Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro has been showered with praise in Uganda’s media as part of the drive to sanitize not only him but also the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) that he belongs to and is its chief financier.
Just this weekend, NTV-Uganda aired a show that tried to create the impression that Rujugiro’s main motivation is to improve the lives of Ugandans.
It is part of an ongoing plan to do everything possible to conceal the true image of Rujugiro from the view of unsuspecting Ugandans.
However, it is only responsible to get the people out of ignorance so that they understand who the man their government is busy promoting is and what he is capable of.
Here’s only the tip of the Rujugiro iceberg.
Rujugiro’s name came to the public sphere in Bujumbura, Burundi, in the mid-to-late 1970s. Rujugiro was a true mafia boss in Burundi.
He took advantage of nearly all shortage of vital goods; shortages that he would sometimes purposefully create and exploit in order to generate abnormal profits.
One of these prominent scams was in the transport industry where he would fake accidents in order to claim from insurance companies.
For instance, he would steal dead bodies from the mortuary as evidence to inflate insurance claims.
Where were the authorities, one might ask. This is where Rujugiro excels. Anywhere he has operated, the officials are always complicit in his scams.
He learnt in Bujumbura that putting them into his pockets was key for the success of his business model.
Col. Jean Baptiste Bagaza, who ruled Burundi from 1976 to 1987, was not personally known to be corrupt and generally had a record of fighting corruption.
In fact, he had in place rules prohibiting public servants, police and army officers from engaging in private business.
However, while this policy was generally enforced, it was rather flexible when it came to those close to him, his entourage.
Consequently, the economy of Burundi was in the hands of a few powerful individuals who controlled monopolies.
One of these is Col Mandevu, who was at the time the head of immigration (PAFE). In Rujugiro the powerful Colonel – the same rank as his boss, Bagaza – saw a business partner through whom he would launder his business interests.
With Mandevu’s backing, Rujugiro was untouchable. They both saw the opportunity to exploit the customs duty, especially at border crossings.
Rujugiro would pass trucks in and out of the country to Tanzania without anyone having to ask him about what was in the trucks, where they were coming from, or where they were headed.
In cross border trade, he was king.
Crucially, Rujugiro would ensure that these opportunities that came as a result of his personal connections could also be denied his competitors; anyone who tried to import certain products – salt being one – to Burundi would be blocked and warned.
Burundi, a landlocked country, suddenly had a new salt mafia boss.
His mafia extended inside Tanzania where he would use the Burundian Embassy there to secure for him exclusivity for trade in a number of products; the embassy became his personal office for trade negotiations and guarantor of his personal interests.
It also served as a clearing house for his goods.
Fortune would smile some more. With insurance companies unable to pay him off for his scams, he forced them to sell shares to him.
Rujugiro – through his tobacco company – became a shareholder in the national reassurance company (a government parastatal).
On the one hand Rujugiro was producing tobacco for the consumption of Burundians; on the other, he was owner of health insurance when they get sick from his cigarettes!
Only a complicit government would see wisdom in such a partnership. At any rate, the tobacco company thrived.
It diversified deeper into the Burundian economy. His company bought into various sectors including banking, oil, pharmaceutical and manufacturing.
Rujugiro had the Burundian government in his pocket, for almost a decade. His fortune was only interrupted by a coup d’état led by Maj. Pierre Buyoya – a cousin to Bagaza, his predecessor.
As the new regime cleaned up the old leadership, it didn’t spare Rujugiro, a Rwandan. They saw him as part and parcel of the regime they had overthrown – and rightly so; they jailed him, too.
The fact that Buyoya could not differentiate Rujugiro – a foreigner – from the regime he had overthrown shows how powerful, and possibly resented, Rujugiro had gotten.
Rujugiro found himself sharing a prison cell with his former colleagues in government, the police, and the army; his businesses and other assets of his were confiscated. In jail, his business network was eventually disrupted; it collapsed.
Rujugiro conspired with prison authorities and escaped from jail in 1991, after serving three years.
He went in hibernation for a while before resurfacing in early 2000’s.
However, his time in prison had not taught him any lessons. On the contrary, he became much more daring. He leveraged his background in banking – and scamming – to establish Finalease Bank in 2000.
The first of these was mortgage scam of predatory lending. Rujugiro was assisting the most vulnerable people to become homeowners, which on the surface was a noble cause.
Rujugiro worked with Burundi’s second largest bank (BANCOBU) to guarantee loans to the poor.
However, in reality he was targeting the takeover of the bank, which he did with connivance of corrupt officials in government – as he had done to take control of the government insurance company, as noted above.
Someone inside the bank leaked the scam to the Burundian media, which was known then to be vibrant.
Once exposed, Rujugiro backtracked; he withdrew from the housing scheme entirely. He turned to the cement business, where he, once again, began to take over the industry through monopoly and in connivance with corrupt officials.
In Uganda, Rujugiro has established a tobacco factory in partnership with Museveni’s young brother Caleb Akandwanaho, popularly known as Salim Saleh.
This partnership guarantees Rujugiro his most sought-after status of being untouchable in Uganda, despite of his criminal past and the fact that he is mentioned in almost every UN report on the Congo as the financier of terror in the region.
The December 31, 2018 UN report that links him with the Kayumba Nyamwasa-led P5, the RNC and FDLR, and their links to the regimes in Uganda and Burundi is only the most recent revelation.
Museveni shouldn’t hide all this from Ugandans since he is presenting Rujugiro as some kind of benevolent investor.