October 1, will be 24 years since Rwandan refugees begun the journey back home after 31 years of exile. The dream many Tutsi refugees had was to return home. “It might take a long, long time, but we will someday go back home,” was a common narrative among the Tutsi at work, school, in the office and elsewhere. Owing to the animosity that existed between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in Rwanda, it was obvious that the return journey would only come to pass, after a military victory.
Several attempts were made between 1961 and 1966, but all failed. On October 1, 1990, however, the long awaited military campaign to return home was launched when the RPF fighters led by Maj Gen Fred Rwigyema attacked Rwanda from Uganda. In July 1994, the rebel soldiers defeated the government forces and Rwandan returned home. Indeed, the waiting had been long since 1959 when they became refugees.
So what made them succeed this time round? In an interview with a Ugandan journalist Teddy Cheeye in the first week of October 1990, Maj, Dr Peter Bayingana who was the second-in-command of the front inside Rwanda, narrated to the journalist about their long term political programme to return home – dating back in the 1970s.
He said: “Following the overthrow of Amin in 1979, by Ugandans who had lived in exile for only eight years, we realised that if we also formed a political movement, we would at one time challenge the dictatorship in Rwanda.” The Major added, “Lucky enough, we had some people who had participated in the struggle against Amin – whose experience was to guide and inspire many more to look at political life with renewed expectations as a man whose death sentence had been commuted.”
After establishing the Rwanda Alliance for the National Unite Movement in which Bayingana was a founding member, the organisation went to open branches in Uganda, Kenya, Zaire, Burundi, Tanzania, West Africa, north and South America. Rwanda was excluded for fear of jeopardising the lives of its activists at the hands of state agents. With increased political work, Bayingana said, they had to improve in other areas.
“Our people individually and collectively – increasingly saw the need to master military science if we were to ever overthrow the Rwanda dictatorship.” Bayingana said when the NRA launched an armed struggle, they also saw opportunity for individual training and actual participation in order to get experience without raising the eyebrows of both the NRA leadership and Rwanda government.
“The talk that we were Rwandans close to Banyankole, and of refugees looking for employment in the army were merely coincidences and side issues. We were a people with our own political programme,” he asserted.
It had previously been said that Tutsi Rwandans were joining NRA especially in Luweero war, to save their skin especially after the 1982 repatriation when the UPC government had forcefully expelled Tutsi refugees back to Rwanda where they were already ‘persona non grata’.
The late Maj Bayingana, however, reveals other reasons as to why the Tutsi Rwandese not only joined the NRA, but penetrated it as well. The NRA rebels and later the national army was to serve as their spring board.
Asked if they could have been able to build a Rwandese army with the NRA, the Major answered: “Even after the bush, we could not dream of creating an army within th“Following the overthrow of Amin in 1979, by Ugandans who had lived in exile for only eight years, we realised that if we also formed a political movement, we would at one time challenge the dictatorship in Rwanda.”
RA got regular military ranks. Bayingana was made the Director Medical Service in the army.
Former Battalion 165 Commanding Officer in Apac district, Sam Kaka was in 1988 made a Major and OC military police. Major Paul Kagame was the Director of Administration at the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
Vedast Kayitare was in 1986, appointed the first Special District Administrator (SDA) of Kisoro sub district which borders Rwanda in the north. Others also strategically deployed including in the intelligence, Presidential Guard as well as the Presidential International Communication system at State House.
The latter was crucial especially from September 27, to September 31, 1990 in monitoring who was communicating with president Museveni via telephone while he was in America pending the RPA departure call.
On trying to achieve the heights in the NRA, Bayingana also attested: “ In addition, we intensified our political work and encouraged our members to join army on an individual level without causing suspicion in both the governments of Uganda and Rwanda.”
But the most important achievement was the recognition of the need to have a strong and tested fighting arm, the Rwandese Patriotic Army.” “Strategically,” he said: “We preferred to have every member of RPA in his mother NRA unit from where he or she would join the RPFA war at ‘Zero Hour of Exodus day’.” And he ended by saying: “This preempted the attacks or any form of hindrances from those who had always thought that they would get us, once we formed camps inside Uganda. Besides, we did not want to embarrass President Yoweri Museveni whom many of us greatly admire.”
who started the rpf?
The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) was established in December 1987. But whose idea was it? The details of its formation have since remained sketchy. Nonetheless, its birth is synonymous with late Maj Gen Fred Rwigyema.
From the records available, the RPF was formed in an undisclosed European city and a lawyer Charles Kabanda, now an opposition politician in Rwanda, was its first chairman. This was until October 1989 when he was arrested and detained by senior RPF officers in the National Resistance Army (NRA).
This information was first revealed by Alphonse Nkurunziza, one of the RPF founding members in a press release which Uganda government newspaper, the New Vision did not publish and which the sole radio, Radio Uganda refused to air due to the prevailing political circumstances both in Rwanda and Uganda but more so on moral and caution grounds, a source who worked at Radio Uganda but preferred anonymity, revealed to this reporter. The press release was however, run by a Ugandan independent newspaper, the Weekly Topic of December 7, 1990.
