By Independent Team
At 3pm on Saturday June 19, the Director General of National Security Services in Rwanda, Dr Emmanuel Ndahiro, was in a meeting with international visitors when he received a text message. According to sources in Kigali, the message was that Belgian intelligence had reported that former Rwandan High Commissioner to India, Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa had been shot in South Africa. Ndahiro stepped out of his meeting.
He called the person who had sent him the text message to establish the reliability of the information. He also made more telephone calls all of which confirmed that Kayumba had been shot. He then called President Paul Kagame and gave him the information. Sources at State House Kigali say Kagame remained calm, exhibiting little emotion. He wanted to know what actually had happened, who was involved and was Kayumba dead or alive?
Kayumba’s wife, Rosette Nyamwasa, told BBC that they were from shopping at about midday when a gunman approached their car at the gate of their home in Johannesburg.
‘[The gunman] spoke to my driver, but he wanted space to be able to shoot my husband,’ Rosette Nyamwasa told BBC.
‘Then when my husband bent, he shot. And fortunately, it went into the stomach and not in the head.
She added that Kagame wanted her husband dead.
‘[Mr Kagame] said it in parliament that he will actually kill my husband, that wherever he is he will follow him and kill him,’ she said.
Kayumba’s friend, Patrick Karegyeya, who is also in South Africa, was also in no doubt about who must have done it. A former director of Rwanda’s external security, Karegyeya claimed it was Kagame who personally ordered the shooting. ‘Who else would do that,’ he texted a friend who was asking, ‘No doubt it is his (Kagame’s) orders.’
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement that Kagame’s government ‘does not condone violence’ and said she trusted South Africa to investigate the shooting thoroughly.
Even without the Karegyeya and Rosette Nyamwasa accusations, the shooting of Kayumba, regardless of who did it, was going to suck in the government of Rwanda.
According to Charles Onyango-Obbo, the managing editor for convergence and new products at the Nation Media Group in Kenya, ‘If the hand of the Kigali government in the attempted assassination of Gen. Kayumba is proved, it could seriously damage President Kagame’s standing and complete Kigali’s relationship with one of its most important allies in Africa – South Africa. But if no smoking gun is found, Kigali will probably weather the storm. It is a fairly thick-skinned government.’
According to Onyango Obbo, who is a leading analyst on regional politics, the shooting of Kayumba and the view of him as a leading critic of Kagame, points to how the men in uniform tend to dominate the politics of African countries where governments came to power through coups or armed rebellion. It is one reason why, when there is regime change in these countries, power tends to fall back in the hands of soldier men, who then do little to change the state of their countries. In fact, often, the economy deteriorates.
‘It also fits into the pattern where circumstances of violence usually surround the politics of soldier-politicians. Take the case of Jonas Savimbi in Angola, Tongo Ngara in Zimbabwe, Charles Taylor in Liberia, etc. Kayumba, as a senior and experienced soldier, should have been aware of the risks he will continue to face,’ says Onyango-Obbo.
As soon as the news came out that Kayumba had been shot, it was clear Rwanda was faced with a public relations disaster. Sources inside the Rwanda government say officials were initially confused on how to respond.
In such moments, it is always wise to show sympathy. But, intelligence sources in Rwanda say, there are credible intelligence reports linking Kayumba to ‘elements hostile to the government’ including the Democratic Republic of Congo-based Hutu extremist rebel group, the FDRL. It is for this information that Kigali filed a case in the South African High Court to have Kayumba and Karegyeya extradited to Rwanda for trial.
The government in Kigali has openly accused Karegyeya and Kayumba of being behind the recent spate of grenade attacks in the country. This is one of the grounds on which their extradition is based. Kayumba and Karegyeya deny any involvement in the grenade attacks and the FDRL.
The Kigali government accuses Kayumba of terrorism. In global comparison, Kayumba and Karegyeya are terrorists like Osama Bin Laden. It is the stated policy of the US government to find Bin Laden and, if he cannot be captured alive, kill him. Therefore, the government in Kigali would not need to deny or apologise for trying to kill a terrorist.
Secondly, this is not the first time an attack on a leading political dissident from Rwanda abroad has caused fingers to be pointed at the government in Kigali. The first senior military officer who escaped from Rwanda and was later assassinated was Col. Alex Rezinde in 1996. Rezinde had joined the RPF during the struggle, having been rescued from a government prison in Gitarama in 1993. Till now, his killers have never been found.
