Rwandan President Kagame Approved Assassination of Umuvugizi’s Editor
From a safe house, journalist who survived assassination attempt tells Daniel Howden the truth about Paul Kagame’s rule
Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s President and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, salutes his supporters
Jean Bosco Gasasira is in hiding. Instead of running a newspaper in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, reporting on the political assassinations that have plagued the country of late, he spends his time moving between safe houses in neighbouring Uganda, trying to avoid the same fate himself.
According to police in Kampala he was the victim of an attempted assassination last week; in the same week, his friend and co-editor of the banned newspaper, Umuvugizi, Jean Leonard Rugambage, was shot dead in Kigali.
Now Mr Gasasira believes that agents working for Rwanda’s government are trying to kill him. Speaking from a safe house near Kampala, Mr Gasasira told The Independent that Rwandan intelligence services were on a killing spree, and alleged it was with the knowledge of President Paul Kagame himself. “I know it, I don’t doubt it. The explanations are just Kagame’s excuses,” he said. Speaking of the recent attempt to abduct him in Uganda, he added: “I know it was his people.”
“He owns the opposition and now he wants his own media,” Mr Gasasira said of the president. He says the president is using “the sword and the gun” against his opponents in the media and elsewhere and that Rwanda was on its way to becoming a “one man state”. Rwanda’s ambassador in Kampala said the allegations were “nonsense” and Rwandan officials described accusations that the government had ordered the killing as “baseless”.
Before his death, Mr Rugambage was investigating the shooting of a dissident Rwandan general in Johannesburg. On 19 June Lieutenant General Kayumba Nyamwasa was targeted by a gunman in the South African city, but survived the attack. Rwandan officials described allegations that they had commissioned the killer as “preposterous”. But someone is out to kill Rwandan dissidents.
Events as far apart as Johannesburg, Kampala and Kigali have revealed increasing political tensions within one of Africa’s most enigmatic emerging democracies. To many outsiders, Rwanda, under Mr Kagame’s presidency, has become one of the more dynamic and hopeful countries in the region.
Sixteen years on from the genocide that seared the landlocked central African nation into the world’s collective consciousness, Kigali is talked of as a future IT hub for Africa, economic growth is strong, and peace, for the most part, is holding. As reward for this, Rwanda was welcomed into the Commonwealth of nations this year despite its Francophone background.
To its critics, though, Rwanda has become an “army with a state” – an authoritarian government led by a cabal of soldiers from the former rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front. With little more than a month to go before the second elections are held since the end of the 1994 genocide, the calm surface of Rwanda’s stability and progress has been broken and a violent struggle for control of the country has been revealed.
A number of former ministers have been forced into asylum, while many other former colleagues of Mr Kagame were now under official and unofficial house arrest inside Rwanda, Mr Gasasira claims. “He has ministers in jail, the former speaker from parliament has gone into asylum,” he said.
Rosette Kayumba, the dissident general’s wife, has described how a lone gunman approached their car in broad daylight in Johannesburg 12 days ago and fired at her husband. She says she is certain that the killer was sent by Paul Kagame’s government. Formerly a close aide to the Rwandan leader, Lt-Gen Kayumba fled into exile in February after falling out with him.
The Rwandan government has strongly denied any role in the attack. Umuvugizi, an opposition newspaper in Rwanda, was investigating possible government links to the killing when its editor in exile was tracked down in neigbouring Uganda.
On 22 June Mr Gasasira was confronted by six men in Kampala. He managed to flee to his house, from where he called police. Ugandan authorities described their response as a rescue. Two days later his co-editor, Mr Rugambage, was shot dead in Kigali by two men who then fled the scene in a car.
Speaking this week, Mr Kagame said he had ordered his police, intelligence services and army to find the journalist’s killers. “We will not rest until we get to the bottom of this and make it clear to everyone,” he said. Two arrests have since been made and police said they believed the suspects’ motive had been connected to genocide charges against Mr Rugambage. He was tried and acquitted and authorities said the killing was likely a revenge attack.
But the murder is being investigated by its perpetrators, according to Mr Gasasira. “I’m 100 per cent certain this was done by the Rwandan intelligence service,” he said.
In South Africa, three men appeared in court this week charged with the attempted murder of Lt-Gen Kayumba. None of the accused is Rwandan and they each have previous records for handling stolen goods. Two more men, one of them thought to be Rwandan, have been released and there are fears that the incident, which created tension between South Africa and Rwanda, may be written off as an attempted robbery. The dissident general was a long-time confidante who served as the army chief of staff.
Mr Gasasira says that conflicts within Rwanda’s all powerful army are behind the dissident attacks. With Mr Kagame in absolute control of the democratic process, the only threat would come from the military, he states.
The relationship between Lt-Gen Kayumba and the president deteriorated as Mr Kagame became more autocratic. Mr Gasasira decided to leave Rwanda after his newspaper was banned in April as part of a crackdown on dissent. In February 2007 he was brutally assaulted in Kigali by three men armed with iron bars. The attack, which put him in a coma and left him with permanent health problems, followed articles in Umuvugizi critical of the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.