It’s 10:45am. I telephone the Rwandese High Commissioner to Uganda Maj. Gen. Frank Mugambage, informing him of my arrival at his office in Kamwokya, Kampala for the 11:00am interview.
The embassy premises are spotless clean with a carefully mowed compound. The lovely flowers welcome you to the receptionist’s office.
“You have to wait for a couple of minutes since I have guests from Kigali,” he responds.
A few minutes later, I am led to his office.
A beaming Mugambage says Rwanda is now a story of development. “You have to capture two sides. One is that we Rwandese have refused to live in the past. Everyone remembers genocide but we have now lived out of that and created a future. We had to justify lives which were lost in the genocide and the RPF struggle,” he notes.
Clad in a black coat, a pair of jeans and brown shoes, the High Commissioner who fought alongside President Paul Kagame in the Rwanda Patriotic Front that captured power in 1994, narrates why the country attaches considerable importance to the Heroes’ Day celebrations.
“Every February 1st, we celebrate Heroes’ Day. Fundamentally, any society that holds together must have a system of values built around culture. Individuals that have made a contribution to the well–being of society must be recognized. Surely, role modeling is part of our culture,” says Mugambage.
The High Commissioner, who lived in Kahungye, Kamwenge District for 30 years, further notes such role models should be credited to encourage the young people to work hard for the collective good.
“Our people must contribute to common good. You must belong to a society. One must have a responsibility to contribute to it. When we talk about heroes, we mean extraordinary selflessness.”
He says there are few categories on which heroism is built.
“There are extreme cases. Look at how the country was mismanaged before 1994. It took the courage of young, gallant and brave soldiers to turn Rwanda around.”
Mugambage says the “Unknown soldier” who was recognized during the Heroes’ Day represents all combatants especially those who could not be easily identified, who died during the liberation war that ended the 1994 genocide.
He further notes Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema who was shot on the second day of the war, was recognised for his great ideas and bravery until he lost his life.
Mugambage gives another example of King Mutara Rutahigwa who mobilized his people to defeat colonialists and died in the struggle in Bujumbura.
“Mutara empowered Rwandese to get out of the colonial mentality. He fought for freedoms of the Rwandan people. He built a foundation to fight such injustices and gave Rwandese quality education,” Mugambage notes.
He also cites Agatha Uwuringiyimana who was Prime Minister at the time of genocide.
“When it was being planned, she refused to be part of it despite belonging to this ruling class of Hutu. In the process, she was killed. The army invaded her home, remember she was being guarded by UN, and was killed. Her act of extreme courage and giving away her life is extraordinary. It’s an act of heroism.”
“Even Rwagasana the brother to Kayibanda refused to promote the genocide ideology. He rejected the idea of divisionism.”
As I take a glass of water, Mugambage gives another example of another heroine a one Niyitegeka who lived in Gisenyi at the time of genocide. She was killed after protesting the murder of Tutsis by her brother, a Colonel in Hutu army.
“Around 1996, there was an attempt by genocidal forces to reorganize and attack Rwanda. They pounced on Nyange School at night, forcing students to separate along tribal lines. But the girls refused, saying “we are all Rwandese.” The Hutus killed all of them. It was a sign of courage and selflessness.
“All in all we recognize those who have contributed in a special way as role models. Those actions should be emulated. Rwanda is all about recognising acts of selflessness and encouraging efforts to build Rwanda,” she said.
After listening to this heart-tearing genocidal tale, the hard questions start flowing.
I now press Mugambage to explain why a good number of opposition politicians complain of lack of space to fully participate in the democratization process of the country. I put it to him that they accuse President Kagame of political intolerance and harassment.
He responds: “Rwandans feel and enjoy all freedoms. Rwanda has built institutions of governance in designing which course to take regarding social, political and economic issues. And Rwandans are enjoying this.”
Mugambage says other mechanisms that guarantee that space are in place.
He cites the annual December National Dialogue conferences held in Kigali.
“The people have a chance to put their grievances before the President face to face. It’s only Rwanda where leaders meet people in such a manner. How can you say there is no space when leaders are opening up? It’s common knowledge that people can reach out to the President via IT. He is on Twitter. It’s common knowledge that we are building IT structures connecting different places all these social networks are enhanced by such investments.”
