Charles Ingabire’s murder and Rwanda’s reputation

Charles Ingabire's murder and Rwanda's reputation
Rwandan online journalist Charles Ingabire, 32, was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside Makies 2 bar in Kampala, Uganda. Courtesy Photo.

Kigali, Rwanda | By Timothy Kalyegira | The recent murder of Rwandan Journalist Charles Ingabire in Kampala raises questions about the safety of Rwandan vis-a-vis Ugandan dissidents.

Rwandan Journalist, Charles Ingabire, was shot dead in old Kampala in the early morning hours of November 30, 2011, by unknown gunman.

Ingabire was the editor of a Kinyarwanda-language online newspaper, Inyenyeri News, and had been in exile in Uganda since 2007.

He had been the editor of a Kigali-based newspaper called Umuco, also published in Kinyarwanda. He was one of the Rwandan journalists described as a critic of President Paul Kagame.

Recently, Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul kagame rekindled their friendship which had been on the rocks for over a decade, and this saw Kagame spend his Christmas holidays at Museveni’s home in Rwakitura.

Addressing a press conference in Kampala on December 12, 2011, President Kagame denied reports that his government was the hand behind Charles Ingabire’s murder.

“There are people out there who disregard all facts on the ground, the progress being made and keep hammering on issues that portray the Rwandan government as a killer of journalists. Do they think we out-rightly hate journalists? And why should we hate only local journalists?,” Kagame asked.

In the first few days after Ingabire’s murder, the Rwandan government — or at least officials of the government contacted by Ugandan and the world media — declared that they did not know Ingabire and did not even know of such a Rwandan journalist.

But then at this press conference, Kagame spoke like a man who knew Ingabire well and while on one hand he urged that speculation stop until the police had investigated the murder, on the other hand he himself went on to offer possible motives for Charles Ingabire’s murder. He specifically mentioned a dispute with business partners.

Why did the Rwandan government, reputedly one of the most highly organized in Africa, deny any knowledge of one of its more public citizens, only for the president to later indicate that far from not knowing Charles Ingabire, his activities, profession and business ties were well-known?

It later turned out that prior to fleeing to Uganda, Ingabire had been a founder and director in a Kigali-based non-governmental organization called Ongera Micro-Finance.

Even the most disorganized African government in a war-ton nation such as Somalia or Liberia in the 1990s would know the founder and manager of a micro-finance agency. How could Rwanda’s government not have known Ingabire, as they first claimed?

This alone raises suspicions in many minds based on recent history. But it also gives us a glimpse into how Rwanda is run. Government officials, it would see,, work dutifully and diligently at their desks, but hanging over them is a state of personal insecurity.

They often do not seem to know what decision to take or what official statement to make until President Kagame has spoken . There seems to be a main body of civil servants, political leaders and government officials that takes its cues from what the president thinks or says, not from independently formulated policy.

This all comes down to what kind of country Rwanda is since 1994.

The two narratives from this East-Central African country over the past 16 years has been both reports of the harassment of opposition politicians, occasional reports and rumours of what is termed a “counter-genocide” and steady attack on journalists.

This dual picture of Rwanda has remained consistent since the RPF seized state power in 1994. At first, in its defence, the RPF government asserted that Hutu politicians and military officers fleeing into exile claiming political persecution were in fact guilty of taking part i the 1994 genocide. When the law was about to catch up with them, they fled.

However, within the last seven years, Tutsi government and party officials as well as Tutsi army officers started to join the category of those fleeing Rwanda and claiming the same persecution that the Hutu had first claimed. Among these were former RPF officials and military commanders who had played a central role in the invasion of Rwanda by the RPF in 1990 and the subsequent capture of power.

It was difficult to accuse these former RPF Tutsi officials of the same crime of genocide as the fleeing Hutu officials, and so a new angle was given.

The Hutu had been responsible for taking part in the genocide, while the former RPF officials were accused of anything from terrorism to theft of public funds.

The fleeing journalists were either accused of unethical media practices, soliciting bribes, publishing defamatory reports and other illegal activity. This is the background to Rwanda after the RPF’s rise to power in 1994.

Charles Ingabire was the latest in a number of Rwandan Journalists who either fled Rwanda or, once in exile, have been gunned down. Before him were others like Charles Kabonero, Godwin Agaba and John Bosco Gasasira all now in exile.

Several questions arise;

Most of the journalists fleeing Rwanda in recent years have been Tutsi and, presumably, have at least in former times been supporters of members of the RPF, or at least have had an insider’s understanding of the RPF government.

If the RPF has been praised by the West for stopping the Hutu-led genocide of 1994 and setting up traditional Gacaca courts that decide matters of the law fairly and without malice. And even when one is convicted, Rwanda’s jails are, like the rest of the country, well-run, its prisoners well-treated and enjoying good facilities. All of these facts would have been known to these and other Rwandan journalists.

in other words, with their knowledge of the RPF government even when they fell out with it they would have had little reason to fear recrimination or fear for their lives.

These former RPF officials, army officers and journalists, many of whom grew up in neighbouring Uganda, have seen Uganda’s political and judicial system, which are far less efficient and competent than Rwanda’s.

New Found Love: Museveni, Kagame’s democratic credentials in light of Charles Ingabire’s murder. Courtesy Photo.

They have seen opposition leaders like Ibrahim Nganda Ssemujju and Ingrid Turinawe arrested, jailed but later coming out of jail. FDC president Dr. Kizza Besigye at one time fled into exile, but returned to Uganda after four years.

Unlike Rwandan scenario where army generals who have fallen out with President Kagame have had several brushes with death in exile like General Kayumba Nyamwasa and former spy-master Col. Patrick Karegyeya in South Africa, Ugandan dissidents like Col. Anthony Kyakabale and Col. samsom mande have had no such similar incidents in exile. Only Col. Edison Muzoora’s body was recently dumped at his home in Bushenyi having died under unclear circumstances.

There is a long list of Rwandan politicians and army officers who have been mysteriously assassinated.

Currently, two Rwandan journalists Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi are facing lengthy jail terms for charges that include insulting President Paul Kagame.

On the other hand in Uganda, false charges have been brought against Ugandan journalists who have endured months and years of court appearances but finally won their cases and continue practicing their profession.

If Uganda, the disorganized country, can somehow be able to have a reasonably independent judiciary and opposition political leaders can win their day in court, so much more would it be for the highly praised RPF Rwanda.

However, it is not long before after they fall out with RPF regime that these Rwandan journalists, politicians and army officers flee into exile, citing a danger to their lives.

If former RPF politicians, army officers, journalists and intelligence officers with an insider understanding of the RPF and President Paul Kagame consistently choose to flee into exile, we must assume that they know something about post-1994 Rwanda that the wider world does not.

It is possible that the Rwandan government really had no hand in Charles Ingabire’s death. For example, agents and secret operatives of a state hostile to Rwanda, knowing Rwanda’s international notoriety when it comes to journalists, could have killed him in order to create the very effect of pointing all fingers at Kagame.

Such murders were common during the Idi Amin years, where secret operatives working on behalf of Ugandan exiles would abduct and murder prominent Ugandans, in order to tarnish Amin’s reputation.

All that is possible, but it is the mixed messages from Rwandan officials in Kigali and President Kagame that raises questions that will linger for a while.