Rwanda: A Controversial Ambassador Appointed as Foreign Affairs Minister

On June 12, 2024, President Paul Kagame made significant changes to the Cabinet and government agencies, appointing Olivier Nduhungirehe as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, replacing Dr. Vincent Biruta. This decision comes just one month before the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for July 15.

Olivier Nduhungirehe, former Rwandan ambassador to the Netherlands, is currently under investigation by Belgian prosecutors for defamation, slander, and intimidation, and is implicated in the “Rwanda Classified” investigation. A day after the investigation revealed the extent of the repression system in Rwanda, Dutch parliamentarians called on the government to summon him.

Nduhungirehe has been at the forefront of the Rwandan government’s fight against “Rwanda Classified,” an investigation conducted by Forbidden Stories in collaboration with 17 media outlets and involving more than 50 journalists worldwide. The investigation, which highlights various human rights abuses by the Rwandan government, has personally implicated Nduhungirehe, who has taken it as a personal issue, launching attacks on all fronts.

Nduhungirehe previously served as the State Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of the East African Community from September 2017 to April 2020, before being dismissed for prioritizing his personal interests over those of the country. The day before his dismissal, he had dared to stand up on social media to a group of fanatics accusing him of publicly paying tribute to his Hutu brother, who was killed by Kagame’s troops in April 1994 during the genocide. As a Hutu, he was not allowed to pay tribute to his brother during the genocide commemoration, a privilege reserved for Tutsis.

His predecessor, Vincent Biruta, the dean of Kagame’s ministers, was appointed the new Minister of Interior, replacing Alfred Gasana, who was named Rwanda’s ambassador to the Netherlands. Alfred Gasana is accused of participating in the massacres of Hutu civilians in the Nyakabanda commune in the late 1990s and being involved in the 2011 forced disappearance of Augustin Habinama, former ambassador of Rwanda to Burundi.

In addition to Nduhungirehe’s appointment, Yusuf Murangwa was named Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, replacing Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana. Murangwa was previously the Director General of the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR). At this position, Murangwa was replaced by Ivan Murenzi, who was the Deputy Director General.

Furthermore, Consolee Uwimana, Vice President of the ruling FPR party, was named Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, replacing Dr. Valentine Uwamariya, who was transferred to the Ministry of Environment in a similar capacity. Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, previously Minister of Environment, was transferred to the Ministry of Public Service and Labour.

Among other new cabinet members, Olivier Kabera was appointed State Minister in the Ministry of Infrastructure, and Linda Mutesi Rusagara, who was the CEO of Agaciro Development Fund, was named State Minister in charge of Resource Mobilization and Public Investment.

President Kagame also made changes at the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), where Aimable Havugiyaremye, former Prosecutor General accused of torturing Paul Rusesabagina, was named Secretary General, replacing General Joseph Nzabamwita, who was transferred to the Office of the President to serve as Senior Security Advisor. Nzabamwita’s appointment to this position is seen by analysts as a maneuver to make him more available to effectively coordinate intelligence activities in the region, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Rwandan troops are deployed in support of the Tutsi M23 rebels.

These changes in the Rwandan government, coming a month before the presidential and legislative elections, suggest, according to some analysts, that the election results are already assured without surprise and that the individuals appointed today will continue to hold their positions even after the elections, which Kagame is certain to win as all potential challengers have been eliminated.

The greatest challenge Olivier Nduhungirehe will face is managing certain pillars of the Rwandan regime who are theoretically under his command, such as General James Kabarebe, State Minister for Regional Cooperation, and other general ambassadors like Dan Munyuza, Charles Karamba, and Charles Kayonga.

The controversial appointments of Olivier Nduhungirehe and Aimable Havugiyaremye within the Rwandan government raise questions about the future direction of the country’s foreign policy and security. The ongoing investigations against Nduhungirehe for defamation, slander, and intimidation, as well as his involvement in human rights issues, cast doubt on his ability to effectively represent Rwanda on the international stage. The appointment of figures implicated in past abuses also raises questions about the Rwandan government’s commitment to justice and human rights. These changes once again demonstrate Kagame’s consolidation of power and the marginalization of any potential opposition, leaving little room for genuine democratic debate ahead of the upcoming elections.