KAYUMBA NYAMWASA: The General who squandered his chances

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of confidence but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King, Jr. Steven R .Covey says “Our lives are results of our Choices,’’ and proceeds to argue that “to blame and accuse other people, the environment or other extrinsic factors is to choose to empower those things to control us”. These words were never clearer to me before I ventured into trying to understand why General Kayumba turned fugitive.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of confidence but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Steven R .Covey says “Our lives are results of our Choices,’’ and proceeds to argue that “to blame and accuse other people, the environment or other extrinsic factors is to choose to empower those things to control us”. These words were never clearer to me before I ventured into trying to understand why General Kayumba turned fugitive.

Like most people, that are not necessarily insiders of the Rwandan political system or of its military establishment, when I learnt that Kayumba had fled the country I got shocked.

I did not know that he was an ordinary soul till I went out of my way to hold discussions with his colleagues in uniform, people close to power in Rwanda as well as a few ordinary citizens.

Their revelations were shocking and yet sobering. I was even more shocked when I listened to the General’s statements in the media. Shocked because I felt he let me down by sounding so unconvincing.

Listening to Nyamwasa’s interviews you clearly heard a voice that sought to give the impression that there is an organized internal opposition within the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and that dissent of any sort is not allowed.

Kayumba’s interviews also seek to give the impression that those who challenge President Kagame are not safe.  This according to Kayumba explains why he runs to exile after being questioned by both the security organs and the RPF leadership. In the same interviews where Kayumba cites political intolerance, however, he claims having, for the past seven years, gone through a process of trying to cause reforms in the country! 

I find this both misleading and hypocritical. The question that quickly comes to mind is how the system Kayumba tries to portray as intolerant would have tolerated the efforts of reform that he claims he was advocating, for  seven long years! 

Kayumba, who speaks of himself as having spent his youth fighting for his country, also portrays himself as a democrat who, however, has no political ambitions. He however, invokes a derogatory language underrating the authorities that manage the institutions he has been serving. 

He refers to his immediate superior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as a new entrant, called a peer party council of superiors and equals ‘fellows’ insinuating they are some simplistic useless individuals and at some stage, refers to  them as “Abaswa” (‘fools’)!!!

Just like the people I spoke to said, democrats and more especially, revolutionaries are expected to demonstrate more humility and mutual respect than Kayumba shows here.

The fact that Kayumba was not the “oldest entrant” in the military and not in diplomacy when he was given the various assignments aside; Kayumba should know better that competence is not directly linked to the time of entrance and that effective military and political institutions are indeed dynamic.

Listening to the interviews, it sounds obvious that Kayumba has no faith in his country, does not believe in or respect the systems and structures that he participated in building and is a diplomat that will not conduct himself diplomatically. That perhaps explains the unusual choice he made!

His colleagues also argued that during the interviews, he failed to rise to the occasion.  Asked about the grenades that he and Col. Patrick Karegeya were associated with; for example, his answer is that a General cannot throw grenades; and that he was seated with the military chiefs in Gisenyi when the attack was announced and everybody looked relaxed.  One of his colleagues that I spoke to wondered whether Kayumba would have forgotten what “command responsibility entails”. 

When I asked what it entails his colleague said “the former Chief of Intelligence does not have to be the hand that throws grenades to take responsibility for the consequences of that shameful destructive incident.’’

In retrospect it struck me indeed that Kayumba could have presented a better argument for this demeaning activity than the fact that generals don’t throw grenades and that he was at the high level retreat along with the military chiefs all of whom looked relaxed despite the grenade attacks.

He argued weakly, that he was being framed and generals don’t throw grenades, but even as a former Rwandan diplomat, Chief of Intelligence and Chief of the Army he says nothing  to offer any clue as to who could be behind the acts that he is being accused of. 

I was surprised that Kayumba admits hearing of the grenade attacks in parts of Kigali but would not have sought to share with those military chiefs, his colleagues at the retreat, his thoughts on who would be behind a thing like that!  

The journalist should have asked Kayumba Nyamwasa whether that is consistent with a General’s, Intelligence Chief’s or Diplomat’s behavior.

Kayumba sought the media with a view to vindicate himself. His colleagues argue that it was also in the hope that he would tarnish the image of the Rwandan leadership.

As in the case of his appearance before the party council that sought to offer him an opportunity to air his grievances and to reform him, I thought the opportunity to vindicate himself through the media was missed. 

It was very clear from the interviews that he detests counsel, has no respect for the party from which he comes- the RPF and definitely has no faith in his country!

This led me to ask myself “would Kayumba have wished to offer an alternative political system?”

He blamed others for his woes, dwelt on harassment, dodged questions over his role in the criminal acts being leveled against and kept referring to his colleagues and superiors in a demeaning manner hardly addressing the more difficult issues.

Kayumba denied harboring political ambitions. And I thought this is a major contradiction.  I had, twice attended Kayumba’s public lectures at the National University of Rwanda, before he was appointed Ambassador.  His language seemed to have changed.

He had then, insisted on politics being directly related to management of society.

Kayumba Nyamwasa who had dwelt on politics and management of society; “spent his youth fighting for the liberation of his country”  ‘has no political ambitions?! He sounded unconvincing!

I thought that was a lie.  I thought the general lost another opportunity to vindicate himself by seeking to hide even the obvious.

Kayumba in Retrospect

I decided I would find out more and more about him.  Kayumba is apparently a man of many faces. I asked colleagues in uniform whether  an incident like that of grenade attacks in parts of Kigali would  be so scaring to the military that the  general would perhaps have gotten  scared to the extent that he gets dumbfounded.

‘He was shielded from the thick of operations and did not pay enough in terms of earning the heroship that he would want to claim today but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t join his friends in brainstorming over the incident’!. One of them replied 

This officer thinks Kayumba is not the hero he claims to be, I understood. Kayumba had also in his own words chosen to run away because his political party had put him through questioning and would probably have him arrested.

He had decided to turn against the struggle that from nowhere gave him a home,  made him a diplomat, a very high ranking officer; he had chosen to become a fugitive; at best a refugee.

Does the General harbor unscrupulous political ambitions? Is he as smart as he sounds? I asked myself. I then recalled King’s words and felt they best explained the situation.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of confidence but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”, Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the course of my discussions with Kayumba’s colleagues, I have heard very disappointing revelations. Some of them from one of Kayumba’s civilian colleagues who explained at length how, as Army Chief of staff, Kayumba behaved as though he was Rwanda’s second biggest personality. 

“Kayumba summoned everybody except President Kagame. He summoned Ambassadors and High Commissioners; and summoned cabinet ministers and senior civil servants to his office under all sorts of pretexts, till he was directed to stop it!” The diplomat said.

But there were also stories of how Kayumba   had abused his office. A military colleague of his, who I had thought was his personal friend, told me  for example that when  Kayumba was assigned the important position of ending the war in the North, a golden opportunity for Kayumba to offer  good leadership, he  squandered the opportunity by engaging in nepotism and things like that.

The officer burst out saying “Kayumba indulged in making sure he earns personal loyalty from selected individuals who were working under him instead of focusing on fighting the war!

The war would have ended much earlier. He practiced favoritism. I knew time would catch up with him and he would soon hang himself!”

I asked the officer why Kayumba was appointed the Chief of Staff of the Army “from where he sought to cement the favouritism agenda” if he was the kind of person he had just described. Why was this tolerated? 

The officer explained that this was as a result of a combination of factors: First, he said, the President is a very tolerant person despite being a strict disciplinarian.

That has been seen in many other cases. He may have been hoping the General would reform. Secondly, Kayumba is such a good pretender that he was able to fool some of us for some time and the commander-in-chief must have received conflicting reports about Kayumba in the beginning and chose to give him time.

You, of course, know that some of these crimes actually have a long life cycle. Thirdly, he continued, tolerance is not a weakness, neither is it a dictatorial trait.

The system and indeed the President has been tolerating him for a longtime now. We all know that the President would fight to help shape you into a better person before actually parting ways with you.

Just like “he was warned in an open meeting and was chastised. The Commander-In-Chief possibly thought he would relent and focus on work”.

Tolerated by the President? I was taken aback: Then why would Kayumba want us to believe the President is intolerant and dictatorial?

What more should a man demand from a superior better than mentoring, promotion and empowerment? Why shouldn’t Kayumba actually pledge total allegiance to the President who continuously trusted him with higher posts?

But I had heard Kayumba laughing at the likes of Furuma, Mupende, Habyarimana and Rwakampala, who had fled their country, referring to them as opportunists that would never stand in the face of the challenge of rebuilding a nation like our own; I had also heard him shower praises on the Rwandan leadership before, and now, I hear him paint a completely different picture. What is all this? Greed?

Unscrupulous ambition? Betrayal of a nation? I kept asking myself.

I recalled that I had also heard stories of how, as Chief of Staff, Kayumba invested his  time in  amassing wealth,  some elite business people had complained, stories of how he was involved in  land grabbing, displacing the same peasants for whom he had supposedly put his life on the line were also rife.

Yes,  it is actually true that Kayumba was one of the biggest culprits of the land redistribution exercise that President Kagame, personally led,  in the UMUTARA area in the Eastern Province.  It was in the media and people talked about it openly.

How then can he turn around and pretend he has been advocating for reforms beneficial to the population? Is this the same peace- loving democrat and revolutionary I heard over BBC, VOA and read about in The Monitor and The Observer?!

Is there anything virtuous about galvanizing personal loyalty in an institution and pursuing personal wealth at the expense of the populace?! I asked myself. Of course Not! I said to myself.

Who then is the loser in this exercise?  Is it Rwanda, Kayumba’s motherland?

Is it the Rwandan President who , in the process of mentoring yet another Rwandan, appointed General Kayumba , from nowhere, as I now understand, to the Chief  of the Army  and later  to India  as Rwanda’s Ambassador or is it Kayumba himself who rose to those offices and is now retiring in exile , as a fugitive and probably  a  refugee ? I asked myself these and many more questions; ; and in Churchill’s wisdom I found the answer:

“To every man, there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted for his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour”!—Winston Churchill  
I now fully understand, that Kayumba was offered a chance to serve a country he called his, a struggle he should have owned, to represent a country highly respected for its achievements and its leadership’s vision.

Tragically, unqualified and unprepared as he was, he put his nation after personal gains; and like the guys he had despised earlier on- Furuma, Mupende, Rwakampala, Karegeya and Tega; he made an unusual choice, an unusual choice for a revolutionary; for a patriot; for a diplomat; indeed an unusual choice for a General.

He deserted his motherland Rwanda, the nation for whose liberation so much blood was shed; and chose to become a refugee. He chose to be a fugitive, attempting to undermine the struggle to which he owes all he had acquired!

The author is a researcher in strategic studies