October 29, 2019

Rwanda’s New Elite ‘Terrorists’

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Businessman Jean Berchmans Matakamba

Jean Berchmans Matakamba, 57, is a well-known businessman in Rusizi district. He owns a sand quarry supplying big construction projects in that region and also has a company engaged in other activities, actually registered in his names.

This Sunday October 27, there were gasps of disbelief from local community when he appeared among four suspects paraded in Kamembe town in Rusizi district. He is the one who has been providing storage for the ammunition used in different terror attacks to cause insecurity in that region for several months.

Even by national standards, Matakamba is a relatively wealthy man. One would expect that people joining rebel groups are desperate villagers who the government is unable to provide for, so they decide to fight it.

As if that is not enough, Matakamba’s unidentified child is currently on a government of Rwanda sponsored scholarship in China, according to security sources. This is another indication that he is a well-connected person in the corridors of national economic, political and social power.

At the site where Matakamba and other suspects were paraded, a businessman whose vehicle had been set ablaze by this terror team, said he was hoping government will require Matakamba to repay his lost property.

The other 3 suspects are Nikuzwe Simeon, 38, Ntibiramira Innocent (43) and Byukusenge Jean Claude (33). These ones said they had been promised that they would each get $100 (Rwf 92,100) for each successful operation by their contact based in Bukavu, just across in DR Congo.

Following the rebel attack in Musanze district on the night of October 4, in which 14 local villagers were killed, one of the 5 suspects captured was Theoneste Habumukiza. He completed a business administration degree at the University of Rwanda in 2016.

Habumukiza, hailing from Burera district, which neighbors Musanze district, was recruited from Makerere University in Uganda, also a renowned continental academic institution. He was pursuing a Master’s degree.

In Rwanda, even during his university days, Habumukiza was senior member of the Adventist Church as a student leader of his Adventist colleagues.

Left: Theoneste Habumukiza during the time he attended University of Rwanda, and Right: when he was captured following the Musanze district attack, a clear contrast

In their testimony to visibly angry locals in Rusizi district, businessman Matakamba and other suspects narrated that they had been in regular communication with Nsabimana Callixte alias Maj Sankara before his capture and transfer to Rwanda from Indian ocean island of Comoros.

Nsabimana himself is not from a peasant background as you would expect. Before he left Rwanda in late 2000s, he was a law student at the National University of Rwanda in Huye district. It is now part of the University of Rwanda.

Nsabimana was so enlightened that he contested his expulsion from university over indiscipline, to a point where his case went beyond the Education Ministry, to the Office of the Ombudsman. It seems after he failed to overturn the expulsion, he left Rwanda. An ordinary poor Rwandan would have retreated back to their village to resort to farming.

Nsaminana instead would emerge in South Africa as a vocal member of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) led by exiled ex-army chief Lt Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa.

Nsabimana, in trademark dark glasses and military fatigue was the one at the front of regular protests at Rwanda’s High Commission in Pretoria.

Elite-kids-turned-terrorists is not a new phenomena. Not to Rwanda either, though, lately is becoming more regular. This likely runs counter to what many people may believe about people who end up in such acts including suicide bombers.

After all, why would well educated, upper-middle-class folks with seemingly everything to live for blow themselves up and kill so many innocents?

It is a question that has pondered experts and governments over the years. From Nigeria, to Saudi Arabians, to recent Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. It is the have-alls who have taken the front seat.

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