By Ben Barugahare
In mid-May, the government of Rwanda’s mouth pieces newspapers IGIHE and New Times released a story depicting a refugee in Zimbabwe, known by the names of Muhire Ramadhan, as a 1994 genocide perpetrator on the run. The allegations accompanied with a picture showing the so called Muhire with a machete, alleging that the picture was Muhire’s. Igihe.com relentlessly released another story on 21 May showing new pictures of the Real Muhire Ramadhan, which were illegally taken in Zimbabwe in mysterious circumstances.
The story attracted much attention of other media and just a week after the release of the story by the Rwandan government mouth pieces newspapers. The Rwandan.com, an on-line newspaper released a story in Kinyarwanda on 23 May, dismantling Kigali regime sponsored papers allegations. In its story, The Rwandan newspaper, rightly demonstrated that the man whose picture published by igihe.com and the New times was not Muhire, but rather, the picture belonged to a senior Rwandan citizen living in the southern province of Rwanda. The on-line media found that the man on the picture was called Hitimana Apollinaire and not Muhire Ramadhan. It also revealed that the two men were not related at all, and that they even did not know each other.
The release of the ‘’The Rwandan” story surprised many, and other media started to go deep inside the issue to know what happened and what is behind a such move of the Rwanda government. Among the media that were attracted by the story is the BBC. In its story released on 26 October 2020, entitled “The way Apollinaire Hitimana’s picture destroyed him and his family’s life’’. This story was published by the BBC GAHUZAMIRYANGO which is a branch of BBC Focus on Africa broadcasting in Kirundi and Kinyarwanda. As BBC reports, the picture in question has circulated in many newspapers all around the world.
It must be reminded that the picture is also displayed in all genocide memorials in Rwanda, in Particular at Kigali Genocide memorial where an estimated 280 000 remains of victims of the 1994 genocide are buried. At this memorial, the Kigali regime has gone extra mile and used the picture with inscriptions on its side, explaining that the same picture was for a real hard core Interahamwe Militia man whose picture was taken while he was committing genocide.
Moreover, it must be born in mind that by displaying the picture at the entrance of the genocide memorial, the government of Rwanda aimed at convincing visitors that indeed the person who appeared on it was the real had core Interahamwe considered as having perpetrated the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, while in fact they were showing the picture of an innocent man who never participated in the killings.
BBC in its investigations, went to Hitimana’s homestead which is situated in SHYOGWE sector, MUHANGA district, Southern Province, to find out the truth on what was being said about the man and the picture. During the interview, Hitimana recognized that the picture in question is indeed his and explained the circumstances in which it was taken. He lamented that his picture was used in the wrong context and its use negatively impacted on his life and his family’s.
Hitimana went on to narrate that in 1994, Rwandan rebels led by the then General Paul Kagame, made swift advances from the Northern province of the country, pushing the regular government troops towards the West and South West. He told BBC that when battles opposing Rebels and the then government troops reached his village, him and his family were obliged to flee their homestead to avoid being caught up into fights. They took refuge some few kilometers away from his village. After few days in the camp and without any assistance, food and other essential necessities started to run out for many people who were in that camp. He left the camp and returned home to get more food and other essentials for his family up keep, especially that his wife was nearly to deliver.
Hitimana told BBC that it was on his way back home that he met soldiers who were together with civilians and that he was asked to stop by one of the soldiers in that group and to which request he complied. He explains that the soldiers asked him what was in the bag he was carrying and he told them that the bag was empty, except only his machete which he intended to use in cutting wood or any other necessities that he wanted to collect from his homestead.
He continues to narrate that in hearing that there was a machete in his sack, soldiers ordered him to remove it and show it to them and he complied with their order. He says further that the soldiers asked him to take different positions, holding the machete.
Hitimana explains that while he was following the soldier’s instructions, he was not aware that he was being photographed. He only remembered that among the civilians who were accompanying the soldiers, he managed to observe that one person who looked like a white man was holding a camera.
“I saw a man who looked like a white man or Arab because of his hair and managed to observe that he was holding cameras.” He added further that he knew what camera was for having seen it while living at HVP GATAGARA, as disabled person.
Hitimana told BBC that due to the fear of being in front of soldiers, he did not take his time to observe what the men holding the camera was doing, and whether he was being filmed or not. He indicates that during that period, people were being killed and that he feared that these soldiers were going to kill him. He added that at that moment the soldiers told him to hold the machete in various positions to raise it up and down and it was so hard for him. “I was sweating and trembling and thought that my life was going to end there”. He said. As he indicated, he was so terrified to the extent that he did not make any attempt to properly ascertain the identity of these soldiers accompanying civilians and didn’t know if they were government soldiers or rebels. He narrates that he was allowed to continue his journey after complying with soldiers orders and managed to collect some supplies from his homestead after which he joined his family in the camp. He did not know whether he had been taken pictures or filmed by the camera which he saw being held by a person looking like a white man. He was only thinking that he was lucky to have been allowed by soldiers to go and collect his supplies.
