The Truth about the Death of Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema
The RPF is said to have invaded Rwanda on Oct. 1, 1990, just over 19 years ago. However, according to an intelligence officer in the Ugandan army, the NRA, at the time, they actually started moving a few days before.
The original date for the RPF invasion of Rwanda was Christmas Day, December 25, 1990. The RPA had by September 1990 massed most of its troops in Mbarara and Kabale.
However, it was realised that in Rwanda, Christmas Day was usually a normal day and therefore there was a chance that the Rwandese army might be at its bases and posts. The date was then moved to January 1, 1991.
However, in Sept. 1990 there came an unexpected opportunity: President Yoweri Museveni was to travel to the UN headquarters in New York to attend a summit of world leaders. So too would Rwandese President Juvenal Habyarimana. The RPF saw this as their best opportunity to strike.
The departing RPF fuelled their vehicles at Wankolo Petrol Station as they headed for the border, Sept. 30, 1990.
According to sources, the group of RPA officers made up of Major Dr. Peter Bayingana, Major Chris Bunyenyezi, and Major Frank Munyaneza, and others had planned, even before the invasion, to eliminate Rwigyema.
So while they set the date of departure for Oct. 1, they started moving a few days before that. Rwigyema, who was supposed to be the overall commander of the RPA was actually one of the last to depart Kampala.
On the night of Sept. 30, 1990, Rwigyema was dressed in a light-blue shirt and drove a BMW belonging to his friend Capt. Mike Mukula. Rwigyema's wife, Heanette Birasa Rwigyema, had only recently had a baby. He bid farewell to a few friends then left.
Whether he arrived at the Uganda-Rwanda border dressed that way, in a light-blue shirt, or went home and changed into military uniform, the Uganda Record cannot establish with certainty.
There has always been a story in Kampala that upon arriving at the border, he stripped off his Ugandan army Major-General epaulettes, saluted in the direction of Uganda, and crossed over. Perhaps so.
However, the Uganda Record is certain that he wore civilian clothes, a light-blue shirt that night, Sept. 30, 1990.
All reports say that within three days, the veteran guerrilla Maj.Gen. Emmanuel Gisa, also known by his guerrilla names of Fred Rwigyema, was dead.
The first version of Rwigyema's death was that he had been hit in the back of the head by a bullet from a jeep manned by soldiers of the Rwandese government army, the FAR.
The coincidence of only a single bullet being fired, hitting only Rwigyema, and the FAR soldiers not bothering to fire on the escorts and other soldiers around him, proved to be so implausible that it was quietly dropped.
He then sent his brother Maj. Gen. Salim Saleh with a force of over 30 vehicles to check on Rwigyema. The late Lt. Col. Reuben Ikondere, who had been in Ruhengeri in Rwanda, was one of the NRA officers who accompanied Saleh to Rwanda to investigate Rwigyema's odd silence. He came in a Cross Country vehicle. Saleh, it is said, got into radio contact with Major Peter Baingana, asked Baingana where he, Baingana, was.
Baingana is said to have asked Saleh why Saleh should be asking him that. "This is not Uganda!" snapped Baingana.
According to a soldier who escorted Saleh on that mission, Saleh asked Baingana where he, Baingana, was and Baingana replied, "Where are you yourself?"
The Uganda government newspaper, the New Vision, finally reported Rwigyema's death in a front page story on Nov. 5, 1990: "There appears no truth in the widespread rumour that Rwigyema was killed by Baingana in a power struggle and that Baingana was subsequently executed. Baingana was not in Kagitumba when Rwigyema was killed…Rwigyema's death was kept secret for a month by the people who were with him at the time. They feared it would demoralise the RPF forces."
The article was written "By Our Reporter". In all likelihood, "Our Reporter" was either the then Editor-in-Chief William Pike or his wife Catherine Watson. Watson, then working as a BBC reporter, was one of the first foreign news reporters to visit the RPF's bases inside Rwanda after the invasion.
The tone of the article was careful to protect the RPF's image, was clearly inclined toward them, and it was the first of many reports by journalists from the English-speaking western world on the RPF.
Here, Pike was doing in 1990 what he had done for the NRA in Luwero in 1984 as a free-lance reporter with the South magazine --- putting a positive spin to their image, promoting them as pragmatic, revolutionary, and well-educated soldiers with a historic sense of purpose.
The facts are these, though: Fred Rwigyema did not die on Oct. 1, 1990. Nor did he die two or three days later.
According to a Ugandan source who fought alongside the RPA in that 1990-94 civil war, Fred Rwigyema was alive on the first day of the invasion when the RPA captured Nyagatare. He addressed the RPA troops, commanded the next battles, and he organised the RPA into new units.
His death came three weeks later the invasion; in late October 1990. After Rwigyema's death, it was Salim Saleh who took another Tutsi NRA officer, Maj. Paul Kagame, to the RPA headquarters inside Rwanda.
To this day, Major Peter Baingana's widow does not see eye-to-eye with Rwigyema's widow Jeanette Rwigyema, suggesting that Baingana at least had a hand in Rwigyema's death.
