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Q&A: Rwanda's controversial history

Al Jazeera sits down with retired General Faustin Nyamwasa who reflected on Rwanda 20 years after the genocide.

Last updated: 07 Apr 2014 11:34
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Former Rwandan Army General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa is now an enemy of the state [Reuters]

As Rwanda officially commemorates 20 years since the genocide, some of those who were there to stop the war and re-build the country have become enemies of the state.

Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa is one such person.

Former Lieutenant General Nyamwasa had been Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Army and head of Rwandan intelligence as well as Rwanda's ambassador to India.

Once a close ally of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, he's now persona non grata. Nyamwasa says the very circumstances that pushed them to pick up arms back in 1990 are still very much alive in Rwanda today.

Al Jazeera: It has been 20 years since one of the worst massacres in the history of humanity, how far has your home country come?

Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa: There is a lot of disappointment in the government's efforts to truly reconcile the country and making sure that we avoid the same circumstances that led to war.

In Depth

More Rwandan coverage

 
 
 
 
  Rwanda after the genocide

The current government is doing exactly the same thing that the then Rwandan government was doing - rigging elections and imprisoning voices of opposition. The lack of freedom and democracy is why we, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, rose up and finally revolted against a regime that was oppressive and was not willing to listen.

Circumstances forced us into exile back then and what do you know, here I am, back in exile because I raised my voice and had varying opinions with the president. Rwandans are running out of the country.

People are being abducted in Rwanda and those running to neighbouring Uganda are being killed. People are running simply because state institutions - the judiciary, army, security, and police - cannot protect them.

As we commemorate [20] years after the genocide, we need to be honest and say we did not have true justice and democracy back then and [that] we still do not have it. Just like we rose up [back] then, the time will come that everyone Kagame forced into exile will come together and will go back to Rwanda and take down his government. History will repeat itself.

AJ: But the country has achieved so much over the years and you cannot deny that there is good that has come under President Kagame's leadership.

Nyamwasa: Sure, the country has done well but Kagame cannot take all the credit for rebuilding Rwanda. Building the country is not a one man show -  we did it as a team, we all contributed. Why does Kagame want to take all the glory?

That shows you something about who he is. On the other hand, you cannot say a country is developing just because roads are being built and you have highrises. To me, that is not sustainable.  

It is more for show as the media and tourists are impressed when they visit Rwanda. Real development is a free society where people know that they can contribute in building the country in various ways without being scared to have opposing ideas. [Instead,] people are just taking orders without questioning their master.

I can tell you that people in Rwanda are angry. They might not talk about it in public for fear, but go to the country and visit people in their homes and you will see just how rotten the society is and that is all [due to] living under a dictatorship. Rwanda will only get better without Kagame in the top seat.

AJ: You and President Kagame were once close. What went wrong?

Nyamwasa: I have known Kagame for a very long time. We met when we were young, back in Uganda. We were close and we were part of the Ugandan army.

Villagers struggle to heal from Rwandan genocide

Even when we moved to Rwanda we were brothers in arms. Things started changing around 1998 when he wanted to run for president. I spoke to him many times and told him that he was a military person - we all agreed before and during the war that as military men we should not be part of politics, but he changed his mind and a lot of people were not happy with that.

But I still supported him. When elections came around [again], he wanted to rig the election so that he got 95 percent of the vote. I told him that all you need is 60 percent so that the country can have a healthy opposition. I reminded him that if you create a situation that does not allow for opposition, one day you will be out of government and you would not want a situation where you are suddenly the opposition that is being clamped down on. I always spoke to him about things I did not agree with, but he started seeing me as the enemy.

AJ: There have been three attempts on your life and on all occasions you said it was President Kagame who wanted you dead. Having disagreed with a man does not necessarily mean he wants to kill you. How can you be certain that it was him?

Nyamwasa: When you wake up with a bullet in your head in the hospital you know who your enemy is. In 2010, I moved to South Africa because I knew I would be much safer here than in Uganda.

Had I moved [to Uganda] I would be dead. But I also was surprised that someone could really chase me all the way to South Africa just to kill me. Just last month a group of armed men stormed my house in south-eastern Johannesburg overnight looking for me. I only survived because at the time of the attack we were not in the house.

I say it is Kagame coming after my life because in 2010,  when I got shot he went to parliament and said if it required even a hammer to crush those who run away, he will chase them until he gets them.

Just recently, a close friend of mine, former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, who was also living here in South Africa was killed. Even though Kagame denied any involvement he said he wished he had killed him. He’s also said that the one who is still alive, it is only a matter of time, and he was referring to me. You must remember that I know Kagame and how he operates, so I have no doubt in my mind that he wants to kill me. 

AJ: Do you want to go back? What would it take for you to return?

Nyamwasa: I want to go back, I have been a refugee before, but as it stands, my passport - including that of my wife and children - were seized by the government and we cannot go back.

But it is not just me that Kagame has done this to; lots of Rwandans are where I am. You will not hear about it because people are terrified of the president. Critical media has been silenced, you will never see protests in Rwanda, and everything is closed and controlled.

AJ: On the part of reconciliation, there has been criticism that the Hutus seem to be the only ones taking the blame. What is your take?

Nyamwasa: There has been a huge effort to turn the tide on ethnic discrimination. The mantra is that we are all Rwandan, but we have not been honest about that process and say that there were killings on both sides.

We cannot lay blame on one ethnic group. We need to have people say how they feel and not be forced to keep quiet and move on for the sake of peace.

AJ: There is also the part of the Democratic Republic of Congo: Rwanda has been time and again accused of meddling and funding rebels in the eastern part of the country, is this true?

Nyamwasa: That is not an accusation, it is a known fact. Rwanda has been trying for years to destabilise the Congo in the hope that the region will break away and Rwanda can take the eastern part of the country for its resources. But I am of the view that even if that were to ever happen, the people of the Congo hate Rwandans so much that they will never agree to be part of Rwanda. Yes, Rwanda has fuelled the rebellion by supplying arms; I know this because I was once part of the administration.

AJ: You have been accused of having a role in the genocide - particularly in the shooting down of then President Juvenal Habyarimana, and France wants you extradited.

Nyamwasa: Of course I played a role; we are the ones who were there to stop the killing. As for the extradition, I have no problem in standing in front of any court and saying what I know. I was there and so I know all the steps and I can also tell you that the commander in chief of our army at the time was Kagame.

So if I am to be extradited to any place, he too should be standing right next to me.

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Al Jazeera
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