When the war and genocide ended, Hitimana and his family returned to their homestead like other neighbors. Around 2002, the government of Rwanda launched the Gacaca tribunals to help speeding up huge number of cases of genocide suspects who were rotting in crowded Rwandan prisons. Hitimana, as a known dependable and honorable person in his community, was among trusted persons who were elected as judges to sit in the traditional courts known as Gacaca tribunals and started to hear cases of those accused of committing genocide in his rural area. It must be born in mind that for one to be elected as judge in a Gacaca court, he or she has to be of good standing in the community and not to have committed any crime relating to genocide. As such, Hitimana was recognized by members of his community who knew him as an honorable man with good standing. However, this recognition was short-lived in that few days after being elected as a judge, he was told that he could not continue to sit as a judge in the Gacaca tribunal, because there was a picture displayed at the genocide memorials and on which it is written that he is a genocide perpetrator.
Hitiman told BBC that it was at that moment when he remembered exactly the circumstances in which this picture was taken and tried to explain to others his situations to no avail, and at the end of the day, he was removed from the Gacaca court. His social situation deteriorated further, when the word of that picture spreads in his community and which immediately started to consider him as a genocide perpetrator. He was no more seen as an usher at the Catholic church and started to be stigmatized by everyone, which resulted in him deciding to retreat from the public life and begun his solitary life, which he has been living in for more than 18 years. His family was not spared as well, as his wife and children suffered due to unjustified accusation. He narrates that at school, his children were seen as coming from a killer’s family, which was hard to bear.
Hitimana told BBC that he was unjustly and maliciously defamed by those who used his picture to label him as Interahamwe. He begged the journalist who interviewed him to ask the government to remove his picture and if possible, compensate him for emotional injuries and financial loss which he suffered as a result of the use of his picture in that manner and without his knowledge and consent.
BBC in its further investigations went to the journalist, Alexander Joe, a Zimbabwean citizen who took the picture and uploaded it to the website Getty Image.com. Alexander confirmed to the BBC that indeed he took the picture in June 1994, indicating that he never took it from a person who was killing others. He explained that he went to Rwanda while currying his duties as journalist working for Agence France Press AFP, when he was a photographer and it was during his journey that he arrived at an area in southern part of Rwanda and he saw a crowd of people who included soldiers and civilians and requested those soldiers if he could take pictures, to which he was allowed. He told BBC that he asked the soldiers who were there to take the picture because he could not do it without the permission. The photographer himself said that he never took the picture to demonstrate the gravity of genocide, neither wanted to show the man as he is depicted by the picture which is displayed at various Genocide memorial sites in Rwanda. As he says, he would have indicated it in the caption.
There are also some allegations that Agence France Press, the former employer of Alexander Joe had decided to remove Hitimana’ s picture from its database after some inquiries were made on this story. AFP denied ever authorizing anyone else, including the government of Rwanda to use the picture. Without acknowledging responsibilities.
If that is true the move by AFP to remove Hitimana’ s picture from its data base is a clear sign that the organization is well aware of possible legal implications which might follow if this issue is pursued in courts. The Media is also aware of possible political as well as diplomatic repercussions which might follow if this issue is not handled carefully. By deciding to quietly remove Hitimana’s picture, the media mogul hopes to appease both side and avoid being caught between a hard lock and the ground. On one hand, AFP is well aware that it might be ordered to compensate Hitimana if this issue is brought before a court of law and in doing so it may attract the wrought of the government of Rwanda which is known to mercilessly attack any person or organization which attempt to shade a light on issues relating to the Genocide especially when its genocide official narrative is jeopardized.
Back to our story, Hitimana insists that he never participated in any killing during the genocide and if he had done so, he would have been prosecuted like other genocide perpetrators.
One the other hand, Hitmana SAGA was seized by many other media, trying to understand how the government of Rwanda did a move that put in danger the entire family of a citizen it is supposed to protect, and spending 26 year without rectifying the error. Many online newspapers flocked into Hitimana homestead to hear from the horse mouth the otherwise unbelievable story of state sponsored victimization of a poor and disabled man. On line newspapers such as UMUBAVU TV, REAL TALK CHANEL, UMUTWARE TV and others, conducted interviews with the old man, his family and neighbors. In their investigations they came up with the same results that the poor disable man was just victimized for no apparent reason.