Several months before the invasion, in mid 1990 or so, Rwigyema kept on insisting to a family friend that it was time to go to Rwanda. He seemed fatalistic about. Asked by the family friend what the rush was for, he said that he had to take the risk.
He might meet his death in Rwanda; but, he added, he was equally in danger in Uganda. He expressed the fear that there was a plan to kill him. The sensitivity with which he said this suggested that it was from within the ranks of the Tutsi NRA officers in Kampala.
The purpose of this story is to shed light on what was going on inside the RPF even before it had started to engage the Habyarimana government in the battlefront. The RPF was not a benign, cultured, high-minded, politically astute and progressive force as its spin doctors then and now portray it. It was about raw power, egos, and something else --- deadly Tutsi vs. Tutsi clan rivalry, Somalia style.
After Rwigyema's murder, there was a continuous struggle for power within the RPF.
The groups are referred to as Abega, Abanyiginya and the commoners. It is further alleged that Abanyiginya are the true Kings of Rwanda…Reports further say that after the death of the top three commanders, Major Paul Kagame who is said to be from the Abega group took over leadership, which is said to be unacceptable to the Abanyiginya led by Kigeli the last king of Rwanda and Major Adam Wasswa. It is alleged that [the] King Kigeli group has played a very significant role disorganising the RPF, distorting the whole cause to a mere power struggle...On [the] Uganda side, it is reported that from Kamwezi through Kishuro hills down Kahondo valleys [valley] insecurity is on the increase. Meanwhile the Rwandese government has denied allegations that its troops abducted four Ugandans on 28 December 1990 at Mugali in [the] Katuna area. In a statement issued by the Rwandese embassy in Kampala on 31st December 1990, Rwanda's government accused the rebel RPF of perpetuating these crimes in the border area with the aim of antagonising the relationship between the two neighbouring states...The Rwandese government statement revealed that RPF rebels had acquired some Rwandese armed forces uniforms and since they are fluent in Kinyarwanda pose as Rwandese government troops. 'This RPF sinister scheme was brought to the attention of President Museveni at Cyanika summit on 20th November 1990'...Again people residing along River Kagera are reported to be scared by floating bodies. The bodies are believed to be from the Rwanda side of Akagera National Park".
Note the details. The Citizen reported rivalry amongst the Tutsi in the top leadership of the RPF. It was "historic". Then too, note the instance of the royal line of the Tutsi feuding with the other non-royal Tutsi.
Where have we heard of this guerrilla tactic before? Not Luwero Triangle in central Uganda during the NRA war?
In his 2009 book, A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's rebirth and the man who dreamed it, the American journalist Stephen Kinzer described Kagame's formative years as a guerrilla in Luwero:
"Central Uganda is a good place to wage guerrilla war. Its heartland, known as the Luweero Triangle, comprises 3,000 square miles of savannah and tropical forests. Enough people live there to provide a social base for rebels, but there are also vast empty areas where fighters can move and hide...This was Paul Kagame's home for five years. The way the NRA fought made a deep impression on Kagame. It decisively shaped his idea of what a guerrilla force should be and do. The lessons he learned proved invaluable to him when he began to forge, and later emerged to lead, the force that would liberate his homeland."
"Museveni has for the last twenty three years  fought different enemies in different parts of Uganda…In all these wars, the adversaries are different, the theatre of war different, the period different. There are only two elements that are constant: Museveni on the one hand and massive atrocities on the other….It is Museveni who employs atrocities against civilians to achieve military victory, but in a more subtle way by ensuring that his adversary instead takes blame for Museveni's atrocities."
Said the Shariat, Jan. 24, 1995: "On 6 February, 1981, Yoweri Museveni and a gang of his Rwandese cousins launched a war on the Republic of Uganda. They knew quite well that the people of Ankole where Museveni comes from could never support them in their madness which was a result of Museveni's insatiable lust for power. They went to Luwero which was a good choice because they knew it had more Rwandese than any other part of Uganda……
A few days ago through Capital Radio's "Desert Island Program", Lt. Col. Pecos Kutesa, Museveni's aide de camp in Luwero, revealed that they killed thousands and thousands of Obote's soldiers in Luwero. It is also true that they killed thousands and thousands of non-Baganda and some Baganda who could not support them. They blew up buses killing many civilians who were passing through Luwero…
Obote put it more succinctly to Andrew Mwenda:
"At the burial of [UPC stalwart] Adonia Tiberondwa recently [on December 28, 2004], Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, for example, revealed that the National Resistance Army rebels used to wear UPC colours and then go into villages in Luwero and kill people in order to make the people think these were actions of the UPC government. Otafiire was boasting of the "tricks" NRA employed to win support in Luwero, but was also revealing the sinister side of Museveni and his insurgents... Each time there was a reported case of mistreatment of civilians by the army, we arrested those responsible and punished them severely.
From all the above quotes, we must ask ourselves the all-important question: if this is the way Museveni's NRA conducted itself in Luwero and according to Stephen Kinzer admiring book on Kagame, the methods of guerrilla warfare in Luwero we have just read about left a "deep impression on Kagame", is there anything more to be said about the way the RPF fought its war under the command of the now Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame between 1990 and 1994?
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