News of the death of Kigali tycoon Assinapol Rwigara in a road accident on Wednesday evening has been met by shock within the local business fraternity.
The renowned businessman was killed when a truck rammed the side of his Mercedes Benz, registration number RAC 391E.
It was not immediately clear how many other people were in ill-fated car, although initial reports said all the occupants died on the spot in the 9pm accident in Kinyinya, Gasabo District.
Mr Rwigara, who made his name in tobacco trade and real estate, died on the spot after his car was pushed into a roadside gutter.
Eyewitnesses told Rwanda Today that the driver of the truck fled into the nearby bushes as onlookers tried to rescue the occupants of the sleek saloon car.
On Thursday evening, however, police confirmed in a message posted on its Twitter handle @Rwandapolice that the driver had turned himself in.
The tweet read: “The truck driver that crashed #Rwigara’s car & resulted in his death, has handed himself to #RwandaPolice. Investigations are on going.”
While revealing to Rwanda Today earlier in the day that investigations into the accident had commenced, the spokesperson of the Traffic and Road Safety Department of Rwanda National Police, CIP Emmanuel Kabanda, had vowed: “He will be arrested in a matter of time and charged in a court of law.”
Mr Kabanda added that investigations into the accident had commenced.
The 62-year-old Rwigara was born in Nyamasheke District in the former Kibuye Prefecture and ventured into business at an early age.
His business acumen started to show in the 1980s when his company Tabarwanda (now Premier Tobacco) became the leading manufacturer and exporter of tobacco products in the country. Then, he was ranked alongside the likes of Felicien Kabuga and Silas Majyambere.
The businessman then diversified into importing products into Rwanda, including liquors and wines. His empire expanded in the late ’80s and early ’90s as he extended his reach in the region.
In 1991, when the Rwanda Patriotic Front launched an attack on Rwanda, Mr Rwigara was on many occasions accused of being an RPF insider by the then government of Juvenal Habyarimana. He was among businessmen and politicians who faced rough times for their alleged backing and financing of RPF-Inkotanyi. He was also accused of trying to restore monarchy in Rwanda.
His friend and fellow businessman, Paul Ruhamyambuga, said Mr Rwigara fled the country with his family in 1990 to Burundi and later Europe. His properties were sold off by the government. After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi he resumed his business activities despite having lost the majority of his relatives in the genocide.
Interestingly, despite his contribution to the Liberation struggle, Mr Rwigara did not take up a political appointment, instead choosing to keep a low profile.
In July 2007, however, Mr Rwigara was thrust into the limelight when one of his buildings that was under construction in Kiyovu collapsed, killing three site workers and injuring others. The businessman, who went into hiding, was slapped with charges of manslaughter and contempt of court.
The case would suck in generals Frank Rusagara and Sam “Kaka” Kanyemera, who were accused of shielding the wealthy businessman from facing court charges.
“Rwandan judicial and police authorities should account promptly for the whereabouts of Assinapol Rwigara, a prominent businessman, and should assure due process rights to arrested generals Frank Rusagara and Sam Kanyemera,” the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in August 2007.
Later, Mr Rwigara presented himself to the Prosecution. He was charged in court that September but the charges were dropped after the Prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence against him. He and the two generals were acquitted.
Mr Ruhamyambuga said the death of the tycoon had shocked the business fraternity.
“I was somewhere watching the African Cup of Nations [football tournament] when a friend called me from abroad asking if I was aware of what had just happened to my friend,” Mr Ruhamyambuga recalled. “He told me that Rwigara had been involved in an accident.
“I made a few quick phone calls, only to find out that the accident happened near my home. I rushed to the police station where his body had been taken. We paid our respects and transferred the body to the mortuary.
“Up to now, as members of the business community, we remain in utter shock.”
Mr Ruhamyambuga said that Mr Rwigara’s commitment to business and his wealth was a sign of a humble, hardworking man who became a successful businessman despite not having had the opportunity to get an education.
“Even after losing most of his assets, he never gave up,” Mr Ruhamyambuga added. “I remember when we returned to Rwanda and found that many of our people had died, he said, ‘We could not have it both ways. We have lost people and property but we have a country.”
At the beginning of 2013, Mr Rwigara won a case against Nyarugenge District, which had halted construction at the site No. 5860/Kiyovu. He had resumed works at the site by the time of his death.
Last month, Mr Rwigara filed a case in court seeking compensation of close to Rwf800 million in damages against the district. The Supreme Court had set March 3 as the hearing date for the case.
According to Mr Ruhamyambuga, Mr Rwigara was working on two mega construction projects simultaneously.
Mr Rwigara is survived by a wife and six children.