Government authorities did not escape scrutiny on this issue as journalists visited many offices in their quest to know its position in this regard. However, from the offices of local authorities to the headquarters of National Commission in the Fight against Genocide CNLG, no single government official agreed to speak on the subject despite them having a duty to do so. The only government official who accepted to talk about it is FAUSTIN NTEZIRYAYO, the chief Justice who was rather surprised when he attended media workshop but in that despite him being rather ambushed, he diplomatically acknowledged that the government was aware of the issue and that he was to discuss it with the minister of justice and see the best way they can handle it. Nevertheless, since then there has been no communication from either the chief justice or the minister of justice on the issue.
The lack of action by government officials has led many to conclude that genocide has been a commercial product for the government of Rwanda and it doesn’t care about who is affected as long as its interests are safeguarded. The government of Rwanda has seen the gravity of the situation and knows that it would not have any real explanation to make, hence it chose to sleep the issue under the carpet and hoping that people will forget about it. Indeed, Kigali regime is well aware that this issue would lead to their narrative of the genocide being put further into disrepute due to the manner in which the regime has used the picture and what it represents as far as genocide against Tutsi is concerned.
It is therefore not strange that Igihe. com and The New Times which published the story in the first instance have remained tight lipped and have never said any thing about it since then. This is so despite the fact that all journalists and newspapers are under a duty of good and unbiased reporting. In this case, judging from the way and the manner in which other media, including BBC, Real Talk, Umubavu and the Rwandan, reported their stories, professionalism and common sense would have dictated the Kigali government mouth piece newspapers journalists to return to their sources and respond to the new information which had emerged, especially when the new information showed that a fellow citizen was maliciously victimized by their way of reporting. However due to their either allegiance to Kigali regime, these two newspapers decided to follow their master’s example by keeping quiet and behaving as if nothing happened.
On the other side of the coin, Igihe.com and the New Times lack of ethics and bad journalism transformed Hitimana and made him to be Ramadhan MUHIRE in series of articles in which they unprofessionally and maliciously attacked his character by peddling falsehoods. In doing so, these so-called newspapers opened the Pandora box and let the cat out of the sack. Their acts can be compared with Disney cartoon network movie, where a small baby transforms into a motor vehicle and start to roll on the road in a few second, returning to be a small baby crawling on the floor.
In series of these two so called newspapers articles which were published between the 14th and 23rd of May 2020, unashamedly claimed that they have found the real Interahamwe whose photo was taken during the genocide while holding a machete.
As days went on, the two newspapers started to deviate from their main story and focused on Ramadhan MUHIRE wealth. The intriguing issue in this case is now how the government controlled newspapers deliberately linked Hitiman’s story to Muhire Ramadhan. As said above, HITIMANA comes from the central part of Rwanda, while Muhire comes from the East of the country, a fact which were known by these newspapers when the stories were published. This is true because in their stories, these newspapers took their times and narrated Muhire’s background which includes his parents’ names and where he was born. Another point that needs to be mentioned is how the government owned and sponsored newspapers managed to obtain the pictures of Muhire, those of his motor vehicles and also how they managed to pinpoint all his businesses as well as his residence without first seeking authorization from the government of Zimbabwe authorities who grated MUHIRE asylum. The reason here is that there are elements of Rwandan government that infiltrated Zimbabwe for espionage purposes and took those pictures and supplied them to the government of Rwanda.
The existence of syndicates of spying operatives who in some cases operate as groups of bandits and assassins is a cause of concern of many Rwandan refugees leaving not only in Zimbabwe, but also the world over as they are at their mercy. It is well known fact that these syndicate who are in no doubt sponsored by the Kigali regime through their embassies in most cases, comprised with Rwandan nationals who infiltrate countries where their targets are located and start spying on them.
The existence of these syndicates is not a secret, but a well-known fact which have in recent years been confirmed by the high-ranking authorities in Kigali. A good example is the famous hate speech by Kagame adviser, General James KABAREBE he delivered to the youth in November 2018 in which he indicated that the government of Rwanda is ready to crush any refugee who raises up either financially or intellectually, in order to maintain them in abject of poverty and destitution. In his heinous speech which can be comparable to the speeches made by joseph Goebbels the former NAZI Minister of Propaganda, General KABAREBE regretted to have failed to exterminate Rwandan refugees mainly Hutu who had fled Rwanda and settled in Refugee Camp in former ZAIRE. He told selected youth mainly survivals of the Genocide that these refugees managed to escape to mainly SADC region where now they have become too successful in both business and agriculture. He continued by voicing his government’s concerns that many Rwandan refugees especially the youth who are excelling in their education are a thorn in the Kigali regime’s flesh.