However, the most prominent assassination in post-genocide Rwanda was of former senior RPF member and minister of interior, Seth Sendashonga. He was killed on May 16, 1998 on the street in Nairobi. He was being driven home in his wife’s car when two gunmen wielding AK-47 rifles opened fire at the car killing him and his driver. Sendashonga’s wife blamed the assassination on the Kigali government.
Sendashonga’s assassination involved international intrigue. Sources say he was killed exactly 30 minutes after he had been in a meeting with Gen. Salim Saleh, the young brother of President Yoweri Museveni. Saleh confirmed this information. Immediately Saleh walked out of the meeting, Sendashonga left for home. He was shot on the way.
At the time, tensions between Uganda and Rwanda were high. In the maze of political and security intrigues in this region, it is difficult to know who killed Sendashonga. Some suspects were arrested, but Kenyan police found no evidence and they were released.
In fact, there had earlier been an assassination attempt on Sendashonga’s life in Nairobi in February 1996. He had received a telephone call from someone who promised to give him information about an army mutiny inside the RPA (now RDF). On his way to the appointment place, he was confronted by two gunmen who shot at him using pistols. He was not seriously injured although his nephew who was with him was. According to Sendashonga’s family, the minister recognised one of his assailants as his former bodyguard. The Kenya police arrested four suspects who were later released for lack of evidence.
At the time, Karegyeya was the director of Rwanda’s external security while Kayumba was army chief of staff.
During Karegyeya’s reign at external security, the government in Kigali was accused of kidnapping many Rwandan dissidents from Kenya, Tanzania, former Zaire and Uganda and taking them to Kigali.
If it is the government in Kigali that killed Sendashonga and Rezinde, and if these accusations of kidnap are true, then Karegyeya and Kayumba would have been the architects of or privy to the plots.
If the RPF ordered the shooting of Kayumba, the government of Rwanda must have known the costs of such action. It should have realised that everyone would suspect it. Second, the government should have realised that if proven, involvement in the shooting would dent the image of Kagame and his government among its allies ‘ national, regional and international. Thirdly, the governments in Kigali and South Africa and their intelligence organisations have close relations. Would Kagame seek to undermine this strategic relationship with South Africa, in the name of getting at Kayumba?
Did Kayumba pose such a strong security threat to the Rwandan government?
So, did Kayumba pose such a strong and immediate security threat to Rwanda generally and Kagame personally for Kigali to want to eliminate him during such a prime period of the World Cup?
Internally, Kayumba was accused of creating factions in the army to overthrow the government. Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Maj. Gen. Frank Mugambagye, almost said this in an interview with The Independent.
But if Kayumba had any such plans, he had been outmanoeuvred and outfoxed by his rivals who sent him running to South Africa. Based in distant lands, he had no capacity to mount a coup.
Therefore, the only security threat he could pose was building an insurgent army. Is Kayumba trying to build a rebel army to fight Kagame?
Rwandan government officially and its intelligence organs privately accuse Kayumba of links with the main rebel group fighting Kagame’s government ‘ the FDRL. However, the FDRL has been at war inside Congo for a decade without making any significant gains.
The FDRL is composed largely of Hutu extremists still committed to pursuing genocide against the Tutsi. If, in the opportunistic world of politics, such unlikely allies as Kayumba and Karegyeya can find common cause with FDRL would the possibility of this alliance create such a strong and immediate threat to Rwanda so as to cause Kagame to try to kill Kayumba?
Besides, Hutu extremists loathe Kayumba (more than Karegyeya) because of some of the extreme positions he took against them during the post-genocide counter-insurgency operations.
Indeed, in a BBC interview in 1999, Kayumba said blatantly that the RPA (now RDF) was going ‘to finish off’ the Hutu insurgents.
The most likely scenario for a Kayumba-Karegyeya armed struggle hypothesis would be a rebel organisation with a strong Tutsi content with moderate Hutu but only as auxiliaries. According to Ugandan intelligence reports, which The Independent has been following, there are pointers to such a possibility. For example, an Aug. 23, 2009 report which is reproduced here with its spelling and grammatical mistakes, says:
‘Ndebuye Yves the other journalist working under cover is recruiting and the one in charge of transporting soldiers who deserted the Rwandese Defence Forces and civilians who ran away due to political matters. Among the soldiers and civilians so far taken to European countries include, Rwakampala (Capt.), Mugisha, now calls himself Mugabe John (Lt. In the Rwandese Police) Theo a former Goal Keeper APR, Sankara a former musician.
Among civilians so far my contact gives me Nkombe Eric, who used to work at Prefecture of Kigali. He is coming back in Uganda to mobilize more and according to my contacts, they have, a link which connects them from Uganda, Kenya where they have a place to stay until their papers are worked on, then they proceed by water transport to an island bordering France. From there, they are received by some a group of Rwandese who are already set there for that mission.
So far many of them have been sent to Spain and Sweden. They have got direct links with Umwami Kijyeli, Patrick Kalegyeya, Bm Habyalimana, Furuma, Sebalenzi and Pierre Rwijyema. At first this group had split but according to reliable sources, but they have made a come back and it means that, there has to be some follow up.
Ndebuye is coming to Uganda in April according to my contact to mobilize more people mostly in the western part of Uganda clandestinely. This time they are including Tutsi from Congo and Burundi who are now many in Uganda and ask you self what are they all doing in Uganda? Then lastly according to the info I gather around all this is behind Kayumba Nyamwasa, his wife, a wife to Patrick Kalegyeya and Madam Fred Rwijyema.’
Some of this information is false, some inaccurate while some is speculative. However, it gives a general idea that even the government of Uganda, even when Kayumba was still High Commissioner in India, was being suspected of links with an emergent rebel group. However, would this rebel group pose a strong and immediate threat to security in Rwanda? Again the answer is ‘ very unlikely.
Therefore, the only reason that remains for Rwanda government’s role in shooting Kayumba is stupidity and an exaggerated sense of personal vendetta. The regime in Kigali would have to be dangerously reckless and unthinking, and Kagame would have to possess such an irrational desire to eliminate Kayumba for him to order his shooting in South Africa and do so during this time of the World Cup competition.
Currently, South African authorities have apprehended six people suspected of links to the assassination. By the time we went to press, available information suggested that one of the suspects is a former Rwandan army soldier who had worked previously with Kayumba. In the murky world of rebellion, intelligence, political intrigue and money, there are other possible scenarios of who could have had a strong interest to shoot Kayumba.
In a normal police investigation, Karegyeya and Kayumba’s wife would be suspects. When Karegyeya escaped from Rwanda, there were hardly any news tremors that followed the event. However, when Kayumba left, he immediately became the recognised leader of the anti-Kagame forces in exile.
A senior Ugandan CID officer who declined to be quoted said ‘it’s clear the assailant’s motive was to murder Kayumba.’ If the assailant wanted to rob, he would have attacked the driver who was on the steering wheel or demanded material wealth from Kayumba or his wife, but he did not.
The CID officer said since one of the suspects arrested by the South African police is a Rwandan, it’s critical to the investigations to establish when and how he came to the country. ‘This is very important. What is he doing there?’ the CID officer asked. He said this would provide clues about who could be behind the plot.
The CID chief added that the guards manning the gate to Kayumba’s residence, who fled the scene after the attack, should have been arrested as first suspects. The RPF has been bedevilled by allegations of rivalries. When Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema was killed in 1990 just upon the launch of the RPF rebellion, Majors Baingana and Bunyenyezi were accused of masterminding the death. Till now, most people believe Rwigyema’s death was a result of an internal RPF power struggle.
Kayumba’s dramatic escape and the news coverage it attracted immediately allowed him to emerge as the leader of anti Kagame forces in exile. This could have attracted the hostility of those already in exile who may have wanted to enjoy that leadership role, especially the moderate Hutu factions. They could therefore have a motive to kill him while knowing that the first suspect would be Kagame and his government.
The complexity of political intrigue is that it is often your allies more than your enemies that may stand to benefit from your death and therefore have a motive to kill you. If there is a rift between a president and another prominent personality and that person is killed, the president would be blamed. So the biggest loser in such an assassination would actually be the president, the main beneficiary would be his opponents. In other words, Kayumba was as much at risk with his allies as he was with his enemies.