By Independent Team
The inside story
How Kayumba escaped from Rwanda
Details of his last meeting with RPF and RDF officials
Kagame’s telephone calls looking for him
Tumukunde, Biraro and Pecos Kutesa named in his case
Early on the morning of February 28 a bus parked outside the ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Kigali was delaying to depart. Inside it were ambassadors of Rwanda scheduled for a meeting with President Paul Kagame at 9am. It was getting closer to the time of the meeting but one passenger had not yet showed up. It was Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo, who was in charge of the ambassadors’ transport, was getting agitated. Then Kagame telephoned her on her cell phone. Mushikiwabo knows the president to be a strict time keeper. He was calling from State House, just before setting off for President’s Office to find out if the bus was also on its way.
Mushikiwabo informed Kagame that the bus was delaying because Kayumba, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to India, had not yet showed up. It was exactly 8.40am. Kagame told her that he was heading to the office and would wait for them.
Kagame is a former intelligence officer and Kayumba’s absence tweaked his antennae. The previous night, there had been a meeting at the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) offices in Kigali between Kayumba and senior party leaders and senior officers from the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF). After the meeting, Kagame had been briefed about its outcome ‘ mainly that Kayumba had agreed to apologise to the RPF and the commander in chief, Kagame, for a series of transgressions.
Sources close to Kagame say that the president’s sixth sense kept asking him: Why had Kayumba not showed up? First, he thought that maybe he would be coming in his own vehicle. When he got to the office, Kagame received a phone call from Mushikiwabo that the bus was on its way but, she added, they had decided to leave without Kayumba.
At this point it was thought that Kayumba had either arrived at the President’s Office earlier than the rest or he would be coming in his own vehicle. A source at State House Kigali told The Independent that when Kagame arrived at his office, he asked his staff and was told Kayumba was not there.
‘When we told him that Kayumba was not at the office,’ the source said, ‘it was clear the president smelt that something was not right. He looked suspicious and unconvinced, almost agitated. An officer told him that Kayumba may have fallen ill. But Kagame reportedly rejected that option straightaway saying: ‘He would have called to say he is not coming because he is ill.’
Meanwhile, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Earnest Rwamucyo was in police detention. He had been involved in a traffic accident the previous night. When the police got to him around midnight, they found he had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Mushikiwabo asked Kagame what she should do about Rwamucyo.
‘Let the law follow its course,’ Kagame told her. The president said it would be improper to interfere with the police and ask them to release someone who had committed a crime.
Immediately the call ended he called the Chief of Police, Emmanuel Gasana to repeat his instruction regarding Rwamucyo. Kagame also asked Gasana to find out what was happening to Kayumba specifying that they check where he was staying. In five minutes the police chief called back and told Kagame that Kayumba was not at his home. Kagame immediately asked Gasana to check with the border officials.
According to sources in Kigali, Kayumba owns a farm in Uganda and often crosses the border to visit it. Gasana was told that in the morning, Kayumba’s car had arrived at the Rwanda-Uganda border but with his driver only. The ever suspicious border staff asked where the driver was taking the General’s car. He said Kayumba had sent him to collect some things from his farm before he returns to India. He was let through.
Gasana concluded that Kayumba must have left the country, possibly using a smugglers’ track to cross into Uganda, leaving his driver to go through the official immigration point. Gasana asked what time the driver crossed and the border officials said it was at about 8am. Which means Kayumba left Kigali in broad daylight. Why wasn’t he detected given Rwanda’s tight security?
A highly placed security source in Kigali told The Independent that Kayumba was not detected because he was not on the ‘alert’ list. If this is true, then why would an army general escape from the country? The answer can only be found in the nature of the meeting between Kayumba and those senior RPF and RDF leaders.
According to Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Maj. Gen. Frank Mugambagye, who attended the meeting, RPF and RDF officials had grilled Kayumba for allegedly ‘trying to create a power-base in the army for selfish ends’.
Mugambagye told The Independent that Kayumba initially denied the allegations (see interview on page 14). However, when evidence was placed on the table, Kayumba agreed to apologise to Kagame. The aim, Mugambagye said, was to ‘bring him back to the fold.’ The meeting ended past midnight. That morning, Kayumba fled Rwanda.
Kigali observers say Kayumba has for many years been going through low level conflicts with some people inside the ruling party and army, RPF and RDF’ especially those close to Kagame. They accused him of ‘suspicious actions and intentions.’ They said that, as army chief of staff, he tended to promote some officers over others in a manner that suggested he was trying to build a power base within the army. They also said he would deliberately use his position to deploy officers strategically suggesting that he had a hidden agenda.