“I was reading one of the newspapers published in one of SADC countries and saw a column where they talked of young graduates who scored best points during the exam. I saw a list and from the first student HITIMANA, NSHIMIRIMAMA TWAGIRUMUKIZA, and so on. I immediately realized that those are the ones” Kabarebe said referring to Rwandan young refugees who were making it in education in their respective country of asylum. General KABAREBE went on in his poisonous rhetoric saying that that the government of Rwanda will make all its possible effort to hinder their efforts to develop. He called on the youth, essentially genocide survivals, to get involved in and support the government drive to destabilize refugees in SADC, to what he termed as implementing measures aimed at hindering those who are outside the country from developing to the extent that they may organize themselves thereby removing what he perceives as the threats to the regime. General KABARBE finished his lengthy speech by promising the audience that his government did not sit idle but that they have deployed their people to destabilize the development of these refugees and their children. “The good news is that we also deploy our people to disrupt and disorganize them before they get to their objectives” he boasted.
Our investigations have confirmed the existence of these Kigali sponsored operatives who are moving freely in mostly SADC countries but also East Africa and Europe. Other movements were mentioned in Canada as well as far as Australia. The investigations have discovered that in most cases, these syndicates use false identities and fraudulently change their nationalities to avoid detection. For example, many who were convicted for attempt assassination in 2010, of General Faustin KAYUMBA NYAMWASA, the former chief of staff of the Rwandan government in exile in South Africa, were found to be holding passports of other countries with which prompted the judge in this case to mention that the plot had been planned with assistance of a foreign state or government. The explicit case is the one of the assassination of the former Rwandan spy chief in December 2013, Colonel Patrick KAREGEYA, who was brutally murdered in a hotel in South Africa, where he was living as a refugee. The South African court recognized that the government of Rwanda was involved in this murder and this brought a stain in the diplomatic relations between Rwanda and South Africa which has persisted up to now.
Back to the means and ways used by Kigali Regime to destabilize refugees, our investigations have unearthed that these syndicates instruct their operatives to claim asylum by using false documents and would start business as normal refugees during the day, while they do their covert operations under the cover of darkness. These syndicates then use many methods to pressure influential refugees such as established business men and intellectuals to joining diaspora and donate their income to Kigali Regime.
Among these methods include but are not limited, the threats and blackmailing but can be extended to targeted robberies and in most cases assassinations, depending on whether the targeted person resists these criminal demands or not. There are also other methods such as incitement of hatred and disharmony between refugees and local population, thereby creating xenophobic related attacks towards refugees.
Of late, our investigations have unearthed that these syndicates have started to shift their strategies by now starting to target poor refugees, especially young people, where they mislead them by promising money and other financial incentives. In return, they ask them to spy on other older refugees whom they consider hard to change. Their targets have been expended to mainly University students and graduates who are being promised good paying jobs if they agree to join and work with these syndicates.
Finally, there are also recorded movements which are curried out directly by embassy officials in areas they know to be business hubs. These movements are curried out clandestinely in many cases, using hired motor vehicles such as taxis. Some security experts who follow up closely Kigali regime strategies have described these last strategies as a sign that the regime is no longer comfortable in entrusting its covert operation to people other than those they have control over. In addition, these security experts have linked this shift in strategies to a series of botched and failed operations which embarrassed the regime and also the increase in vigilance and unity among refugees who are quick to react in defense of themselves once such operations are detected.
In conclusion Kigali regime has used its tricks in its book to exterminate refugees or render them destitute, many in the like of MUHIRE have remained resolute and have worked extremely hard to earn a living, despite constant threats and blackmails. However, while refugees have continued to peacefully resist violation of their fundamental rights which include the right to life, property, education as well as their right to work and earn a leaving, one would not under-estimate that constant harassment which are planned and sponsored by Kigali regime have affected them psychologically and physically. We call upon the governments which are hosting Rwandan refugees to be extremely vigilant and avoid to be misled by Rwandan regime misinformation and lies which are mostly used to target influential and role model refugees. We further call on these governments to beef up security of mainly refugees from Rwanda, as it is a well-known fact that the targeted assassinations and robberies are most of the methods used by spy syndicates to eliminate those refugees. Finally, we call on Rwanda Refugees to continue to be united in defense for their existence safety and future and continue to work hard for the economic advancement of their host countries, as well as themselves and remain the role models for not only to other refugees but also to the host communities.