By Jeres Ngabi
KIGALI – In October 2016, Rwandan President Paul Kagame decided to consolidate some of the duplicated roles of agencies and ministries in his government. Among others, he scrapped the Internal Security (internal affairs) ministry docket that had become synonymous with Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana and reassigned its roles to other departments such as Rwanda National Police and Rwanda Defence Forces.
Rwanda National Police was reorganised with an investigations bureau and, together with the military intelligence (DMI), the two agencies under the Ministry of Defence headed by Gen James Kabareebe – who handed over to Gen Albert Murasira in October last year – formed the backbone of Rwanda’s seemingly well-galvanised security cog mill.
With its capital Kigali regarded as one of the safest cities to live in in Africa, the central African country is one where citizens are used to soldiers patrolling the streets and suburbs round the clock.
In disbanding the internal security ministry, Gen Kagame, in power for 16 years, appeared to have calculated his steps and knew where each muzzle of the gun would be strained – if need be. But two years down the road, the decision appears to have turned into a façade of doodle, forcing Kagame to not only resurrect the ministry but also give it such might that its place in Rwanda’s national and territorial integrity will not be lost on any breathing soul in the central African country.
Gen Patrick Nyamvumba, for six years the chief of defence staff, has the mandate to ensure that Kagame never again has to summon his security chiefs to establish why militants staged an attack and killed people on Rwanda’s territories like it was the case last month in the mountainous northern region known for gorilla trekking, one of the nation’s main tourist attractions.
The attack in Kinigi, Musanze district on the borders with DR Congo, was blamed on the so-called FDLR, a group of remnants of the militia largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
At least 14 people were killed in the attack that saw Rwandan security forces react strongly and kill 19 of the alleged attackers with Rwandan police saying they had arrested five others.
“The security forces were able to follow these terrorists and killed at least 19 of them and arrested five,” the police said in a statement.
Gen Kagame’s swift reaction to the attack in Musanze did not take many by surprise. Musanze is at the heart of Rwanda’s tourism, the major foreign exchange earner that Rwanda heavily invests in for guaranteed returns.
Yet it is the magnitude of his reaction that is telling its own story. In appointing Gen Nyamvumba, the top-most active military general in the country, and tasking him with overseeing all national security matters, Gen Kagame has thrown the jugular with clear writing on the wall that the government and the country he leads is too small and fragile – literally and otherwise – to tolerate any insecurity whatsoever.
There have been suggestions on social media that Kagame has been drawn into action after realising he erred in judgement in scrapping the ministry two years ago since he now has to reconstitute it. But deputy foreign affairs minister Olivier Nduhungirehe said he cannot be drawn to comment on what is said on social media.
Tension has been simmering in Rwanda as the country found itself in a spot of bother across borders with neighbouring countries – Uganda to the north, DR Congo to its west and Burundi down south. From its southern borders, a rebel group threatened the Kigali government by launching sporadic attacks and retreating into the jungles in Burundi.
In December last year, at least two Rwandan civilians were killed and eight injured when attackers set fire to three passenger vehicles in the southern Nyamagabe district, which borders Burundi. The Rwandan military pursued the attackers into Nyungwe Forest, a mountain rainforest area that is home to wild chimpanzees.
The Nyamagabe attack came two days after another incident, confirmed by President Kagame, in which “two or three Rwandan soldiers” were killed by rebels who had crossed the border from DR Congo.
On April 30, Rwandan government announced that it had arrested Callixte Nsabimana, alleged to be the rebel leader behind the spate of deadly attacks in a forested area near Burundi and DR Congo.
Nsabimana, who is facing trial in Kigali, is said to be the spokesman for the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed group which has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Nyungwe, a region popular among tourists coming to see endangered mountain gorillas.
He claimed responsibility for the attacks via social media, tweeting that his rebel group’s agenda was to topple the government of President Kagame.
Uganda-Rwanda border spats
In March, Rwanda moved to block its borders with Uganda citing allegations of wanton arrest and torture of its citizens by Ugandan security. Uganda vehemently denied the accusations but nothing on offer appeared to have appeased the two neighbouring countries as tensions continue to be felt across the divides.
The two countries traded accusations of espionage, with one of MTN Uganda’s top most executives, Annie Tabura, being interrogated and thrown out of the country, leaving Kigali retaliating by pushing out several teachers and other professionals from its paid ranks.
They took their differences to Angola and met in Kigali but a meeting in Kampala flopped and has been rescheduled. There seems to be no hurry to mend the fences.
Of course, from hundreds of kilometres away, the tension cannot be felt openly but when a Ugandan journalist is picked up and locked up at Rwanda Police headquarters in Kacyiru, Kigali, for a month on allegation of spying for Ugandan government, you begin to see the pattern. Such was the fate of one journalist from September to October this year when Rwandan security allegedly subjected him to interrogation from the cells in Kacyiru, demanding to know his “assignment from Kampala establishment.”
The fallout with Uganda is something Kagame can iron out with his erstwhile comrade and leader in the NRA bush war but the delays to do so points to more work on the plate of Gen Nyamvumba.
With Kigali’s continued belief that RNC rebels of Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa are planning attacks on its territories using Uganda as a base, the timing of Nyamvumba’s assignment in cabinet points to the plethora of security concerns across most of the borders of the country.
The shift of powers over national security from defence to interior ministry points to the seriousness with which Kagame is taking issues. And there is a major contributing factor for that: the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2020.
Also known as CHOGM 2020, the 26th meeting of the heads of government of the Commonwealth nations is scheduled for June in Kigali. Being a major global event, all eyes will be on Rwanda and Kagame and it is expected that Rwanda’s detractors will be upping their ante in a bid to discredit Kigali as the summit draws closer.
In Gen Nyamvumba, Kagame appears to have already laid the marker to tackle national security issues ahead of CHOGM.