He encourages Rwandans to engage in Dialogue. “So many political parties can participate freely. However, there are prophets of doom – those who have nothing to say. We have enabled Rwandese to talk and contribute new ideas,” Mugambage affirms.
How about opposition bigwig Victorie Ingabire who has been in detention for long?
Mugambage says Ingabire is under trial for crimes she committed. He says Ingabire financially supported the rebel FDLR in Congo to cause instability in Rwanda. He says there is ample evidence from international money transfer organisations to pin her in subversive actitivities.
“This is what we call building accountability and transparency. Even ministers and generals can be arrested. It’s not about who you are. When we talk about transparency you don’t categorise people. All are equal before the law. The Case against Ingabire is concrete. Former FDLR Colonels have confirmed she worked with them.”
Then I press another button, inquiring why three generals (Chief of staff Reserve Forces Lt. Gen Fred Ibingira, Military Intelligence Director Gen. Richard Rutatina, Division Commander Brig. Gen Wilson Gumisiriza and the External Security Director Col. Dan Munyuza) were recently arrested. Was it because of their alleged links with renegade RDF officers Col. Patrick Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa?
“It’s about accountability. It goes against what their institutions stand for. They were put under house arrest for involving themselves in illegal Congo business deals. If it’s established that whatever actions they were engaged in were contrary to the code of conduct of the institutions they serve, courts will do their job. They are being investigated,” says Mugambage.
“When you take the position of leadership, you must live to expected standards of what it calls for. If you misuse power, you are held accountable. Whether you are minister or general, you must work for common good. This is a disciplinary measure which is part of effecting accountability,” he notes.
How about rumours that indeed the arrested officers had developed a relationship with the Kayumbas? Mugambage says he has no time for rumours.
“These are simple cases of holding people accountable for things done. Those are speculations. There is a whole institution of Defence so arresting three people is not a big deal. How do measure an entire institution against three individuals?” he wonders.
Then as the mood heats up, I ask Mugambage whether the embassy has investigated the murder of Rwandese journalist Charles Ingabire in Kampala last year.
“I heard that journalist had conflicts with his own friends. People want to make him big. We regret the death but don’t make him a Mandela. If he was popular how come I didn’t I know him. He had mismanaged a microfinance and orphanage before fleeing to Uganda,” notes Mugambage.
“Why target him? Rwanda can’t do investigations in Uganda. We coordinate very well with security organs here in Uganda. We have an Interpol arrangement and also liaise with security here. That’s what President Kagame said the other day that if you are Rwandese living in Uganda, obey the law and promote interests of the country. It’s not true that people are being harassed.”
Several opposition leaders especially Rwanda People’s Party President John Karuranga say there is need for peace talks between Kagame and exiled politicians for the good of the country.
“That’s being outrageous. Kagame operates under the mandate of 11.5 million people. If somebody wants dialogue, they are exaggerating their own. What mandate does Karuranga have? He is free to come and dialogue like any other citizen during national dialogue forums. He can even join the system. Even Pierre Rwigyema returned from exile and mixed freely with Rwandese. I think Karuranga wants to walk to moon,” clarifies Mugambage.
Then I push further on a recent UN report pinning a top leader of the Rwandese living in Uganda in illegal gold transactions.
“I haven’t read the report. I have been busy. But we take it very seriously. Our policy is very clear. Rwanda must be looked at in its outright vision. Our development process is not about minerals but human resource development. We intend to develop a knowledge-based economy,” stresses Mugambage.
Being a very busy diplomat, he picks two telephone calls during the interview.
I then ask if Rwanda has evidence that exiled army officers Kayumba and Karegeya have been planting grenades in Kigali.
He responds: “Do you have any doubts? They are witnesses. Those officers are behind grenade attacks in Kigali. For sure they were planned attacks. The Kayumbas, out of devilish thinking, are using misguided people. Rwanda is credited for being peaceful. But these are isolated incidents which one cannot base on to judge security standards. Kigali is very safe. Even in New York, these incidents happen. It’s wishful thinking for those who have hopes of causing instability because the security apparatus is supported by the people.”
Then one for the road: I inquire the motive behind the renewed relationship between Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni.
“The relationship of the two countries is very old. It spans for many centuries. There have been so many intermarriages and cross border trade. Ugandans and Rwandans are the same people. Museveni and Kagame are free to move in and out of Rwanda. Though our relationship had some turbulence, I can say it’s now on the right track.”