According to investigations by The Independent, no hard evidence of corruption was ever adduced against Kayumba. But some RDF officers accused him of using operational funds to reward loyalists ‘ what political scientists call patronage.
‘Soldiers would go to him for personal assistance in times of need,’ one officer told The Independent, ‘And he would help them. This helped him to create a following in the army.’
Kayumba is also accused of creating factions in the army. His rivals alleged he was building a base in the army possibly with the intention to overthrow Kagame. Such accusations are difficult to prove. It is difficult to establish a coherent and credible prosecutorial case against someone. Often, the judgement would be very subjective. Kayumba has said in the past that he was a victim of intrigue.
It is possible these allegations were brought against him because of an internal power struggle in which Kayumba seemed unable to respond well. By projecting him as an ambitious person seeking to remove the president, Kayumba’s rivals may have changed Kagame’s view of him. It is possible that once Kagame’s mind was poisoned, Kayumba’s every move became suspect.
Sources inside Rwandan security say that Kayumba’s problems began in 2001 when he left Rwanda for a military course at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham in Britain. He had organised it when he was still chief of ctaff without informing the commander in chief. Kagame got to know about it when it had already materialised.
At the time, there was an insurgency in the north west of Rwanda and Kayumba was the one in charge of military operations there. Rwandan sources say that Kagame was shocked by Kayumba’s attitude because of the way he learnt of this course.
Kagame was driving home with his wife Janet and visited Kayumba because he had a sick child. The dates are unclear but it was in late 2000. At Kayumba’s home was a female visitor from Uganda called Penina or Penny, a lawyer who studied with former Rwandan external security chief, Patrick Karegyeya, at Makerere University. Kagame was told she had brought Kayumba’s academic papers. Karegyeya is now a dissident with Kayumba in South Africa.
When Kagame asked what the transcripts were for, Kayumba told him casually that he had secured the military course abroad. Sources say Kagame was puzzled at how a senior officer could organise a study course abroad, in the midst of his command against an insurgency, without seeking the commander in chief’s consent first. Kagame did not stop him.
Later, when Kayumba called Gen. James Kabarebe, at that time his deputy, to inform him that he was handing over the operations to him, Kabarebe was equally shocked. Kayumba’s action was tantamount to abandoning the army for a course in the middle of a serious national security problem.
Army sources in Kigali claim that Kabarebe presented this concern to Kayumba who answered, again casually with some laughter that: ‘You come here and fight! Let me go. When I come back, I will still find these wars going on.’ Kabarebe felt that Kayumba spoke in a manner which suggested that the insurgency could not be ended.
This was also the time when Rwanda had problems with Uganda. By coincidence, Kayumba went for the same course at the same military academy with Maj. Gen Benon Biraro of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, then a colonel. Kayumba was the most senior officer in the college.
During the course, intelligence reports from the UK claimed that Ugandan intelligence was trying to recruit Kayumba and use him when he returned to Rwanda to cause change in the Kigali leadership. It was claimed that Kayumba had grown close to Biraro during which time he revealed his anti-Kagame sentiments.
According to Rwandan sources, Biraro reported back to Kampala about these discussions. On the strength of Biraro’s reports, it is alleged that President Museveni sent Brig. Henry Tumukunde, the then director general of Internal Security Organisation (ISO) to visit Kayumba in UK. Sources claim that Tumukunde visited Kayumba ‘for talks’.
However, Biraro told The Independent that Kayumba ‘never, ever made any statement to him against his country, his government and his president’. Biraro said: ‘It was a time when relations between Uganda and Rwanda were strained. So we had a gentleman’s agreement that we should only speak good things about each other’s country. Kayumba is a gentleman. He loves his country. He never indulged in any talk against his government and his president with me ‘ not in the open and not even in private.’
Regarding Tumukunde’s visit, Biraro said that sometime in 2002, he heard that the ISO chief was in London. He invited him to the military college. Tumukunde spent a night in Biraro’s house and left very early the next morning. Biraro says the time was too short for Tumukunde to meet Kayumba ‘ something Biraro had wanted. However, Kayumba was travelling away from the college and Biraro felt he was deliberately trying to avoid meeting Tumukunde.
When contacted, Tumukunde refused to comment on the issue saying his current circumstances do not allow him to. However, Tumukunde’s colleagues at ISO at the time claim that during his visit, he met Nyamwasa in the dining hall and exchanged pleasantries and nothing more.
‘Museveni never trusted Tumukunde on Rwandan matters,’ a highly placed security source said, ‘Tumukunde has a close relationship with Kagame. The two shared a house with Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu for almost three years. So Museveni felt that a person who had been that close to Kagame could not be trusted on Rwanda. Tumukunde was deliberately kept at arms-length in the handling of Rwanda.’
