A 70 year-old woman, Nyirahabimana Rosaliya put Rwf 6,000 in a cooperative in Burera district hoping it would accumulate to take care of her as she aged. It was in the year 2009.
However, as The Chronicles reports, instead of growing this cooperative to benefit its members, its leaders disappeared with the money and 10 years later, no one can account for millions of the cooperative’s savings─including a donation they received from President Paul Kagame.
Without clear figures of what is given where and when, The Chronicles cannot say how many of such Kagame donations have not seen the light of day except for those that have become public. Another similar case in the Southern Province came to light recently.
In 2003, Kagame offered Rwf 10m to a group of local business people in the then Gitarama Prefecture─now Muhanga district─as contribution towards the construction of a hotel to boost tourism and accommodation in the area.
Today, there is no hotel arising from this contribution. Information indicates that the current Governor, Emmanuel Gasana has been asking around the Southern Province but has yet to find where the money went.
As for the case in Cyanika sector – Burera district involving elderly Nyirahabimana Rosaliya, in November 2009, she was ‘Inyangamugayo’ (judge) of the Gacaca courts established to try perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.
Together numbering 359 Inyangamugayo from surrounding villages, they formed a cooperative at the time known as Gira Ubukire Cyanika (KOGICYA). Many such cooperatives were started around the country at the time as a way to help ‘Inyangamugayo’ generate income since they were not being paid for being community gacaca judges.
The KOGICYA cooperative had settled on a business idea of buying and selling fertilizers to local farmers.
On November 26, 2009, the cooperative received Rwf3,600,000 from the Executive Secretary of the Gacaca courts. The money was brought to them in cash by local officials.
According to the cooperative, they were told that the money had come from President Paul Kagame as support to develop their cooperative and, in the process, contribute to their own development.
When the KOGICYA group was starting, Nyirahabimana and everyone else involved contributed Rwf 6,000 each – making it total of Rwf 2,160,000.
The group now had Rwf 5,760,000 on their account. Within two years, they had Rwf 25m cash on their account as business was booming.
Suddenly and without warning, the regular meetings of cooperative members ceased.
Their leader Gatera Phenias and his top colleagues disappeared from the area. And only Rwf 1,900,000 was left on the account.
Despite seeking help from local officials, there was no support forthcoming.
The remaining members of the cooperative decided to restart it again. They constituted new managers. Within a short time, they had Rwf6m on account.
The new team of leaders also disappeared.
When The Chronicles contacted former Governor Boniface Rucagu about this particular cooperative, he admitted enthusiastically that he knows about it and that he remembers all the details about how they got that financial contribution from President Kagame.
However, he told The Chronicles that he cannot make any further comment on the issue as he is no longer in the same office.
“If you want to talk to me, write officially to the Ministries of local government and justice, as well as RIB. When they grant you permission we shall talk,” he said.
The current Governor of Northern Province, Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi who took office in August 2017 has been trying to solve the case of Nyirahabimana and her colleagues since May last year without success.
On his tour to Burera district in late May 2018, Gatabazi instructed the Burera District Mayor Uwambajemariya Florence to follow up the issue and ensure it was settled conclusively.
As The Chronicles was preparing this story, we contacted the Mayor several times. During the initial contact, she said she had not established all the facts and was still investigating.
When contacted later, she did not respond to the messages and calls seeking for update.
The first leader of the KOGICYA cooperative denied allegations that he had stolen the money.
“I didn’t use the money for my personal business, it was spent on only running operations of the cooperative like paying rent and looking for the legal status of the cooperative,” Gatera told The Chronicles.
The story of this cooperative is not unique. A government report submitted to parliament in February by the ministry of trade and industry, which handles cooperatives, detailed serious issues in the sector including fraud, poor record keeping and corruption.
The Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) database shows there are more than 8,800 cooperatives spread across Rwanda involved in various income generating activities.
Government informed Parliament that cooperatives have assets worth over Rwf43 billion, but over the years, millions have been stolen or misappropriated.
Trade and industry minister Soraya Hakuziyaremye told a parliamentary committee in February that 174 individuals are facing prosecution for causing losses in the cooperatives amounting to Rwf1.3billion.
From this amount covering the period 2012-18, government has only been able to recover Rwf 214m.
For 80year-old Nyirahabimana Rosaliya, one of the members of the cooperative whose money cannot be explained, the anger is fresh.
She said: “I think I don’t have more than two years to live. I am afraid I may die before receiving my money back. Moreover, I am always sick and don’t have enough money to go to hospital”
Whether or not Nyirahabimana will receive justice and recover her savings remains to be seen. And whether authorities will up their game and ensure that cooperatives are run properly and in the interests of their members and the broad development of the country also remain to be seen.
ERRATA: Paragraph 1 and 2 of current text have been modified. In the previous text there was error on the years. Not 61 but 70 years, and not 19 but 10