A Rwandan opposition leader was on Friday still stranded at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) after being denied access to a flight to Kigali, on Rwandan government orders.
Thomas Nahimana, a Catholic prelate and one of Rwanda’s most vocal and controversial opposition figures, has vowed to stay put at the airport after having been denied access to a Kenya Airways flight en route to Kigali.
He is accompanied by Venant Nkurunziza 33, Claire Nadine Kasinge, 36, and her seven-month-old baby Skyler Kejo.
“It is the government of Rwanda that asked Kenya Airways to prevent me from proceeding to Kigali. I will not leave the airport until we are granted the right to go to Rwanda, even if I will end up being persecuted there. I also hold a valid tourist visa for East Africa, which allows me to travel to any of the three countries — Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda,” Mr Nahimana, who holds a French passport, said.
Mr Nahimana, who has camped at JKIA since Wednesday, claims to have applied for a Rwandan passport at the Rwandan mission in Paris but the embassy took long to respond to his application, prompting him to use his French passport.
When reached by The EastAfrican, France’s Kenyan consular office declined to comment on the matter. Kenyan immigration and airport officials were unavailable for comment.
It is understood that the Rwandan Immigration Board sent a letter to the airlines operating to Kigali warning them against allowing Mr Nahimana from boarding a flight to Kigali.
“We indeed blocked Mr Nahimana from boarding our aircraft to Kigali on Wednesday,” Wanjiku Mugo, the corporate communications manager at Kenya Airways said.
“We had received a notice from Rwandan Directorate of Immigration on November 22 that he will not be admitted into the country. There is nothing we can do to help him because if we do take him on board, the Rwandan government will fine us and we will be asked to return him to Nairobi.”
Mr Nahimana, who has been accused of stoking tensions with his radical opinions online, was supposed to arrive on November 23 at 3pm, at the Kigali International Airport, where he was to address the media before proceeding to register his party Ishema, in a country he fled more than a decade ago.
The Rwandan Catholic Church had denounced his return accusing him of being a “genocide denier.”
“At the Catholic Church, we have always distanced ourselves from priests accused of genocide crimes. We expelled him from Cyangungu Diocese. He is no longer our priest and operates independently,” Bishop Philippe Rukamba, the head of Episcopal Council of Rwanda said.
According to sources, several charges await the cleric who fled the country in 2005, abandoning his duties in Cyangugu diocese, in the southwestern part of the country.
Though there are no known genocide crimes committed by Mr Nahimana, his comments made abroad, some on video and radio, and others through his infamous blog Le Prophete, are likely to see him face several charges in line with the country’s laws against genocide ideology and ethnic divisions.
The spokesperson of the National Public Prosecution Authority Faustin Nkusi said that he had no immediate comment on the cleric’s case.
However sources intimated to The EastAfrican that the priest has genocide-related charges awaiting him.
With less than a year to the 2017 elections, Mr Nahimana’s quest to register a party and contest could prove futile, according to observers. While he poses no particular threat to President Kagame, who will be seeking his third term in 2017, Mr Nahimana’s ethnically charged statements worry Kigali.
The umbrella association of genocide survivors Ibuka has condemned the cleric, saying that his divisive politics are out of place in Rwanda.
After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda outlawed ethnic groups and instituted laws punishing propagation of ethnic divisions.
Several opposition politicians including Victoire Ingabire and Deo Mushayidi have found themselves in legal trouble after evoking ethnic sentiments. The former is serving a 15 year sentence while the latter was sentenced to life in 2012.