Gerard Prunier’s account of the death of Rwigyema and Baingana Bunyenyezi
Posted Saturday, October 5 2013 at 01:00
Gerard Prunier, a French journalist and African scholar in his book ‘The Rwanda Crisis: History of Genocide’, could not conclusively establish how Rwigyema and his two deputies died. The death of trio has remained a puzzle not only to the Rwandans but the world as well. Prunier interviewed some RPF fighters inside Rwanda during the war. For instance on July 11, 1992, he interviewed Tito Rutaremara, one of the RPF founding members in Kabale inside Uganda.
On page 94, on the death of Rwigyema he wrote: “Major General Rwigyema, the charismatic RPF leader, was killed on the second day of the attack. His death which was long kept secret has been the subject of much controversy. According to certain sources, he was killed by his second-in-command, Major Baingana, after a quarrel over military tactics.
Baingana and his friend Major Bunyenyezi were supposed to have favoured a lightning conventional strike towards Kigali, while Rwigyema would have preferred a more cautious approach involving the organisation of guerrilla areas to achieve a progressive political and military erosion of the Habyarimana regime. According to this version, Baingana and Bunyenyezi were later tried and shot by an RPF military court on Major Kagame’s orders. But there are many contradictions in this account which was disseminated at the time by the Kigali regime and discreetly supported by the French. One of these concerned the psychological aspects.”
Prunier observes: “It is doubtful whether anybody would have dared to murder him [Rwigyema] and even more doubtful that his killers would have survived more than a few minutes after shooting him. The second discrepancy in the murder version is that the ‘killers’ of ‘Commandant Fred’, as his men affectionately called him were alive and free several days after his alleged assassination.
A Uganda journalist, Teddy Ssezi-Cheeye, interviewed Major Peter Baingana inside Rwanda on October 5, 1990 and saw him much in charge and respected by his subordinates. And finally, there is a third factor making the murder theory unlikely. In contrast to some other African guerrilla movements such as the Eritrean EPLF or the Sudanese SPLA, there were no later rumours of bloody feuds among top leadership. If ‘Commandant Fred’ had been murdered by some of his own subordinates, further factional in-fighting would almost certainly have broken out, and it is doubtful that the dead man’s friends would have failed to at least spread the story.
However, Prunier adds: “The reality seems in fact to have been much more prosaic – that Rwigyema was killed by one of the bizarre yet frequent hazards of war. It seems that he was standing on a small hill watching retreating Rwandans government forces through his binoculars when a fleeing soldier turned around and killed him with a single shot. He actually was the only RPF casualty on that day.”
On the death of the RPF’s first commander, he concludes:
“Whatever the truth, Rwigyema’s death was a big blow on the RPF and their offensive wavered.”
It was in the midst of these difficulties that Peter Baingana and Chris Bunyenyezi were apparently killed when they, and their troops, walked into a government ambush (23 October). By the end of the month there was no more ‘battle front’, the last RPF strugglers having either crossed back into Uganda or else taken refuge in the Akagera National Park.
They had suffered heavy losses during the fighting, due to battlefield casualties and even more to desertions. In the national park some of their men starved to death and on October 30, the Kigali authorities could announce with every semblance of truth that the war had ended,” Prunier wrote.