By Didas Gasana
For the past few days, I happened to find myself in a heated exchange with Abdul Karim Harelimana- a staunch RPF member, former minister, now member of Rwanda Elders Advisory Council. On the other side of the argument was Ali Abdul Karim- commissioner in Rwanda’s strongest opposition party RNC. The argument dwelt on whether or not the RPF has betrayed its original ideology/ideals.
Ali Abdul Karim answers in the affirmative. On the other hand, when RNC split up, both sides accused one another of “working like RPF”. I find this characterization lacking in depth and clarity.
Further away are people who believe RPF was simply a power-hungry bunch of Ugandan-Rwandans eager to overthrow the gains of the 1959 revolution and restore the Tutsi supremacy. I find this characterization devoid of any matrix of a brain.
The day President Paul Kagame was sworn in was the day I was briefed of an inside movement in Rwanda- Movement for the Restoration of Rwanda Patriotic Front (MRRPF)- steered by former RPF big shots who feel the RPF lost its track. That is the best news I have heard of recent. That is the best thing to happen to Rwanda. The movement is in its infancy, but it warrants compliments- that some people are looking beyond their daily survival like Harelimana and looking into the future of a nation.
The dominant narrative is that the RPF had no ideology perse. Such is what one of my respected friendly politicians atleast thinks. But in all honesty, it had. It had but the ideology was progressively hijacked from 1990 to date. Many didn’t even notice the regression- so meticulous was the hijack that even who was who then finds it hard to reconfigure how misled s/he was. The moderate ones opine that the RPF had an ideology but the RPA didn’t. This may carry some weight but it is not entirely right.
At the apex of the RPA’s assault on the Rwandan capital Kigali in 1994, RPA leader Paul Kagame ordered that the ex-Rwandan armed forces should be given an exit route- from Kigali via Gitarama up to DRC. Two years later, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni arranged a meet between Kabila and Kagame, through Innocent Bisangwa, who drove Kabila to Vice President Kagame’s office in Kigali. Kagame then never knew Kabila. Kagame describes it as a “historical incident”. Later on, Deogratius Bugera (he of Alliance Democratique Populaire) was added to the group. Gen James Kabarebe, 25 years old when RPA captured power, describes the meeting as such: “they didn’t know each other. Bugera arrived first, Kabila arrived thereafter, in sandals. I introduced them and set the game plan. What was the plot? Invading DRC to neutralize the former government forces and oust Mobutu.In short, Kagame and Museveni master planned Mobutu’s ouster. Kabila’s AFDL as the front name.
Former RPA/RDF Chief of Staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa, now exiled in South Africa, explains thus: “The idea was to unite different DRC factions opposed to Kabila in a united front for them to articulate their cause.” Before then, South Kivu governor had given an ultimatum to Bnayamulenge to leave DRC within six days.
On October 18, 1996, 22 hours local time, with AFDL as a front name, RPA crossed along three-pronged line into DRC. Kabila crossed with Bugera and Kabarebe. It was raining. Mobutu was then in Switzerland, hospitalized for prostate cancer. In Kinshasa, Robert Bourgies, Mobutu’s legal advisor, knew it was over.
US and France were at odds because of Anglo-saxon influence over the great lakes region. Honore Nganda was quickly sent by Mobutu to Paris, to seek help. At Elysee Palace, he was informed it won’t be easy after operation tourqoise. He was clearly informed that this was an international war.
But President Mitterand, nonetheless, tried to help. He proposed a UN Peace keeping force in DRC but the,otion to this effect at the UN was rejected. US had its own agenda. Daniel Simpson, US’ ambassador in DRC, later said: “We couldn’t allow any force, behind any humanitarian cause, that would sustain Mobutu.”
When Kisangani was captured, Kabila addressed the cheering residents. After addressing them, he was addressed by the rebel commander Kabarebe. “This celebration you see here shall wean of if you don’t put these people at the centre of your administration. Otherwise, they will rebel against you.”
This is the first statement that epitomizes what RPA turks had in mind when they invaded Rwanda- People-centered administration and serving the ordinary person, without which they would risk rebellion.
If Gen Kabarebe can have such an ideology, certainly, it was implanted in him. Who is he? Gen. Kaberebe joined the NRA in 1983 but deserted the same year. Military service is rarely for the faint-hearted. In 1987, alongside the likes of General Patrick Nyamvumba, Rose Kabuye etc, were recruited by Paul Kagame, on instructions of Fred Rwigema, in preparation of invading Rwanda. After a military training in Lugazi, the young men and women were sent to a cadet course. During the training, they were injected in what was later to become an RPF ideology. They were later to form the formidable core of RPA invasion.
In their luggage was the 10- point program. Kabirebe epitomized the ideology in his words to Kabila after the capture of Kisangani.
When RPA were closing in on Kinshasa, Bill Richardson, US President special envoy, was dispatched to Mobutu to ask him to leave power. In the meeting, Daniel Simpson was present as well. The message was clear: “We don’t want to see your dead body on the street.” And when DRC’s Chief of Staff General Mayele was shot dead, Daniel Simpson had no kind words. “Mayele’s death is nothing. It was supposed to happen.” Few days later, Joseph Desire Mobutu’s 31 years, 5months and 22 days’ reign was over.
It is from this background that some politicians think the RPA was a mercenary force at the service of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA. I find this characterization extremely wrong. While it is true that DC, Downing Street, played a key role, the role doesn’t define the whole story.
If you think along that line, think of this.
In the middle of 1993, Charles Onyango-Obbo made a trip to RPA’s territory inside Rwanda. Waiting to meet Kagame in the evening, Frank Mugambagye (now Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda) gave him company across the controlled area. Obbo recounts thus: “There was a particular place where the RPA had scored a famous victory, and Mugambagye said there was something I had to see. He showed me the fox holes that the Habyarimana forces had dug. They were orderly and neat. And one in particular, had a makeshift shelf where cigarettes, canned rations, and drinks were neatly arranged. Fearing the items were poisoned or there was a booty trap, the rebels had moved on without “charging” the supplies.
It was baffling that a soldier would arrange his foxhole at the frontline like it was his kitchen at home. Mugambagye told me it was symptomatic of the privilege in which regime troops lived relative to the rest of the country, and how out of touch they were.”
There you have Mugambage, in own words, explaining a disconnect between people who own the instruments of power and ordinary folk and how dangerous it is for a sustainable statecraft.
To where then did Mugambage and Kabarebe’s ideology- the very epitome of RPF’s ideology disappear? The very ideology of people-centered power- free from hunger, accessing water and health care, enjoying their fundamental rights? One person hijacked it- President Paul Kagame. He never shared it from the beginning if I may add.
Why then do we have people like Abdul Karim Harelimana insisting the RPF never veered off? The answer is their vested interest in the continuity of the polity. If you think I am biased, look at Charles Ongango-Obbo’s illuminating paragraph:
“Tthe soldiers decorating their foxholes and arranging their rations on a makeshift shelf; to the “order” that marks Rwandan life today, it has always been a country that was structured to wring the most out of little, and therefore to put the best face on what some other African counties that are endowed with vast and bountiful lands might consider small mercies”.
Thus, there has been a fundamental need for the RPF to redeem itself. It didn’t and it won’t. In 2010, I opined in my column in The Newsline that President Kagame has seven years to alter the course of Rwanda’s history. He failed. Consequently, the movement for the restoration of what RPF stood for is in order. On that note; I can only congratulate former RPF’ers who have decided: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”.