Footballer-turned-politician Rwayitare died fighting to end ethnic segregation

Long  before Augustine Rwayitare had hung up his soccer boots, the Amavubi soccer star of the 1980s had already crossed the ‘T’ and dotted the ‘I’ on his destiny. 
Rwayitare (2nd right) and Liberal Party colleagues in the early 90s.  Courtesy.
Rwayitare (2nd right) and Liberal Party colleagues in the early 90s. Courtesy.

Long  before Augustine Rwayitare had hung up his soccer boots, the Amavubi soccer star of the 1980s had already crossed the ‘T’ and dotted the ‘I’ on his destiny. 

He was determined to champion honesty and push for accountability in the political establishment. And this determination would not waver even if death came wagging a bloody finger at him. 

For this, he paid the ultimate price. True, he was a Tutsi, but in identifying himself as a man who wanted peace and justice for the country; one who thought channeling his ideas about change in the Liberal Party (PL) could pay off, he ‘stoked’ the anger of the genocidal establishment.

Rwayitare’s widow Odette Mushashi says problems started in 1991, two years after they got married.

“During a visit by a Radio Rwanda journalist to Kibungo prefecture, where my husband was working as a secretary to the prefet, he went on the record, that there was impunity in the country because Tutsi were killed in the 60s and 70s, and that the authors were not brought to book,” recalls Mushashi.

The widow says Rwayitare would insist that ordinary citizens faced sanctions when they stole foodstuff to survive, which meant that those in power were paying more attention to other matters however small, than Tutsi who were being killed.

“The ruling power responded by harassing Rwayitare using Interahamwe militia, who started threatening him that it was just a matter of time before they shut him up once and for all,” Mushashi says.

The militia would also attack Rwayitare’s wife at the BP Fina petrol station where she worked as a manager.

Rwayitare was shot dead on April 19, 1994, without giving up his slogan, “I will even accept to die, provided Rwandans after me enjoy change.”

When the Liberal Party was founded in 1991, Rwayitare was elected vice president of the party in Kibungo prefecture, a deputy to Justin Mugenzi, who doubled as national party president.

“He worked hard to increase party membership, and he succeeded. This brought us some level of stability because other parties would say that if anything happened to us, PL members would intervene,” said Mushashi.

Late in 1992, Rwayitare was appointed director in charge of the internally displaced persons division at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Minitraso).

His family had to relocate to Kigali, where they settled in Nyamirambo suburb of Nyarugenge District.

In 1993, the former footballer showed his continued determination to fight for truth at any cost. In that year, elections for members of the interim parliament were scheduled as stipulated in the Arusha Accords, where PL hoped to win some seats.

According to Mushashi, intrigue was already tearing the party apart, so Justin Mugenzi was corrupted and created PL-Power, an extremist faction that supported the ruling party, MRND.

“He had a factory; the government gave him some tenders and promised him other things and he accepted to give up the party’s initial objectives of defending justice and freedom,” said Mushashi.

During the parliamentary polls in 1993, where party members had to contest from their prefecture of origin, Mugenzi (also from Rukara-Kibungo as did Rwayitare) brought his ‘Power’ candidates to compete but lost to Rwayitare, further widening the rift between the two politicians.

However, the swearing-in of the candidates that was scheduled to take place on January 5, 1994, did not take place. Habyarimana, who the Arusha Accords had designated as interim president, was sworn-in but refused to swear-in the legislators.

When the candidates left the venue, there was evident tension, especially heightened by Interahamwe’s open hostility against opposition party candidates.

Mushashi recalls that PL candidates were evacuated by a UN contingent that protected them near Hotel Chez Lando in Remera, Kigali, for a week.

They later resumed work, but Rwayitare would spend the night in neighbours’ homes because he had been tipped that plans to kill him had been set in motion.

Confronting Pascal Simbikangwa

Rwayitare’s Minitraso office was located downtown, at the former Caisse Hypotecaire building near Office of the President (of the time).

Jacqueline Umulisa, then 19, and a member of Liberal Party’s youth wing, worked in Rwayitare’s department. 

She told The New Times that their office was adjacent Capt. Pascal Simbikangwa’s–the head of intelligence during Habyarimana’s regime–who she said used to threaten them.

She said Simbikangwa brought up the issue of their office windows facing each other and ordered that they work behind closed windows, if they did not want them blocked completely.

Last month, Simbikangwa was handed a 25-year jail sentence by a French court for his role in the Genocide.

“I once accompanied Rwayitare to Simbikangwa’s office when the spymaster summoned him, and Rwayitare told him that he would not work behind closed windows as it was unhealthy,” Umulisa recalls.

“We left the office and Simbikangwa started harassing Rwayitare who was never cowed.”

‘Last word wife’ 

Attempts on Rwayitare’s life increased when the plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down on April 6. At first. he went into hiding, but later decided to come out of his hideout when the attackers threatened to kill his family.

“Interahamwe militia came home on April 19 saying their boss (Frodouard Karamira who was Rwayitare’s neighbour) had ordered them to take back with them my husband’s head,” remembers Mushashi. 

“They threatened to kill me and my two children, then aged two and four, if I did not tell them where my husband was hiding. But Rwayitare was in the vicinity and at earshot. He resolved to come out of his hidout to save us.”

“Say your last words to your wife,” Mushashi says she heard the militia tell her husband before dragging him toward Club Rafiki in Nyamirambo where they shot him dead.

“Uzabe umugabo (‘stay strong’) was Rwayitare’s departing encouragement to his wife.

The family stayed in Nyamirambo, where “Interahamwe used to come and tell us that they would kill us by July, after burying Habyarimana.”

Saved by RPF in the nick of time

Rwayitare’s remains were exhumed in 2000 after someone who had witnessed the killing gave information of the whereabouts. Remains of the steadfast footballer-turned-politician were laid to rest at Rebero Memorial Centre.

Umulisa, now an employee at the National Agriculture Export Board, says Rwayitare had an exceptional love for his subordinates and the party.

“He used to spend a lot on his party’s meetings and to challenge the hardliners, including Mugenzi and Agnes Ntamabyariro,” she said.

“He had an exceptional love for us; his family,” sums up his widow, now 50.

Biography

Rwayitare was born in Rukara Commune, now Kayonza District. He attended his Primary School in Rukara Village, then high school at the Junior Seminary of Zaza, before going to the National University of Rwanda where he studied arts until 1983.

 

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