The press release which copy this writer saw dated November 20, 1990, was in response to a story earlier authored by Charles Onyango Obbo and published by the Weekly Topic of November 16, 1990 after Obbo had returned in late October from Rwanda where he met the new RPF chief commander Paul Kagame and other senior officers.
While writing about the establishment of the RPF, Obbo narrated, “Although the front [RPF] was largely the brainchild of the late Maj Peter Bayingana, it was Rwigyema who expounded and introduced the need to use a military option if the political solution to the Rwanda question failed” He added: “Indeed, it was because of Rwigyema’s high qualities that the 1987 RPF Congress elected him as the chairman of the RPF, and Commander-In-Chief of the Fronts fighting army, the RPA.”
In response to the Weekly Topic assertion, Nkurunziza wrote a press document and introduced himself as one of the founder members of Rwanda Alliance for National Unity (RANU) which later became RPF. Nkurunziza said: “It is not correct to say that RPF was a brainchild of Dr. Bayingana alone.
There were several others, majority of whom had been members of RANU. It is not true to say that the late Major General Rwigyema was elected chairman in 1987. I happen to have attended the conference and the plenary session which preceded it.
The chairman of RPF from 1987 to 1989 was Charles Kabanda, who was detained in Basima House and Katabi Barracks from mid-October 1989 to late October 1990. So Major General Rwigyema had been a chairman over just a year. Since Kabanda (former chairman) is out of prison, maybe he should explain better some of the conflicts.” All senior and former government officers of Uganda at the time this newspaper reached refused to comment.
Nkurunziza also wrote about treachery and the early attempt by some RPF fighters to wage a war inside Rwanda without a general consensus of the RPF.
“It is true that the group which crossed into Rwanda in 1989 was loyal to Kabanda, but it is wrong to say that Dr Bayingana approved of this, or that Kabanda favoured Bayingana as the RPF leader. Kabanda and Bayingana were colleagues who worked together and shared a lot.”
He, however, denied that Dr. Bayingana spent much time globe-trotting and that his recruitment was on patronage lines. While defending Dr Bayingana, Nkurunziza wrote: “While it is true that he [Bayingana] did travel outside, the actual globe-trotting was done by Charles Kabanda, the then chairman and Tito Rutaremara the then secretary general.” He queries: “Could Kabanda have trotted the globe recruiting for Bayingana?” He concluded, “Major Bayingana never recruited a long patronage lines.” However, President Kagame in his book: A Thousand Hills, largely credits Rutaremara for trotting the globe while recruiting for the RPF among other unmentioned RPF members.
In the first week of October 1990, Ugandan journalist Teddy Cheeye became the first Ugandan journalist to meet the RPF rebel commanders in the Akagera Park inside Rwanda. They were Majors Bayingana, Chris Bunyenyezi, Sam Kaka, Rwigyema’s former Aide Vedast Kayitare and Lt. Geoffrey Byegyeka among others before Major Paul Kagame joined them weeks after, from America where he was recalled where he was attending a military course.
His pictures with the RPF commanders and their fighters were also the first to be published in Uganda. For the first time, since October 1, 1990, the world was able to look inside the rebel camps after the Weekly Topic published the pictures.
In a long interview with Major Bayingana, when Cheeye asked for the whereabouts of General Rwigyema, the major told him that he was on the front line. Bayingana who also the second-in-command as well as the RPF spokesperson also narrated to Cheeye about Rwandese historical perspective and their political aspirations as well as events prior to the establishment of the RPF and its history after the fall of the former president of Uganda Idi Amin. “we then formed the Rwanda Alliance for National Unity (RANU) on June 2, 1979,” Bayingana said. “After it [NRAM] came to power,” he continued, “we held a delegates conference in Europe in December 1987 in which we decided that RANU had an outlook of a political party and we observed that it had limited membership. We then adopted Rwanda Patriotic Front which we hoped would accommodate all political shades.” This was first recorded in the Weekly Topic of October 19, 1990.
One of the reasons the 1987 conference was held in Europe was to avoid causing suspicion in Kampala and Kigali. Thus, Europe was far away and safer from a roving eye on the Rwandan refugees’ actions.
After RPF captured power, some disgruntled RPF “historicals” such as Kabanda have since joined the opposition while others left and are living in exile once again.
Compiled by Faustin Mugabe
The first part of the series looked at how the Tutsi many several attempts to return to Rwanda during the 1960s.
Part II of the series looked at how Laurent Kabila frustrated the efforts of Che Guevara to help Congo fight their war and Rwandans return home.
Part IV will look at the different rumours that were circulated of Major General Fred Rwigyema’s assassination after the RPF started the incursion into Rwanda in October 1990.
The final part of the series is an account of Capt Mike Mukula, on the Rwigyema he knew.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor