Three years after an assassination attempt on him in South Africa, the former Rwandan army Chief of Staff, Gen Kayumba Nyamaswa, has finally broken his silence has spoken about his assassination ordeal, bush war memories, and how President Paul Kagame has betrayed the purpose for Rwanda’s liberation struggle.
He spoke to Robert Mukombozi in Johannesburg.
Gen Nyamwasa, the world was shocked by news of your shooting during the last world cup. What exactly happened on that day?
I was coming from a shopping mall and when we were entering the gate I saw somebody with a gun and the driver opened the window on his side and quickly the person cocked the pistol and shot me in the stomach and thereafter there was a scuffle between him and me and I was able to survive the assassination because during the scuffle the gun was dislocated.
Thereafter, I was taken to hospital and the rest is history.
From the court proceedings, it would appear that some of the staff in your household were carefully involved. Had you suspected them?
Not at all. I really had full trust in all my staff members especially accused number four, who was my driver. On the day I fled Rwanda, he is the one who drove me across the border into Uganda and I trusted him. He stayed in Uganda while I proceeded to South Africa.
Eventually when he told me that his life was in danger in Kampala like many other Rwandan refugees who have been abducted from Uganda, indeed I facilitated him to come over (to South Africa).
Thereafter he stayed with us and I trusted him entirely. We treated him as part of our family but it turned out that he had been bought by the government of Rwanda. In the government of Rwanda nobody could have picked money from his/her own pocket to finance an operation like that. These people did not know me and I did not know them either.
So, for them to have carried out that operation against someone they did not know then they must have acted on behalf of someone else and that must be the government from which I run away.
But most important now is that these people are using very expensive lawyers in this country. Who meets the bill? Before their involvement in this assassination attempt against my life, they cannot show that they had any business or had a job and yet they are able to meet very expensive legal fees.
After the attempt on your life, do you feel safe here?
I am not the only one who is under threat from Rwanda all the time. If you read newspapers in Uganda, and if you can talk to my compatriots there, some of them have been abducted, others have been executed while others are hidden in safe houses. It is really a fight for most Rwandese in exile; so, mine is not an exception.
Do you hope to fight back?
Well, we are already fighting back, only that we are not using the means that our adversary is using. For us, we are using peaceful means of change and we believe that Rwandans will come together and fight a dictatorship and it is not a peculiar or unique situation.
It has happened everywhere else in the world where people have come up to fight the regime that is dictatorial in nature and killing people. We also formed an organisation called the Rwanda National Congress and together with others we formed an alliance with the United Democratic Forces of Rwanda (FDU-Inkingi) and Amahoro and we believe together we will be able to galvanise efforts of Rwandese and remove the regime.
So, you are not looking at military plans...
No. But that will be a result of probably a situation that would degenerate into a kind of situation that has happened in other countries where peaceful means have been employed but the dictatorship pushes people in a different direction. We have not come to that.
There is an increasing spate of kidnappings of Rwandan refugees especially students and former soldiers exiled especially in East Africa on accusations that they are working for you to destabilise Rwanda...
The accusations are not true. I would first of all begin with my own brother who has been in prison for the last three years. If I was working with anybody in Rwanda, the first person probably I would have worked with would have been my own brother but when I fled I did not take him along with me and I would have gone to his house and picked him even when I left, it took them about six months after which he was arrested and incarcerated.
So all these people, they can’t say that they are working for me. But there is no doubt that there could be some people in Rwanda who support the Rwanda National Congress, not necessarily [working for] Kayumba.
According to sources in the Rwanda Defence Forces, President Kagame is paranoid about you controlling some factions of the army. Is this fear legitimate?
Well, I commanded the army, there is no doubt about that. I was a very influential member within the Rwanda Patriotic Front. I had very good friends and the plight that visited me is also a plight that also other people in Rwanda are meeting today.
Essentially it is not about me, it is about the cause for which I am fighting and I know essentially within the Rwanda Patriotic Front, and within the army, there are people who support what I do not because of me but because of what I stand for. What we want is liberation; if it comes from me, well and good but even if it comes from a different side, I am sure they will be able to embrace it.
Talking about liberation, you had a cordial relationship with Kagame during the RPF bush war and subsequent years in his government. Kagame now says you were terrorising his country and lacked accountability. What exactly broke this rapport?
President Paul Kagame knows that we did a lot of things together and a lot of my colleagues but between me and him, yes there was a deep relationship. At one point in time I think I helped him when everybody else would not have wanted to and that is a fact. I wrote about it twice.
He is aware of the situation and that is probably why we had a strong relationship. I saved him out of a situation where people would have probably wanted him to perish.
He [Kagame] is aware of the situation, that was the beginning of the closeness. But as far as I am concerned, the relationship kept deteriorating [and] it was about the ideological thinking of the RPF.
At one time it came to a point where the RPF ceased to market and publicise and promote itself as an organisation and had to be substituted by popularising and campaigning for an individual who is Paul Kagame and that was something I never believed in.
Secondly, there was the issue of Dr Joseph Sebarenzi (former Secretary General of RPF) who was persecuted using fabricated charges. I refused to support that trend and Paul Kagame was not happy about it. Then there were extrajudicial killings, which were being carried out around Rwanda using the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Republican Guard and Kagame would be in the know and I was not aware about what was going on.
