Tracking Rwanda liberation icons who fell off the limelight

Saturday July 5 2014

When RPF took power they were rewarded government and party jobs. But, with time, some of the big names fizzled from the limelight. Some managed to bounce back but others did not. Photos/FILE

When RPF took power they were rewarded government and party jobs. But, with time, some of the big names fizzled from the limelight. Some managed to bounce back but others did not. Photos/FILE 

By Special Correspondent Rwanda Today

When the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) started the Liberation struggle, several men and women took on prominent roles in the political bureau and military wing — including negotiating, fundraising and even public relations for the movement.

When RPF took power they were rewarded government and party jobs. But, with time, some of the big names fizzled from the limelight. Some managed to bounce back but others did not.

Rwanda Today looks at some of the RPF stalwarts who are presumably missing in action and what they are up to.

Patrick Mazimhaka

One of the RPF founders and among those who led from the front, he was Commissioner for External Relations when the RPF launched the armed struggle from Uganda on October 1, 1990.

In 1993, Mr Mazimhaka was elected the vice-chairman of RPF, a position he held until 1998.

After RPF captured power, he held several ministerial positions, including in the Office of the President, until 2000 when he became Special Envoy of the President.

Between 1994 and 1996 Rwanda was going through a major refugee crisis. For his pivotal role at a time when Rwanda’s foreign policy and diplomacy was under test, Mr Mazimhaka was nominated for, and subsequent elected in July 2003, the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission.

By the time he left his Addis Ababa posting in February 2008, however, the outspoken man was reportedly no longer in good books with the party hierarchy.

The politician and academic withdrew from public life. In a recent interview, he indicated that he had retired from politics to focus on consultancy and other business interests. He also took up speaking at conferences and corporate functions.

Jacques Bihozagara

Another of the RPF founding members, Mr Bihozagara was the ambassador to France in the early 2000s.

Mr Bihozagara’s last prominent role was in 2006 when he testified in public hearings on France’s role in the Genocide against the Tutsi, having been at the helm of the RPF leadership in 1994.

Now in his mid-sixties, Mr Bihozagara is said to have retired from politics and diplomacy for, among other reasons, failing health and investing his pension in small-scale real estate projects and other businesses. He leads a modest life at his Kimihurura home.

Pasteur Bizimungu

Mr Bizimungu was a key RPF leader in 1994. He was the first president of the new government until March 2000 when he quit over disagreements within the party.

A year later, Mr Bizimungu was in trouble after he formed the Party for Democratic Renewal (PDR), also known as Ubuyanja, which was outlawed. He was arrested and charged with creating ethnic divisions, threatening state security and embezzlement, among other crimes. On June 7, 2004 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
On April 6, 2007, however, Mr Bizimungu was released from jail on presidential parole.

In 2010, Tharcisse Karugarama, the then justice minister, said Mr Bizimungu was free to do whatever he wanted, including giving media interviews, but efforts by local and international media to access him for interviews have been in vain.

The former head of state is occasionally seen in public, often disguised in ‘gangster’ jeans and a Mexican hat. Most of his family members live in the US.

Lt-Col (Rtd) Rose Kabuye

Lt-Col (Rtd) Kabuye’s was a case of grace to grass — a celebrated heroine to a quiet, laid-back personality — in two years.

Her credentials in the RPF/A struggle has never been in question. A symbol of the liberation struggle and post-genocide Rwanda, her aggressive and go-getter attitude won her many admirers while her contribution to the reconstruction and transformation of the country was immense.

She was a champion of women emancipation and an icon of vulnerable groups, including genocide survivors, who she relentlessly advocated for.

Lt-Col (Rtd) Kabuye was arrested in Germany in November 2008 on French arrest warrants while on duty as Director of State Protocol but later released.

There was no explanation for her sacking. Having dropped off the limelight, she resurfaced last year as a business personality.

Maj-Gen Sam ‘Kaka’ Kanyemera

Fondly known by his military nickname Kaka, he was among the Uganda’s National Resistance Army (NRA) officers who planned and executed the RPA attack on October 1, 1990 along with Maj-Gen Fred Rwigyema.

Then a major and head of Military Police, Kaka commanded the first groups of fighters to attack Rwanda from the east. After the overthrow of the interim government of Rwanda, he later become the army chief of staff.

He retired from the military as a brigadier-general to successfully vie in the 2003 parliamentary elections. In 2007 he was accused, along with Brig-Gen Frank Rusagara, of obstructing justice by protecting a prominent businessman. He would be acquitted later that year.

Kaka took on a low profile, especially after losing in the 2008 polls, but in 2012 he was recalled from retirement and promoted to a major-general. He serves in the reserve domain of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF).

Tharcisse Karugarama

One of the founding members of Rwanda Alliance of National Unity (Ranu), which evolved to RPF, Mr Karugarama served in senior positions such as High Court judge, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General.

Mr Karugarama oversaw judicial reforms and genocide trials and was the justice minister when Rwanda’s judiciary was under international scrutiny. He relentlessly pushed for extradition of genocide fugitives.

On May 24, 2013 he was dropped from the Cabinet for reportedly saying in a media interview that President Kagame would step down when his constitutional term ends in 2017.

The head of state, who rarely speaks about Cabinet changes, later said in an interview that the remarks could have been among the reasons he was dropped, for discussing internal party matters in the media.

Mr Karugarama, who is often spotted at social functions, retired to consultancy and farming.

Silas Mohamed Majyambere

The regional businessman mogul, who had fallen out with then president Juvenal Habyarimana, gave financial and logistical support to the RPF/A but shortly after the liberation he developed misunderstandings with the young leaders for allegedly disregarding his advice.

Mr Majyambere, who has businesses in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, reappeared in 2011 after many years when he attended the ninth National Dialogue as part of the diaspora.

He lives in Burundi but occasionally visits Rwanda.

Tribert Rujugiro

The ‘tobacco tycoon,’ who also financed the struggle and was President Kagame’s economic adviser, fell out with the system in 2009 and fled to South Africa, from where he runs his continent-wide business empire.

In 2010, he was accused of funding the opposition Rwanda National Congress, which he denied. Last year, the government froze some of his investments — including the $20 million UTC mall and $2 million residence.

Joseph Bideri

The ‘Chief Spinner’ was RPF’s voice for years, as government and party spokesperson. His prowess in rebuttals to defend the government position was unmatched, even during difficult periods of the wars in DR Congo and diplomatic rows with France.

The one-time head of then national broadcaster Orinfor and pro-government The New Times retired in 2012 after a scandal involving the daily newspaper’s coverage of mismanagement of the Rukarara hydro-power project. He keeps a low profile.

Rosemary Museminali, Mary Baine

The role of the ‘sisters in the struggle’ in the liberation struggle as key mobilisers and co-ordinators is legendary.

Replaced in 2009 by Louise Mushikiwabo as Minister of Foreign affairs, Ms Museminali is the UNAIDS representative at the African Union in Addis Ababa

Ms Baine was Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) Commissioner-General until 2011 when she was named Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary. She was replaced by Jeanine Kambanda in March.