By David Himbara
It is four years since President Paul Kagame’s regime seized the US$20 million Union Trade Centre (UTC) from its owners. At the time, UTC was a corporate entity housing 81 businesses in which more than 400 Rwandans earned their living. Since then, the regime has executed “policies” regarding UTC that can only be described as bizarre. Here are the highlights:
- In 2013, the regime seized UTC claiming that government needed to takeover the mall’s management until its owners or their offsprings were found;
- In 2015, the Kagame regime declared UTC a tax defaulter. This was bizarre because the regime was in charge of UTC since 2013;
- In 2017, the regime announced that it would action UTC to recover over US$1 million in taxes. This did not happen.
- And since May 2017, the regime has been playing another bizarre game – the state has twice raised UTC rental fees to extreme levels.
On May 11, 2017, UTC rental price per square metre was raised from US$15.00 to US$40.00.
Six days later, on May 17, 2017, the regime yet again raised UTC rental fees from US$40.00 to US$60.00.
The question we must ask is this: What does Kagame hope to achieve with these strange tactics? A rental fee of US$60.00 per square metre is exceedingly high – not even in costly cities such as Sandton in Johannesburg, would a square metre cost US$60.00.
Clearly, Kagame and his regime are determined to drive out all tenants from UTC by making it unaffordable. But then what? This is a shopping mall that earns US$120,000.00 per month. If Kagame drives out all the tenants, what will he do with the empty shopping mall?
There are several possibilities, based on what we have recently observed in Kagame’s Rwanda.
- Kagame could demolish UTC as he did Rwigara’s hotel in 2016, and Tower Hotel in 2017; he claimed that the two structures did not meet his standards.
- Kagame could auction the emptied UCT more cheaply after degrading it.
None of these options would solve one fundamental problem Kagame faces, however. Whether demolished or auctioned, the law and official records show that Kagame took over UTC to safeguard it for its owners or their offsprings. Kagame used the “Abandoned Property Law” that makes government the keeper of the abandoned property until owners or their children are located. Article 11 of the Abandoned Property Law explains the role of the State in the management of an abandoned property 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.
It therefore follows that whoever buys UTC if auctioned, or purchases the land on which it stands, if demolished, digs himself or herself into a US$20 million debt plus interest and costs. In either case, the real owner will remain the principal shareholder who is Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa. Try as he may, Kagame cannot change this reality. And of course he won’t live forever. It is a matter of when – not if –that UTC reverts to its original owners.