For a period spanning nearly three decades, the Rwandan government has been accused by human rights groups, governments and individuals of sponsoring and planning attacks on its dissidents and critics.
These reported attacks and threats on Rwandan dissidents have been documented not only in Uganda, but also in South Africa, Kenya, Belgium, Sweden, and Mozambique. The allegations are so many that only a few can be recited here. Several researchers, journalists and authors have accused the Kigali regime of complicity in crimes against its critics and suspected opponents within and outside Rwanda, but the country’s officials deny the accusations.
Similar accusations lie at the core of the country’s frosty relationship with Uganda because most of the victims in the assassinations, kidnaps and attempted assassinations have had links with Uganda.
They were either born and lived here as refugees before fighting their way back into Rwanda, and later fleeing Rwanda through Uganda in the post-genocide era, and meeting their death here. Many dissidents from Rwanda have, for years, called Uganda home and Rwanda has also, in the past, haboured people who have fallen out with the Kampala regime.
In the latest fall out between the two neighbouring East African Community partner states, Rwanda, among other things, accuses Uganda of supporting rebel groups opposed to president Paul Kagame’s government and incarcerating, torturing and illegally deporting its citizens for unexplained reasons. Uganda denies the allegations.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, in a response to Rwanda’s accusations, insisted that law abiding Rwandans had nothing to fear in Uganda.
With great diplomatic tact and discretion, Mr Kutesa wrote: “As a country that has been a target of terrorist attacks with the assassinations of Muslim Sheiks, State Attorney Joan Kagezi and Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abiriga and others, we remain vigilant. In this regard, the Government of Uganda remains committed to protecting the security of its citizens and its borders and will act accordingly against local or foreign threats.”
In Belgium in April 1997, Joseph Matata, an exiled Rwandan human rights activist, published a list of dozens of Hutu judges, lawyers and other legal staff who had been arrested or assassinated while attempting to perform their duties in post-genocide Rwanda. Mr Matata was among the first to speak out in what has since become a trend.
Rwandan officials have repeatedly denied any link to the attacks on dissidents abroad, although officials, including Mr Kagame, have not shied away from promising decisive action on the country’s “enemies”.
On May 16, 1998, gunmen opened fire on a car killing its two male occupants at a Limuru-Forest road junction in Parklands. The two killed were Rwanda’s former Interior minister Seth Sendashonga and his driver Jean-Bosco Nkurubukeye.
Sendashonga’s wife, Dr Cyriaque Nikuze, revealed a connection between the Rwandan government and the death of her husband. She testified in a Kenyan court that she believed her husband had been assassinated on the orders of then top ranking Rwandan defence official and politician. A Kenyan judge would, in 2001, acquit the suspects, but said he was convinced “the murder was political.”
Dr Nikuze, also claimed that Alphonse Mbayire, then acting Rwandan ambassador, organised the assassination. Mbayire was immediately recalled to Rwanda in January 2001 after the accusation. He was shot dead a month later, in a bar in Kigali by a young soldier who pumped more than 20 bullets at close range into his head.
The soldier, despite being identified, was never apprehended, according to a Human Rights Watch statement of May 4, 2001.
HapaKenya, a digital news platform, reported that Dr Nikuze’s husband had been scheduled to testify before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the French Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. The Rwandan foreign ministry denied any involvement in the killing.
In Britain, police warned two dissidents in 2011, according to media reports, that the Rwandan government “poses an imminent threat to your life”.
The recipients of that warning were Rene Claudel Mugenzi and Jonathan Musonera, a former Rwandan army captain.
Earlier, The Independent, a British newspaper, had reported that Britain’s domestic intelligence service, the MI5, had warned Rwanda’s high commissioner to London Ernest Rwamucyo that a harassment campaign against Rwandan dissidents must be stopped or his country risks losing a chunk of British aid.
The following year, in Sweden, a Rwandan diplomat was expelled in 2012 for “espionage” against Rwandan refugees, and authorities protected an exiled Rwandan newspaper editor who had expressed fears for his life.
President Kagame accused
In 2006, an inquiry by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière accused president Kagame and his inner circle of plotting and executing the downing of a plane carrying president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994. The findings were roundly dismissed by Rwanda.
Another investigation led by Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux cleared Mr Kagame and his associates of any wrongdoing but the inquest was soon re-opened to hear new evidence from a witness who was kidnapped from Nairobi, and disappeared before he could make it to France.
Emile Gafirita, also known as Emmanuel Mugisha, was to reportedly inform the judges what he knew about the incident. It is not known whether he is still alive, but is believed to have been kidnapped by operatives from Rwanda.
About six months after the disappearance of Gafirita, Chryso Ntirugiribambe, a former soldier, faced the same predicament in Kenya when a group of armed men kidnapped him at gunpoint in Kenya on June 23, 2015.
Several accounts indicate that both Garifita and Chryso were taken back to Rwanda and tortured. Reported attempts by the Red Cross to try and locate both in Rwanda’s prisons were futile.
In 2015, the Canadian Globe and Mail reported that the United States had warned Robert Higiro, a former Rwandan military officer, that his life was in danger because of evidence he gave to different media houses and a US Congressional Subcommittee about the Rwandan government’s alleged efforts to assassinate dissidents who had fled abroad.
Mr Higiro provided audio recordings and other evidence of the Rwandan government’s involvement in attacks and planned attacks on exiled Rwandan dissidents abroad.
