Even with Kenya, the Rwandan embassy was closed in the late 1990s because of assassinations. Ugandans should take solace that they are not alone, faced with an aggressive and belligerent Rwandan foreign policy.
What do you say about Kagame's claims that Uganda is sourgraping because of the defeat in Kisangani?
That is insensitive and uncalled for, for a national leader. What did he gain from that war? One wonders how a sane human being claims credit for killing his brother or friend. Nobody won in Kisangani. It was a terrible shame for both sides.
There are reports that RNC is training to declare an armed struggle against Rwanda
Those reports have existed since RNC was formed and there have been no attacks.
There are reports that RPF committed atrocities against Rwandan refugees in DR Congo in the 1990s at the time when you were the army boss. What do you say?
I saw some of those allegations in the UN mapping report, but I was not the army boss in 1996 when those allegations took place. Actually, even the army boss at that time was not in command of those forces, because command was assigned to someone else at that time. Neither of us (the army boss at the time and myself), can take command responsibility, since we were not there and not in charge.
You were at the helm when Rwandan and Ugandan troops clashed in DR Congo. What exactly happened?
The same things you see today: people claiming or wanting to assert greatness and superiority. Paul Kagame cannot countenance living in a friendly and collaborative relationship with neighbours, so clashing with nationals and neighbours is inevitable.
Do you regret having worked with Kagame to create a system that you now oppose?
The RPF struggle is a lost cause. I am not the only one who has been disappointed by what is happening in Rwanda. During the war, the Ugandans across the border fought the war like all of us. They gave us food, shelter, carried and hid our casualties. They also got casualties of their own from bombings across the border.
In ‘appreciation', Paul Kagame has the courage to close the border and kill their businesses. Even if he did not like President Museveni, how can he quickly forget the sacrifices of people who supported a war that was not their own? Inside the country, people cannot express their views or associate freely. The country is churning out refugees more than ever before. Our foreign policy is driven by assassinations abroad. Surely, regret is an understatement.
What do you say about reports that the Rwandan intelligence has infiltrated Ugandan security agencies to undermine the Uganda government?
I do not have any clear information about that. However, it is not only Uganda that complains about cross-border Rwandan intelligence operations. The UK warned Rwandans about the Rwandan intelligence operations; President Kagame publicly claimed ‘credit' for assassinations in Kenya. Sweden expelled a Rwandan diplomat for illegal operations. Assassinations in SADC countries carried out by Rwanda are well documented. The examples are inexhaustible. In that regard, not all countries are wrong and Rwanda is right.
Describe Kagame, the man and Kagame the President
I am not the best person to describe him. Read human rights reports, international media, court decisions in South Africa, the East African Court of Justice in Rugigana's case and the African Court in relation to Victoire Ingabire, you will then understand him. If a President allocates himself 98% in national elections and admits that he kills people at a government retreat or prayer breakfast, how can I describe such a person. If you have a leader who closes an official border in the 21st century, it is just amazing.
What do you say about the killing of Col. Patrick Karegeya?
The court in South Africa pronounced that the people who assassinated him are linked to the government of Rwanda. Besides, Paul Kagame and his officials had earlier boasted about the assassination. The travesty is having a leader boasting about killing citizens and some people motivated by ulterior gains call him "visionary".
Do you think Karegeya underestimated the viciousness of his killers?
No, he was acutely aware of the dangers. It was his day; we all, including arrogant serial killers, have our day.
Do you feel threatened?
No, but I am careful.
Who is Nyamwasa?
EDUCATION... Nyamwasa, 57, grew up as a refugee in Uganda where he received all his education, graduating with a degree in law from Makerere University.
MILITARY MAN... Nyamwasa joined the National Resistance Army in January 1986. In 1990, he helped form the Rwandan Patriotic Front and was considered a central figure during the war to oust former president Juvénal Habyarimana.
He would later rise to become the Rwanda Patriotic Army's chief of staff and also head of intelligence between 1998 and 2002, before being posted ambassador to India, where he served from 2002 to 2010 in what many regarded as a demotion.
CHANGE IN FORTUNES... He later fell out with President Paul Kagame and fled to South Africa, where he has survived three assassination attempts.