His journey began when he was expelled from a government university in Rwanda, then reappeared in South Africa as member of the group led by former RDF chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa. He also spent time in Indian Ocean island of Comoros.
It emerged today morning that Sankara has been in the custody of Rwandan authorities since April 13, as revealed by RIB. This date is going to be the news bite for many weeks to come.
Until July last year when he appeared in mainstream media, “Maj Callixte Sankara” was a common name on Facebook, particularly in Facebook groups of Rwandan exiles.
In the wee hours of June 19-20, 2018, armed gang carrying crude weapons and guns attacked Nyabimata sector, in Nyaruguru district. The sector borders directly with Burundi, and large portion of it is covered by Nyungwe forest national park.
Witnesses said at the time that the assailants were over 30. They stormed the home of Nyabimata executive secretary Nsengiyumva Vincent. They left him fighting for his life, set his house on fire and torched his car. The attack killed two people.
Then about two weeks later around 11pm on July 1, which is the uncelebrated Independence Day in Rwanda, another attack took place in the same area. The Assailants came from the direction of Nyungwe forest, fired sporadically – which forced all to stay inside their homes.
The gang forced their way into homes, looted food, clothing, animals and money. They fled back to the forest, which is barely two kilometers away.
About three weeks later on July 20, a statement appeared on Facebook of a group calling itself ‘National Liberation Forces (FLN)’. It had a logo of ‘Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD)’.
At the bottom of the statement was signed ‘Maj Callixte Sankara’, as 2nd deputy for MRCD and spokesman of FLN. MRCD was founded by Paul Rusesabagina, the personality whose story that claims saving people during the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, was dramatized in Hollywood’s “Hotel Rwanda”. He lives between France and U.S.
By the evening of that day, international broadcasters Britain’s BBC, American VOA and France’s RFI had widely reported about the statement. They also interviewed Sankara via phone link. Regional media also picked the statement in the following days.
FLN’s statement, supposedly done in Nyamagabe district, claimed the attacks in previous weeks had been orchestrated by Rwandan security forces, and that they were coming to protect and liberate Rwandans.
On Facebook, photos of FLN combatants were doing the rounds, showing them heavily armed, and in black rain covers.
It emerged the same day that the so called Maj Callixte Sankara was actually Nsabimana Callixte, a Rwandan exile who had regularly appeared at protests of Rwandan exiles in South Africa years back.
How Nsabimana Callixte ended up in South Africa, is a story he himself may have to tell someday. He had been a law student at the then National University of Rwanda (NUR). In early 2008, in final year, he was expelled after propagating student uprisings and using ethnic hate language against other students.
Despite appealing to the Ombudsman, Nsabimana was not allowed back to the university.
When RNC became active in South Africa, Nsabimana Callixte reappeared. It remains unclear how he ended up in South Africa.
Simply known as “Sankara”, donning U.S military attire, he was the so called ‘Commissioner for Media’ in the Rwandan National Congress (RNC). He never got the opportunity to speak on conventional media, a role played by his boss Nyamwasa.
Sankara’s job was releasing audio songs in which he called the RPF and President Paul Kagame all sorts of names. The music was only posted on YouTube.
On October 20, 2017, Sankara released a Facebook statement announcing he was quitting RNC. A short period after, he was with Rusesabagina’s MRCD and calling himself “Maj Callixte Sankara”.
MRCD is a grouping that also includes a faction of the FDLR militia calling itself CNRD, also based in DR Congo. It is led by Wilson Irategeka.
For the months up until the first statement of July 1 last year, Sankara was a ‘Facebook rebel’, or ‘YouTube rebel’ – as some in Rwandan officials circles have preferred to brand him.
Then on April 15, local media in Islands of Comoros reported about the arrest of Sankara from there. However, there was no official confirmation, which happened as Comoros had just had an election.
Days after news about the incident had surfaced, Rusesabagina appeared on American broadcaster VOA’s Kinyarwanda service on April 22, saying Sankara was safe.
He said government of Rwanda had sent a high powered delegation led by RDF Chief of Defence Staff Gen Patrick Nyamvumba to Comoros to negotiate Sankara’s extradition, but that the Island had refused. No official information was released.
On April 30, more than two weeks later, the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) released a statement partly reading that it “has detained NSABIMANA Callixte a.k.a Sankara, while processing his criminal case file. Nsabimana has been wanted over several offences committed on Rwandan territory.”
The brief RIB statement went on to detail the charges he faces, indicating he would be brought to court at a later date.
Yesterday evening May 17, newsrooms received a short message, saying Sankara would be shown to the media today morning at 8am.
In the full glare of flashing cameras, NSABIMANA Callixte a.k.a Maj Callixte Sankara was ushered in the room by huge muscular police officers towering over his small body.
For about a minute, it was the cameras talking. He was taken away without uttering anything apart from smiling constantly. Lawyer Moise Nkundabarashi appeared in the room, claiming he had been hired by Sankara to defend him.
Asked if he was not afraid to defend such a tainted man as Sankara, lawyer Nkundabarashi said: “I don’t need any other cover, except the law and regulations governing lawyers in Rwanda”.
Nkundabarashi is a partner at Trust Law Chambers, a local law firm. His name came to prominence recently in relation to the Supreme Court petition challenging some articles of the new penal code, including those on the media.
Nkundabarashi was one of the lawyers on the team which brought the case to the country’s highest court, leading to the invalidation of some the articles they had raised.
The intervention by Sankara’s lawyer lasted about 5 minutes, and Modeste Mbabazi, the RIB spokesperson took the floor.
“What I can tell you is that in justice there is no long distance. Wherever anyone who tries to destabilize the country is located, they should be aware that justice will reach you,” said Mbabazi.
It is also the first time the public gets to know when Rwanda had Sankara in custody. RIB’s Mbabazi said Sankara was arrested on April 13, 2019.
Yet, all along, it had been unofficially suggested he was arrested around April 14 or 15.
Mbabazi refused to say where Sankara was arrested, only adding that investigations were still ongoing to prepare for Sankara’s trial.
Mbabazi added: “You have seen him, he has no problem. The only problem he has is that he is detained, and as you may be aware, no one feels happy of being detained.”
The Chronicles‘ reporter at the press briefing says Sankara was constantly smiling, but only his teeth could be seen, as he wore sun glasses. Our reporter also says Sankara did not look like he had any injury on his body.
It is yet to be established why he was in dark glasses today, but in nearly all photos of him that have been making rounds on social media for years now, he has dark glasses on.
Throughout, since FLN claimed responsibility for the various attacks in Southwestern region of Rwanda from July last year, government has not mentioned the group’s name, instead saying the attacks in that region are by bandits who are fleeing back to Burundi.
FLN claims to have military posts in Nyungwe forest, which government has dismissed, often ferrying journalists and social media influencers to Nyungwe to report from there.
President Paul Kagame himself has branded as “provocations”, all the attacks in which several people have been killed.
Kagame has maintained the attacks are instigated by Burundi, which wants to provoke Rwanda into taking steps that would be publicized by Bujumbura, as Rwanda continuing to attack Burundi since the failed coup of mid-2015.
Sankara faces charges including: “Formation of an irregular armed group; Complicity in committing terrorist acts; Conspiracy and incitement to commit terrorist acts; Taking persons hostage; Murder; and Looting.”