As has always been the case, October 1, 2011 was meant to be just another day on Rwanda’s official calendar. The day meant to commemorate that audacious attempt when up to 50 gallant soldiers who in 1990, from bases in Uganda, attacked Rwanda, to try and get back to their motherland – a country most had hastily been forced to leave at a very young age or never been to.
But as Kigali prepared to let the day pass with as less pomp as has been the case over the years (notice that under the current regime October 1, has been celebrated with less ado), Theogene Rudasingwa, – a former Chief of Staff to President Paul Kagame, dropped a bombshell. In a statement released on his Facebook page, Rudasingwa (who it must be remembered is a former Rwandan ambassador to the United States) claimed that President Kagame not only is responsible for the death of Juvenal Habyarimana as he (Kagame) was the overall operations commander of the RPA at the time of the former president’s death, but that he (Kagame), “told me that he was responsible for shooting down the plane” – the plane in question here being the Falcon 50 jet (Reg No 9XR-NN) belonging to the Government of Rwanda and in which Presidents; Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were travelling.
A powerful and indeed extra-ordinary revelation if you ask me. But before we go any further, let’s try to make sense of this claim.
When news about the claim started pouring out all over the internet, I tried contacting a few big shots I know in Rwanda to see if they would speak to me over this. Some did respond in an angry manner telling me to mind my own business and forget Rwanda. Others were dismissive of the news but one of them stood out. I will not say who but I can confirm he is a very senior official. He did mention something which made me realise that I still have so much to learn about the dealings in Rwanda.
(Mr.) “Rudasingwa”, my source said “should not be taken serious because he is another deluded fool who like most of you and your ilk suffers from political excitement, excessive amnesia or perhaps the lack of it. You lot can continue to yap and yap but the truth remains that in Rwanda, we continue to match on. If indeed he was told by the president how about you ask him why it has taken him all this time to bring this out? And trust me he won’t have any answers to this. He is just someone who for reasons only known to him, and in part due to his greed, corruption and dishonesty fell out with the regime, and will now do anything to bring down what Rwandese have laboured to build, for years”.
I know most of this was a very hushed reaction to a statement that will and must be rubbing Kigali the wrong way but we cannot deny the fact that therein lies some good question – and until its answer has been found, Mr. Rudasingwa’s claim shall remain questionable. Yes, I say questionable but let’s not forget that questionable does not necessarily mean incorrect.
There are perhaps so many questions that Mr. Rudasingwa’s revelation will raise but one does stand out: Why now? The story of who actually downed the Falcon 50 and by so doing ended the lives of two presidents, and all on board including three French nationals has been running for over 17 years now. It has become part of Rwanda’s history although under the present circumstances, few will be learning about it in school (refer to the suspension of the teaching of Rwandan history in Rwandan schools). When Abdul Ruzibiza, first claimed to be privy to the actual shooting down of the said plane, Kigali reacted furiously. This was in 2006 and Mr. Rudasingwa was well in a position where he could, as he has now, added his voice to the hoarse groans of Ruzibiza. Imagine the reaction this would have received then? Imagine the amount of legitimacy this would have given the Ruzibiza testimony had a former Rwandan Ambassador to the US, and Secretary General of the RPF come out in support of the then less known former army Captain?
If we are to assume that Mr. Rudasingwa is right and that indeed President Kagame did confide to him that he (Kagame) had ordered the shooting down of the Falcon 5o, what happens next? What happens to the “details and facts” as gathered on the subject in the famous Mucyo Commission which after about 18 months of deliberation, research and inquiries, “established” that the idea of bringing down the plane “was the work of Hutu extremists who calculated that killing their own leader would torpedo a power‐sharing agreement known as the Arusha Accords?”
What happens to the French and Spanish indictments on members of the RPF and RDF which were partly based on Ruzibiza’s testimony? What happens to the new and revisited friendship between Rwanda and France who having severed relations over the indictments have since claimed to have buried the hatchet and agreed to work together “normally”?
And why did Mr. Rudasingwa choose to release his statement on a day which as a former comrade in the Rwandan army and by all accounts a historical, meant to commemorate the first attempt by Rwandan refugees and exiles to go back to their motherland? Is he so gullible not to have realised what attention this was bound to cause?
