The plot thickens

Published : Jul 30, 2010 00:00 IST

President Paul Kagame with supporters in Kigali on June 24. He seeks to retain the presidency in the elections scheduled to be held in August.-ADAM HOOPER/AP

President Paul Kagame with supporters in Kigali on June 24. He seeks to retain the presidency in the elections scheduled to be held in August.-ADAM HOOPER/AP

The attempt on the life of a former army chief points to a return of the ethnic strife that the authoritarian rule of Paul Kagame ended in 1994.

THE assassination attempt on the former army chief of Rwanda, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who was until recently the country's envoy to India, has brought into international focus again the authoritarian rule of President Paul Kagame. Nyamwasa, who was granted political asylum in South Africa in February after his dramatic escape from Rwanda, was shot by a lone gunman outside his residence in a posh Johannesburg suburb in the last week of June. At the time of writing this report, his condition remained critical, though doctors have said his chances of survival are high.

Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the shooting, and proceedings against them are scheduled to start soon, after their residence status and nationalities are verified. The Rwandan government has dismissed claims about its involvement in the assassination attempt. Nyamwasa's wife, Rosette, who was with him when the incident occurred, alleged that Paul Kagame ordered the shooting. Nyamwasa was removed as High Commissioner to India after he fled from Rwanda in February. The former head of Rwandan Intelligence, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, had also fled from the country earlier, indicating the deepening schisms in the Rwandan military establishment, which has effectively been running the country since the mid-1990s.

Earlier this year, there were grenade attacks in the capital, Kigali. There were also unverified reports about an assassination attempt on the President. Paul Kagame had gone on record to state that people like Karegeya and Nyamwasa and others who flee the country are running away from accountability. The Rwandan government has since blamed them for the grenade attacks in the capital and for other acts, including holding unaccounted wealth.

Nyamwasa, speaking from exile before the shooting incident, said that accountability should start at the top; beginning with the President before he demands accountability from his subordinates. He alleged that the President had siphoned away millions of dollars and had bought a private jet.

Paul Kagame projects himself as a squeaky clean politician not cast in the mould of the average African ruler. The West has projected him as a role model for other African leaders to emulate. Before he was shot, Nyamwasa in an interaction with mediapersons, said Kagame had described his disenchanted comrades as flies whom he would crush with a hammer.

Old allies

Nyamwasa was no ordinary Rwandan diplomat. He was one of Kagame's closest military associates as the Tutsi-led guerilla army the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) swept into Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. He was known to be one of the few intellectuals in the top echelons of the RPF. He fought with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) in the early 1990s.

Museveni and Kagame were close military and political allies until the fight over the plunder from the Congo war soured relations between them. The two countries invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire)together, in 1996, forcing its dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, to flee. In the war that followed, more than 4.5 million people died in the Congo, many of them Hutus and Tutsis, who had settled for long in eastern Congo, adjoining Rwanda. The events that led to the genocide in Rwanda, which claimed the lives of more than 800,000 civilians, may be an important reason why Kagame and Nyamwasa fell out. Most of those killed were Tutsis. The trigger was the downing of the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on April 6, 1994. Eyewitness accounts have it that the plane was shot down on the orders of Kagame, and that Nyamwasa was the officer who carried out the order. The Intelligence Wing of the RPF, which was then headed by Nyamwasa, is said to have prepared, coordinated and executed the firing of the missile that brought down the presidential jet.

When the RPF took over Rwanda, thousands of Hutus were exterminated in revenge killings and their lands and properties handed over to the returning Tutsis. Hutus still constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in Rwanda but effective political and economic power is still with the minority Tutsis. The ethnic strife, which was ruthlessly brought under control by the authoritarian rule of Kagame, is now showing signs of resurfacing. France and Spain had issued arrest warrants against Nyamwasa and other senior Rwandan officials for their alleged role in the mass killings that took place in the 1990s.

There are also serious charges of human rights violations, committed during the long running guerilla war, against Nyamwasa. He once told the BBC that he would force the Hutu rebel forces into submission. We have the means. We have the will. We will kill them until they lose the appetite for war.

But there are reports that Nyamwasa had a change of heart in later years and had, in fact, advised Kagame to come clean about the war crimes that the RPF had committed. He is said to have suggested that the government announce a general amnesty for all war crimes committed in Rwanda since 1990.

Spate of arrests

The ruling RPF is totally under the control of Kagame and he brooks no dissent. In recent months there has been a spate of arrests of senior party members suspected of having political ambitions of their own. Brigadier-General Jean Bosco-Kazura, the head of the country's football federation, was arrested recently for making an unauthorised trip to South Africa. He was a senior aide to the President, advising him on security-related matters. The government suspects that he was in South Africa to meet prominent Rwandan exiles living there.

There are many Rwandans who feel that Nyamwasa is being made a scapegoat by Kagame. Rwanda is one of the biggest recipients of American aid in the continent. It receives $1 billion in U.S. aid every year a fifth of the country's annual income. A quarter of this aid goes directly into the government's coffers.

Americans critical of this largesse say this money has been used by the Rwandan army in the bloody invasion of Congo and the devastation of its natural resources. Sweden and the Netherlands have threatened to withhold aid to Rwanda if it continues to interfere in the internal affairs of Congo.

Kagame, it is alleged, sought to distance himself politically from his former colleague by appointing him as an envoy in New Delhi. Nyamwasa, the warlord-turned-reluctant-diplomat, was left at the mercy of war crimes tribunals and human rights groups, while Kagame and his colleagues were received in the corridors of power in Western capitals. Nobody has been able to pinpoint why the two fell out.

There is speculation that many of Kagame's former comrades were unhappy with the cult of personality that was being built around him. Power was centralised around the President and his office. There have been unexplained deaths of senior army officials in road accidents in recent months. Elections have been stage-managed.

The recent events are also connected with the elections scheduled to be held later this year. A Hutu politician, Victoire Ingobire, who wanted to challenge Kagame in the forthcoming presidential election, has been arrested on the charge of genocide denial. Anybody who dares to challenge Kagame is being hauled to prison on this vague charge, said informed sources.

In June, American law Professor Peter Erlinder, who was defending Victoire Ingobire, was arrested for picking holes in the government's version of recent Rwandan history. Erlinder was later freed on medical grounds but the American academic says he escaped alive only because of his nationality. An editor of an independent newspaper was shot dead in Kigali. Another journalist, who was doing an investigative story on the attack on Nyamwasa, was killed mysteriously in late June.

The independent media in Rwanda is blaming the government for the killings. Two newspapers have been stopped from publishing. The government has prevented the registration of two opposition newspapers. A Hutu politician, Seth Sendashonga, who was once Kagame's Interior Minister, was shot dead in Nairobi in 1998, where he was living in exile. Rwandan intelligence officers were implicated in the assassination but were granted diplomatic immunity.

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