The Union Trade Centre Saga

“When The Union Trade Centre Was Auctioned, The Seller Knowingly Committed A Crime – The Kagame Dictatorship No Longer Pretends To Be Governed By The Law”


By David Himbara

The Kagame auctioned the Union Trade Centre (UTC) on September 25, 2017, on the cheap – for US$8 million. UTC was thereby sold for less than half its value of US$20 million. In selling UTC, the Kagame regime broke a basic rule of law – you cannot sell what you do not own. For the buyer of UTC, he bought an asset from a non-owner. Purchasing a stolen property knowingly is a crime in any country governed by laws.

The UTC story dates back to 2013, when the Kagame dictatorship illegally seized the US$20 million shopping mall from its principal owner, Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa. The state bizarrely claimed that UTC was “abandoned” because Ayabatwa did not reside in Rwanda.

In reality, UTC was Rwanda’s premier shopping hub located in Kigali City centre, hosting 81 businesses that employed over 400 people. UTC was generating US$120,000.00 per month amounting to US$1.4 million a year. This means that the state collected US$5.76 million from UTC since its seizure in 2013.

And then, out of the blue, in 2015, the government claimed that UTC was a tax defaulter. This was tantamount to a management declaring itself incompetent since the government was in-charge of the mall for two years. The latest development is equally bizarre – the government will shortly auction UTC supposedly to recover the taxes totalling US$1.2 million.

If further evidence were needed to demonstrate the irrationality and lawlessness of Kagame’s Rwanda, this is it. The Abandoned Property Law which was used to commandeer UTC, defines the role of the state in the management of abandoned properties as follows:

“Without prejudice to other legal provisions, abandoned property shall be managed by the State represented by the Ministry until the owners show up…One half (1/2) of the amount collected from an abandoned property shall be deposited on a fixed deposit bank account…If the owner of the property shows up, he/she shall be refunded the money…The other half (1/2) of that amount shall…be used in the maintenance and renovation of the abandoned property and tax payment.

So what have we here? Madness – laws in Rwanda are not worth of the paper they are written on. The regime is the breaker of the law. But that does not change the reality that a person who knowingly purchases a stolen property is engaged in a criminal activity.

There can be no question that UTC’s rightful owner, Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, will at some point in future reclaim his asset. Not only will the post-Kagame government and the purchaser return the asset, the two will also handover the accumulated rent from 2013 when UTC was initially stolen – in addition to repairing any damage done to the property.