And what of Kigali? Usually, they come up in arms against any statement, news story or sound bite that is critical or contrary to the idea of praising the country’s achievements over the years. This time however, some four days after the sensational claim, we are yet to hear even a word from Kigali. Could the silence be a result of having had enough or is it a sign of admission knowing who Mr. Rudasingwa is or has previously been? Is it that they feel Mr. Rudasingwa has become so unbelievable that few will take notice of what he has to say? Or are they having been startled by the bombshell, planning a more measured rebuttal? Could it be that their main men at Racepoint are on holiday and thus until one reports to duty, Kigali has chosen to stay silent? Or is it a case of self censorship as has become the norm in Rwandan media?
If it turns out that what took the Mucyo Commission 18 months and about 166 witnesses to establish could have been unearthed by a single phone call or email to one of Rwanda’s former Ambassador, does the government get to pay the tax payer back for having “wasted” state resources and money on an inquiry whose results might have been got rather cheaply with the right people being questioned?
It remains to be seen why Mr. Rudasingwa chose Facebook to announce what clearly remains an astonishing revelation if indeed it is true. Rwanda is an oral society. In Rwanda the word of mouth is what matters. There is every possibility that what remains in terms of proof that President Kagame did indeed confess to having ordered the shooting down of the Falcon 50 is just Rudasingwa’s word. While this is hardly any hard evidence will most likely be inadmissible in most court rooms (especially international tribunals where if anything the case against Kagame might go) it does leave the suggestion – and based on how Rwandan courts or public inquiries conduct their business – that Kagame might at some point in the future be brought to book in Rwanda. What happens then if as a former head of state he is found to have been responsible for the downing of the plane? Remember as an oral society, the inquiry, or trial if any will just like the Mucyo Commission have to be based on witness testimonies most of whom will be saying such things as “I was told”, “I saw”.
Remember too that there are people who claim that it was the shooting down of the plane which caused the genocide (Kigali calls these negationists or where it suits, genocide deniers). I call them liars. Whereas an argument can be made that the shooting down of the plane did spark the genocide just like the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is said to have sparked World War I, in my opinion, one loses the plot by claiming that without the downing of the plane, the genocide would never have happened. No. From my discussions with a few Rwandans (depending on how extreme or pro a given ethnicity those you speak to may be) I have come to realise that the role of the plane in the Rwandan story remains very contentious and a point of departure to some as far as our country’s history is concerned.
This is why whoever has something to say about the plane, who shot the plane and what the plane shooting led to must do so with caution and most importantly with facts based on tangible evidence. I wrote some months ago about the Habyalimana death which continues to haunt Rwanda. I argued then that it is crucial that the truth is established once and for all. The truth regarding the events leading to the shooting down of the plane. When the Mucyo Commission report was published in August 2008, some in Rwanda hoped and believed that the report findings would put to rest what clearly has been a protracted saga/story. It didn’t. And part of the reason it did not is because it is only believable depending on which side of the story one wants to be. Given that Rwandans are people who over the years have decided to be on select sides while acknowledging in public that we are on the same side, this is and was never surprising.
This is why I think and believe that Mr. Rudasingwa, if anything must substantiate his claims. He must be willing to present himself to a credible judge, at a credible court and give his statement under oath – if he duly and clearly believes it. Then let justice follow its course. As it stands, his is another of those extra ordinary claims that we have come to regard as part of the Rwandan story. These days, it is even difficult to know which is which. Lt. Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col. Patrick Karegeya escape and flee for dear life and the next thing we hear is that Kayumba used to be a thief who stole soldiers money and tractor spare parts, that Karegeya was untrustworthy and made a deal with Felicien Kabuga (Rwanda’s most wanted fugitive). Really? And we are told these by some leading public officials within the establishment in Kigali. Are we really to believe that Gen. Kayumba stole tractor spare parts and fertilizers? That Col Karegeya (under whose watch Rwanda had the best intelligence system in Africa) was a deceitful man – and that their (Karegeya and Kayumba’s ) story came to light after they had fled the current regime? My source did ask to ask Rudasingwa why he decided to come out this late. I probably should ask him why his government’s spin masters, only decided to come out on Col. Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba and by the way Maj. Rudasingwa, after the two had long left Kigali?
For those who have previously read Animal Farm, you will recall that at the end of the day, long after the animals had taken over the stewardship of Manor Farm from MAN, most could not believe the tyranny of some PIGS. They looked from pig to man, from man to pig and from pig to man again – it was impossible to tell which was which. There will be some Rwandans and peace loving people out there today who quite frankly must too be looking and looking and until some of the questions I raise above have been answered, they will continue to find it impossible to tell which is which.
Over to you my little monsters…