After committing those extrajudicial killings, they would come out and falsely implicate other people. Thirdly, there was the issue of Pasteur Bizimungu. Mr Bizimungu [when he was still president] was persecuted and lots of charges were fabricated against him.
The Directorate of Military Intelligence, which was under Jack Nziza and others that time, they thought they should have him imprisoned and I challenged them until I went to the United Kingdom for a course and eventually the man was taken to prison. Basically the relationship between me and Kagame started souring from 1997 and by 2003 it completely broke down.
You say you saved Mr Kagame’s life several times during the bush war struggle; how?
At one point in time we were at one place called Nkana [northern Rwanda] in current Byumba district and I think it was in December 1990 and we had lost a battle. When we lost the battle, the forces withdrew, Kagame did not know that the forces had actually withdrawn to Uganda. I went there to collect casualties [and] I found Kagame hiding in a banana plantation.
I convinced some of our friends that we should go and rescue him and get him from there. But because of his nature and after the death of Maj Gen Fred Rwigema, people did not like and they were saying ‘just ignore [him]’. I thought that was not the right thing to do and I took it upon myself to go back.
I went back and collected him. He was there confused; he did not know where the forces were and he did not know where to go himself. Then the next day in another place called Nkanyantanga [also in northern Rwanda]. In the night the enemy was surrounding us. He was sleeping in the tent and he did not know what was going on.
I had information and intelligence and we were able to fight our way out and the next day we lost the battle. I came back and picked him from the tent and hid him in Uganda in someone’s home.
Some of the officers we had in Nkanyantanga subjected him to a lot of open ridicule; that they do not want him. And some of the officers who ridiculed him that time are still serving in the Rwandan army as senior officers today but I will not mention their names for their security but they know themselves.
Had it not been for me and late Col William Bagire, they would have beaten him thoroughly.
Are you saying his subsequent leadership of the Rwandan Patriotic Army/Front was an accident?
Definitely it was an accident. The legitimate leader was late Maj Gen Fred Rwigema. We lost a person, we lost a leader, and we lost a charismatic person. Obviously if Kagame was so crucial in the planning and execution of the Rwandan liberation, Maj Gen Rwigema would not have allowed [him] to go for the course in the United States of America.
Are there officers you think would have been in a better position to steer Rwanda to real liberation? And is there a possibility they could take the wheel of power in Rwanda and change the country’s course?
There are very many of them but they are completely marginalised. You can never find them now in the political establishment of Rwanda. It is a tragedy.
But Kagame has maintained that the bitterness between both of you is based entirely on your undermining of his government and lack of accountability.
What else can he say? He has said that about everybody who has fled the country. He uses mainly charges against people who are opposed to his dictatorial leadership. Either you are a genocidaire, terrorist or corrupt. That is standard procedure and I happen to be part of that victimisation.
When you look at the sentencing that was meted to the four of us; sentencing me for 24 years in prison in absentia, it is not a charge of corruption. There is nothing because I was not corrupt and in any case if I had been corrupt, they would have charged me in a court of law when I was still in government. It is obviously a lie and Kagame has always lived by deceit but time is running out.
Talking about time running out for the Kigali establishment. You have commanded Rwandan troops in DR Congo before. Do you think Rwanda is involved in DR Congo (M23 war)?
True, I was involved in the DR Congo war in 1997-2002 and yes the Rwandan troops were and are still heavily involved in the war there. Even today, Rwandan soldiers are still in DR Congo. And the other thing that is very important is that there is nothing like M23. M23 does not exist; it is the concoction of the government of Rwanda.
Are you optimistic the stabilisation force in DR Congo now boosted by Tanzania and South Africa could eventually bring Rwanda to account for her atrocities committed there?
You can never lie to the world forever. Kagame’s lies have now come to the fore. He can no longer hide so the international community; Southern African Development Community (SADC) and everybody else have come to the realisation that Paul Kagame has always used genocide as pretext.
Instead of using it [genocide] as a tragedy that befell Rwandese, it has become a political and diplomatic weapon. He has used it to invade DR Congo and is also using it against his neighbours. The lie is now over and it is time to call a spade a spade and I applaud the international community to have come to the realisation. It may be late but as the adage says better late than never.
Some of the assets of South Africa-based Rwandan multimillionaire, Tribert Rujugiro, such as the $20 million Union Trade Centre, are being frozen by the Rwandan government on allegations he could be supporting your cause.
Nyamwasa is being used as a pretext for eliminating all those people whom Paul Kagame does not want. In the 1990s it was Mr Sebarenzi; they would kill anybody who is associated with him. Later on it became Pasteur Bizimungu and then Tribert Rujugiro. Actually Rujugiro ran away from Rwanda before me and then later on it is me.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes. I would like to inform Rwandans and friends of Rwanda across Africa and the international community that we will be driving real liberation to the country soon. Institutions of government in Rwanda have been hijacked.
The judiciary does not function; it has been compromised. The Parliament is owned and serves the interests of only one man and that is Paul Kagame. The government in Rwanda is an institution that is completely owned by one man and he does what he wants.
Now dictatorship has its own expiry date and I think the Rwandan people are now disgusted, they are disgruntled and they are disappointed. I would like to assure Rwandans and friends of our cause that dictatorship is going to be removed in Rwanda soon.
Robert Mukombozi is an international investigative journalist based in Australia. He can be reached on email: firstname.lastname@example.org.