INTERVIEW: Gen. Nyamwasa- Why I fled Rwanda
Renegade former Rwanda military chief Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, who is now in exile in South Africa, has denied he was part of a coup plot against President Paul Kagame.
Speaking on Wednesday to Upfront Africa on Voice of America, for the first time after his escape last week through Uganda, Gen. Nyamwasa also denied he had political ambitions to unseat Mr Kagame. Gen. Nyamwasa was a key player in the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front guerilla movement that brought President Kagame to power in 1994. It is reported that he has since fallen out with the Rwandan President over his varying political ambitions. He enumerates the reasons why he fled a revolution he helped start.
Mr Nyamwasa, the government of Rwanda yesterday (Tuesday) alleged that you are behind the recent grenade attacks in Kigali, what is your reaction to this?
That is malicious propaganda. Just harassment. I was harassed when I was in the country and they are trying to extend the harassment even when I am abroad.
What is the status of your family back in India? Your wife was on radio and said she was under house arrest?
Yes. The situation is grave. It is dire. We as a family were sent to India to represent the country. It is very unfortunate that my family which has nothing to do with whatever I am being accused of, is being harassed. That shows you what kind of regime we have been serving.
Tell us about the genesis of your fall out with the government in Rwanda
I am not the only one. Look at the turnover of all people who have served in that regime. It tells the whole story. Look at all those who have served with President Paul Kagame, ask him who is still serving with him now. If all of us are bad and he is the only good person, then Rwanda has no future.
Were you questioned by security agencies in Rwanda before your departure?
Not at all. I was questioned by a group of operatives put together to harass me and you could see the harassment method was to provoke me into argument and eventuality cause arrest. So there was no security organ that I met. So if they say I was questioned by any security organ, that is not correct.
What do you think is the basis of all this?
The regime in Kigali is really descending into total dictatorship and you know absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, in this case you don’t have to have a different opinion, you are not supposed to debate and if you are perceived to have a different opinion on anything, then you are an enemy. That’s what happened to me.
You said you were questioned by a group of people. What are some of the questions they were asking you?
These are questions which don’t ask anything. The first question was, I had gone to Rwanda to bury my mother who had died and there was no government officials attending the burial ceremony. So the first question was what I make of the fact that there were no government officials at the burial. You can imagine that kind of question to a person who is still mourning his parent.
And then the other question was that I had gone to the UK for studies; that I sympathise with people who had been thrown out of the government unfairly. That I sympathise with the families of some late comrades and things like that! All those kinds of nonsense.
Are you perceived in any way as some sort of political threat to the power of the president within the party its self?
That could be a perception. The fact that some media houses write something like that; but that happens in every country. They could have cross checked my track record. I didn’t have any intention to challenge anybody in politics. But even if it was the case, what is wrong with that?
So you did not have any kind of political ambitions to take over the presidency of the party?
No, I believe in democracy and if I had wanted to stand for any party position I would have presented my candidature. But to be frank, that has never been my intention. But all I am trying to tell you is that even if it were the case, which it’s not, there wouldn’t have been a problem with that in my view.
Why didn’t you stay in Kigali after being questioned by the security agencies? Don’t you think this aggravated the situation?
No security agencies questioned me. The secretary general of the party has nothing to do with diplomacy. That’s not the minister of foreign affairs, he is not the President.
In the first place, he never had any right to question me. If you look at the people in the meeting, some of them were ministers, Members of Parliament and police officers.
There is nothing like security organs. That’s why I am telling you a group of operatives, some fellows who are just sycophant[ing] around just to obtain positions and maginalise other people.
So this was basically a meeting with members of the ruling party who called you to come in, there was no interrogation of any sort by and security agency whatsoever?
Yes, that’s right.
So you decided you should extract yourself from this situation?
Every time there is this type of fall out in Rwanda, we see that the parties involved try to leave the country… why?
It’s because they have no faith in the judiciary, no faith in government institutions because they have no faith, then you go to seek for justice where it is.
But someone would say you have been serving this country for over a decade, is it now that you are seeing it happening because you are the victim? Has this happened in the past?
Yeah, exactly, that’s why I ran away. Because I have been trying, asking people to reform and to make sure these institutions are strong enough to defend people and yet they have been marginalised and monopolised. That’s why I had to leave. If I had faith in the institutions, I would have stayed.
Do you have hope that your wife and family will be able to join you?
It is very difficult but she is brave so she will probably be able to make it.
Did you reach out to the minister of foreign affairs who is supposedly your boss to talk to her about this issue before you left the country?
She is the first person who sacked me that day without even wanting me to find out. And look at her track record- she is just a new entrant who is just trying to protect her position, what do you expect from her?
So what is your future now? What are you going to do? What should we expect in the coming days or years?
Look at it from this perspective; I spent all my youthful years fighting for justice and fighting for the unity of the Rwandese people but at this time, it is going to be difficult I am aware.
Are you planning to return to the country anytime soon?
No. If I was supposed to return I would not have asked for these papers (SA passport).
Should the opportunity present itself and you are confident of your safety, would you go back and run for political office?
That has never been my intention because one person is not going to change much.
I don’t think I am the saviour. I only think that the people in the country, the powers that be, should look around and see the turnover, how many people have run away and probably change. If they don’t change then we shall languish where we are.
What do you make of the allegations that you were plotting a coup d’état?
We used to hear about those things even during the Habyarimana’s regime. Dictators always say that.
That was just threatening the population, threatening anybody who would want to raise his voice. Essentially that was a threat. And every dictatorship will always say that like in Zimbabwe and North Korea.
Are you assured of your safety in SA? Why didn’t you go to Uganda or any other neighbouring country?
The proximity of Uganda and Rwanda would have caused a problem between the two countries. Secondly, the judicial system that I would probably be subjected to was also in perspective when I came here.