There are probably very few people in Rwanda who have not heard of Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa. If not about the man, you may have heard of Kwa Rujugiro — which means either the mall in downtown Kigali that he owns or the housing estate that he established and sold in Gikondo.
Rujugiro is a man who invited himself to the high table of financial nobility and stayed put for a long time. To many Rwandans, his story needs not be told; of late, he has been on a charm offensive of sorts on international airwaves.
A few days ago, he appeared on the Voice of America’s popular Straight Talk Africa programme, which is hosted by veteran Ugandan-American journalist Dr Shaka Ssali. Together with another Rwandan, Dr David Himbara, with whom he is exiled in South Africa, Rujugiro traced the story of his life and economic success to a global audience.
Holding other factors constant, as they say, his story is an inspiring one. From the programme, any discerning mind that has followed Rujugiro in recent years, since he fled Rwanda, would know what his globe-trotting and charm offensive is all about. Certainly, he is a man on a mission.
Recently, his businesses in Kigali, as well as other private interests, including his former residence in Gikondo, have been taken over by the state.
We have seen over the past few months the government moving to take over several of Rujugiro’s properties, giving the reason that they are “abandoned.”
From his story, and as is common knowledge, and how he told it on VoA, Rujugiro made his money and name before the advent of RPF. The party benefitted from his wealth and he has also done well for himself under its almost two decades in power.
Destination for business
It would be unimaginable five years ago to hear Rujugiro or his advisor, Dr Himbara, speak ill of Rwanda, terming it a bad destination for business. In fact, these are some of the people who a few years ago vigorously promoted the benefits of doing business in this country. But that has now come to a bitter divorce!
From this debacle, two questions emerge. First, under what circumstances would a government be justified to seize private property and investments? Many people find the argument of abandoned property weak, and one which the government should not have put forward, at least for purposes of credibility.
The other issue that came up during the interview, and has been said before, is that the tycoon is using proceeds from his assets to finance subversive activities aimed at destabilising the country. That, in fact, would be the more justified ground for such assets to be seized.
Bent on subversion
Many governments do it, and most of the strident financial transfer controls in recent days are a result of the need to curb access to money by groups and individuals that may be bent on subversion. However, it would need to be proved that, indeed, the business mogul has been involved in such activities.
From this development, we are also witnessing the negative side of fusing private business with politics. The ruling party has vast business interests. This exposes it to accusations of unfair business practices and conflict of interest.
Therefore, anyone who engages in business and falls out with the business arm of the ruling party is bound to equally fall out with the government as is currently composed. Also, we are reminded why business people do not normally do politics.
Frank Kagabo is an Erasmus Mundus graduate student of journalism, media and globalisation at Aarhus University, Denmark, and Swansea University, the UK, specialising in war and conflict reporting. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @kagabo