Some Rwandan officials claim that once in a meeting with Museveni at State House Nakasero during the quarrels between the two countries in 2002, the Ugandan president slipped. In an unguarded moment, in the middle of a heated argument, Museveni is alleged to have said: ‘If Paulo [Kagame] cannot work with us, we will find others to work with.’ Given the aforementioned reports, this was interpreted to mean that Museveni had something going with Kayumba.
Leaving Uganda aside, intelligence sources in Rwanda were continuing to supply Kagame with more allegations against Kayumba. He was accused of linking up with persons in exile who were hostile to the regime in Kigali. Among them was the former speaker of parliament in Rwanda, Joseph Sebarenzi and former minister of internal security in charge of police and prisons, Kazzo Rwaka, both now living in USA.
It was alleged that Rwandan dissidents abroad were encouraging Kayumba; telling him he is an alternative to Kagame. So when Kayumba returned from the course, Kagame called him and told him about all these concerns and adduced evidence to support his case. Kayumba denied the allegations and explained that in some cases he was being misunderstood.
Kayumba returned at the time when Rwanda Defence Forces was changing its structure and senior officers claim he expected to be appointed chief of general staff. Kagame told him he would not. ‘You cannot go back to command the army you abandoned in the middle of an insurgency,’ Kagame reportedly told Kayumba.
Instead, despite the allegations, Kagame appointed Kayumba Director General of the National Security Services (NSS). After two years at the NSS, he was sent to India as High Commissioner. However, the allegations against Kayumba continued.
It is alleged that while in India, UPDF Col. Pecos Kutesa from Uganda visited the country for medical treatment. Kutesa’s wife Dora works at the Ugandan High Commission in New Delhi. It was alleged that Kayumba visited Kutesa in hospital and shared with him his feelings towards Kagame and the regime in Kigali. Kutesa apparently informed Ugandan authorities of the discussion and this information in turn leaked to Rwandan intelligence.
According to Rwandan sources, when Kutesa later visited Rwanda, RDF officers took him out for a drink. During the discussion, Kutesa told them all the things Kayumba had told him on his hospital bed.
When The Independent talked to Kutesa, he admitted that Kayumba visited him in hospital in New Delhi. ‘He was High Commissioner for Rwanda and my wife is a diplomat at the Ugandan High Commission,’ Kutesa said, ‘All ambassadors from Africa visited me. That was not unusual. Besides, I have known him for many years. Kayumba was my political commissar when I was 4th division commander in the late 1980s. He is also a personal friend. However, he did not discuss with me anything political.’
Instead, Kutesa said that when he visited Rwanda, it was the Rwandan intelligence operatives that picked him from the airport who accused Kayumba of being subversive. It was a few days after Kayumba had escaped from Rwanda and Kutesa had been sent to Kigali by the UPDF Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima.
It is with this background that the meeting between Kayumba and senior RDF and RPF leaders took place. Kayumba had returned to Rwanda to attend the annual retreat of senior government officials. During the retreat, he had met and talked to Kagame. As the retreat ended, some senior RDF and RPF leaders asked Kagame if they could talk to Kayumba about the accusations against him. Kagame gave them a go ahead.
During the discussion, several allegations were raised. It is difficult to establish Kayumba’s personal culpability from these events. It is possible that Kayumba never said the things he is accused of against Kagame and the government to Biraro, Kutesa or Tumukunde. Possibly some powerful insiders, envious of his position wanted to bring him down as would be expected in any internal power struggle. They manipulated intelligence information and poisoned Kagame’s mind against him.
However, if he was innocent, then Kayumba fell into the trap his rivals inside the RDF and RPF had set for him. In a letter to Sunday Monitor, Kayumba accused Kagame of personalising power in Rwanda and of being corrupt. He also accused Kagame personally and the RPF generally of betraying the ideals of the revolution. He further accused the RPF and RDF top leadership of intrigue and malice.
In his letter, Kayumba said that he had held these views since 2000 when he saw ‘the revolution veering off course’ and began living in self-denial. If Kayumba was innocent before, this admission undermined his case because he now openly accepted holding anti establishment feelings his rivals had been accusing him of ‘ and for as long as they claimed he did.
Could he have expressed them to some people? While Ugandan military officers deny Kayumba shared with them his resentment for Kagame’s leadership, it seems people inside RPF and RDF somehow got a hint of what was going on in his mind. Whatever his innocence or culpability, his letter in Sunday Monitor was the last nail in the back of his possible reconciliation with Kagame.
The Independent tried with persistence to talk to Kayumba for a comment on this article. His associates said they preferred to read the story first and respond to it later.