He subsequently relocated to the United States where he currently lives. Higiro also listed the names of at least 13 prominent Rwandans who had been murdered or had disappeared.
Earlier, in August 2014, a South African judge found four men, including two Rwandans, guilty of the attempted murder of Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former top official in the Rwandan military and co-founder of an opposition-party-in-exile, the Rwandan National Congress (RNC). Gen Nyamwasa, who still lives in South Africa, has been the target of a series of attacks and assassination plots, with the authorities in South Africa implicating agents of the Rwandan government.
President Kagame, in a recent interview with The East African, a sister paper of Sunday Monitor, said the country’s problems with the Southern African nation were hatched in Uganda. Shortly after arriving in South Africa, Gen Nyamwasa was shot in the stomach by assailants at his home in Johannesburg. Another attempt was made on his life as he recovered in hospital.
Rwandan government agents were among the six people arrested over the first attack, according to the South African officials, who also reported that the suspects had offered a $1-million bribe to get the charges against them dropped. Rwanda again denied any involvement.
In 2010, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Rwanda, protesting the first attack on Gen Nyamwasa. South Africa, subsequently, after the assassination of Col Patrick Karegeya, expelled four Rwandan diplomats and accused them of “direct links” to the Karegeya assassination and other attempted murders and “organised criminal networks.”
Karegeya, was strangled in a Johannesburg hotel room where he remained for close to 24 hours before being discovered.
But top Rwandan government officials, including president Kagame, did not express any public sorrow over the death of their former comrade at arms.
But president Kagame only said: “Any person still alive who may be plotting against Rwanda, whoever they are, will pay the price. Whoever it is, it is a matter of time.”
Then Rwandan defence minister, Gen James Kabarebe, was more direct. “When you choose to be a dog, you die like a dog, and the cleaners will wipe away the trash,” he said.
Canadian journalist Judi Rever is an example of a foreigner attacker who has been targeted by the Kigali regime. Last year, Ms Rever published her book ‘In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front’, but did not have it easy in the course of researching material she wrote in the same.
On July 13, 2014, she recounts that while on a trip to Brussels, the Belgian police assigned her a team of armed bodyguards and an armoured car.
“We have reason to believe that the Rwandan embassy in Brussels constitutes a threat to your security,” Belgian officials told her.
Officials told her that the threat against her was “severe,” a level 3 risk, which meant that “an attack was possible and even probable, but that authorities had not been able to determine when and where it might occur”. Beligian authorities had reportedly intercepted a call in which a Rwandan official discussed “laying a trap for Judi.”
In May 2013, relations between Rwanda and Tanzania soured after former Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete proposed in an African Union meeting in Ethiopia that the Rwandan government should hold peace talks with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group to end violence in eastern DR Congo (DRC). Tanzania also accused Rwanda of backing former M23 rebels in eastern DRC, claims that Rwanda’s former Foreign Affairs minister Louis Mushikiwabo dismissed.
Tanzania went on to expel 3,500 Rwandans who had been living in the country since 1959. Rwanda and Tanzania appear to have mended their diplomatic relations after president John Pombe Magufuli became president and visited Kigali.
In February 2017, authorities in Rwanda arrested and detained a pregnant British-Rwandan woman, Violette Uwamahoro, on suspicion of plotting to undermine Mr Kagame, sharing state secrets and helping to form an armed group when she went to Rwanda to attend the funeral of her father.
Ms Uwamahoro was eventually released and returned to the United Kingdom following international outcry and a court order for her release on bail.
Ms Uwamahoro’s husband, Faustin Rukundo, is a member of RNC.
In 2015, Rwanda’s then intelligence chief, Karenzi Karake, who is wanted in Spain for war crimes, was arrested in London. Gen Karake was arrested at Heathrow Airport and was remanded in custody ahead of a court hearing.
In 2008, a Spanish judge indicted him for alleged war crimes along with 39 other current or former high-ranking Rwandan military officials.
He is accused of ordering massacres while head of military intelligence in the wake of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
A UK court, subsequently, released him and he returned to Rwanda.
In 2016, United Nations experts told the Security Council that Rwanda was recruiting and training refugees from Burundi, among them children, whose ultimate goal was to remove President Pierre Nkurunziza from power.
The panel said in a confidential report, according to the AFP news agency, that they had spoken to 18 Burundian refugees who provided details of their military training last summer in a Rwandan forest camp.
The accusations came months after Rwanda was accused of sponsoring a failed coup against president Nkurunziza in 2015.
Last year, President Nkurunziza wrote to resident Museveni, who was then the East African Community chairperson, levelling the same accusations against Rwanda.
Most of the army officers behind the coup in Burundi fled to Rwanda, but Rwanda has repeatedly denied allegations of distabilising Burundi.
WHAT UGANDA HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF
The problems that Rwandans are facing in Uganda currently are three: Rwandans are arrested, tortured, harassed in Uganda…[and] those that are not arrested, harassed, detained are deported for reasons which we don’t understand.
When some people are deported they reach our border in poor health. This has been happening for a long time and there is no solution so far.
There are armed groups, individuals who head armed groups that are opposed to the government of Rwanda, that have a violent agenda towards Rwanda who operate in Uganda [such as] the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) [and]…these are groups that have carried out (criminal) acts here in Rwanda and are based in Uganda; and, RNC and FDLR work from Uganda with support of some authorities there.
This is another serious case and we have raised it with them.
The third is the challenge related to the free movement of Rwandan goods across Ugandan territory
Rwandan Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera