Nzamurambaho dared genocidal government on sectarianism, paid with his life

At the start of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, many dissenting politicians were killed over their opposition to the genodical plan hatched by the government of Juvenal Habyarimana. 
Nzamurambaho and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda in Arusha, Tanzania. (Courtesy)
Nzamurambaho and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda in Arusha, Tanzania. (Courtesy)

At the start of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, many dissenting politicians were killed over their opposition to the genodical plan hatched by the government of Juvenal Habyarimana. 

The politicians mainly subscribed to opposition parties that came into existence in the early nineties amid growing pressure on Habyarimana to allow multi-party politics. 

Among these politicians who paid the ultimate price was Frederic Nzamurambaho, the founding president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), who had for long served as minister for agriculture in the Habyarimana government. 

He was killed together with his wife and three children.  

According to sources who were close to Nzamurambaho at the time, the politician would never compromise when his conscience was not clear–despite spending almost two decades close to the echelons of power. 

Several attempts were made on his life, apparently, by the regime. 

“Over the years, we were told of several attempts to kill him, including in a staged a car accident which he survived, while sometimes, he was warned that people wanted to poison him,” said Fernand Nzamurambaho, one of his sons. 

Fernand said his father was always at loggerheads with the government over the gross violations of human rights that prevailed at the time, especially against the Tutsi. 

Nzamurambaho, who is among the politicians buried at Rebero Genocide memorial site, was also supposed to be part of the broad-based transitional government, as would the Rwanda Patriotic Front whose military wing, the Rwanda Patriotic Army was already giving the government a bloody nose on the battlelines. 

He had been lined up to retain the agriculture docket. 

“He started having problems with Habyarimana in the early 1980s and in 1984, he lost his place in cabinet after which he worked in different capacities, including serving as a Member of Parliament,” said MP Juvenal Nkusi, one of the founders of PSD.  

Nzamurambaho only returned to cabinet in 1992 and this, according to those that were close to him, was by virtue of his position as a party president.

Speaking to The New Times, Aaron Makuba, a former advisor, said Nzamurambaho’s character was of one who would achieve what he wanted, no matter the price. 

Makuba, who knew Nzamurambaho right from their childhood in Mbazi Sector, Nyamagabe District, says one of the achievements attributed to the  former PSD leader include introducing the concept of modern terracing. 

“He was simply a man of the people who did a good job for the country,” said Makuba, a former Member of Parliament who has since retired and devotes his time to his businesses in Kigali. 

“Nzamurambaho is one of rare leaders of his time, who dared to employ Rwandans who returned from exile, which would strain further his relationship with Habyarimana,” said Makuba.

How he was killed 

According to Fernand, trouble knocked on their home, which was located in the affluent Kimihurura ‘ministerial village’ on the night of April 6 when the plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down as it approached Kigali Airport. 

The younger Nzamurambaho says the family was in the living room watching a soccer match when they learnt of the incident. There were about 20 people in the household, including relatives who had visited. 

“The presidential guards started patrolling the area as soon as the presidential jet came down, and, while our father was evacuated by his police escorts to an unknown location, we stayed inside the house for the entire night,” he said.

Fernand said the following day, his father was brought home, this time accompanied by the notorious presidential guards, who, upon arrival, asked him to give them money–which he said he did not have.

“They shot him in front of the family before killing my mother and two brothers,” said the younger Nzamurambaho, who said he miraculously survived that day. 

“My sister and I only survived because the killers got distracted and started looting the house... they stole everything in the house before vanishing,” he said. 

Together with his sister and surviving children of Joseph Kavaruganda, the former president of the Constitutional Court who had also been killed a little earlier, they were evacuated to the Canadian embassy.  

They were later transported by UN troops to Kigali International Airport and put on a flight to Nairobi before they were flown to Belgium. 

Behind Nzamurambaho’s death, according to his son, is the fierce and ruthless commander of the prominent presidential guards, Maj. Protais Mpiranyi. 

Mpiranyi remains on the run and is one of the three fugitives that have been tagged ‘Big Fish’ by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, alongside Felicien Kabuga, the genocide chief financier, and former defence minister Gen. Augustin Bizimana.

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