It was one of the most admired family names in Rwanda. They owned prime real estate and many other businesses left, right and centre, some of them fictitiously attributed to the family.
Today, the family is a different self. The patriarch is no more, let him RIP. Their businesses have been turned into worthless shells. The once must-have family friends, are now isolated inside their vast home. A bowl of trouble has spilled over since 2007.
The Rwigaras are children Diane Shima Rwigara (daughter), Anne Rwigara (daughter), Arioste Rwigara (son), and Aristide Rwigara (son), with their mother Adeline Mukangemanyi.
Like much of what happens around here, we may never know what Assinapol Rwigara did for him to fall out of favour of the powers-that-be. What we know is that on July 27, 2007, Rwigara was attending a family funeral in Kigali. Security personnel showed up without explanation and demanded he follows them.
In the ensuing war of words, Rwigara was forcely dragged away. Then on August 1, Brig Gen Frank Rusagara, a former top military officer was arrested. Ten days later August 11, Maj Gen Sam Kanyemera, known as “Kaka,” who was army chief until his retirement in 1998, was also arrested.
It was after Kaka’s detention that first media reports emerged about the fate of the three men. Government announcements from the time said the military officers were arrested for obstructing the arrest of Rwigara at the funeral.
The official version was that a probe had been opened on Rwigara following the collapse on the afternoon of July 12 of a support wall at his construction site in Kiyovu. Incidentally, the site was located a few meters from the residence of President Paul Kagame – just one of the signs of Rwigara’s power.
Historical narrations say Rwigara, who had been a wealth businessman inside Rwanda, secretly channeled some of his cash to the RPF rebels led by Kagame. When the war, and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, had ended, with the rebels in charge, Rwigara was among a small circle of beneficiaries from the millions of dollars in reconstruction funding. He amassed more wealth.
It remains unclear what happened to the scheduled prosecutions of the senior soldiers Rusagara and Kaka. But for Rwigara, it appears to have been the first public indication of his fall from grace. The family reportedly said at the time that Rwigara had compensated families of three workers who died at the construction site and another three injured.
The family also said their other properties had been seized, bank accounts blocked, and automobiles confiscated. The businesses that Rwigara co-owned with other partners were also not spared.
The Can of worms had been opened
Somehow, Rwigara was out of the news for the years that followed, but the rumours swelled. One particular one suggested the businessman had been involved in a foiled coup plot.
On the late evening of February 4, 2015, Police reported that Rwigara had died in accident in Nyarutarama, an upscale Kigali neighborhood. Photos showed his vintage Mercedes Benz had rammed head into a dilapidation truck. The mingled remains at the scene were horrific.
It appears the family had had enough. With the eldest daughter and mother at the forefront, they started a media campaign. First, in interviews with foreign broadcasters airing in the great lakes region using Kinyarwanda/Kirundi, VOA and BBC, the family alleged their patriarch had been murder elsewhere, and lifeless body brought to accident scene. They made various other allegations.
The family moved to what appeared to be phase two; they wrote letter to President Kagame demanding that he orders for investigation into Rwigara’s death. They said the whole accident had been stage managed. The letter was copied to key embassies in Kigali and international rights campaign groups. Perhaps to gain as much drive as possible, the letter was leaked to some media.
The internet, particularly social media and blogs run by exiles, was in overdrive – carrying all sorts of conspiracies about Rwigara’s death. The conspiracies never stopped todate.
A few months later on September 12 same year 2015, after weeks of media reports orchestrated by Kigali City authorities about the structural defects on a Rwigara-owned hotel also located in Kiyovu, bulldozers moved in to demolish the building.
The Rwigaras opened another chapter; 35-year-old Diane Shima Rwigara announced on May 2, 2017, her intention to compete against incumbent President Kagame in elections set for later that year. The daughter of the revolution was going to unseat the guardian of the same revolution.
Diane would later form the ‘Peoples Salvation Movement’ or P.S.M-Itabaza telling the many press conferences that Rwandans had been hoodwinked, which called for another revolution.
Barely a week later, nude photos purported to be Diane’s surfaced on social media. A media frenzy ensued, in which she avoided speaking about the photos, instead accusing government of using cheap tactics to scuttle her presidential bid. It won’t work, she affirmed.
Nomination of candidates came. Diane, with some family cash behind her, very easily obtained the required nomination signatures which were filed with the electoral commission. Diane’s candidacy ended on July 7 with the commission saying she had not filed enough signatures and some were of dead people.
For a while, the campaigns dominated the news. The elections took place August 4. Two weeks later, incumbent Kagame took oath of office for a 7-year term. To the surprise of many, though widely expected, Police arrested Diane in early September on charges of forgery linked to the alleged fake nomination signatures and evading taxes related with the family business empire.
The local and international press was in explosion over the Dian Rwigara story. At one point, security forces laid siege on the Rwigara family home to arrest the mother with her two daughters and one of the sons. The other was out of the country. The images from that time show them being led to Police vans.
Cornered, the Rwigara family shifted the battle for public sympathy. They began casting doubt on various government policies. They alleged a sinister plot to kill genocide survivors.
The mother, with the daughters, were detained and denied bail. It was followed by weeks of court appearances charged separately on some cases, and together on some. They faced forgery, tax evasion, inciting insurrection against government and promoting ethnic divisionism.
Co-accused based in Canada, USA
What was visible from the bail court sessions and proceeding appearances, was daily presence of American diplomats and foreign journalists. One of the Rwigara daughters, Anne, has American residence. It was part of the reason there was such a huge coverage from U.S media. Their mother also always came with a bible.
In a bizarre ruling a high court granted bail to Anne Rwigara, but committed Diane and mother to prison for provisional detention until their case goes to trial.
At some point during the court process, the mother Adeline Rwigara said she didn’t have enough money to pay top criminal attorney Gatera Gashabana because family accounts had been taken over by government. The judge reminded her the accounts were part of the court’s evidence, and therefore she would only be allocated money as par needs.
Another remarkable development from the case is when prosecution announced that there were four other defendants still at large. They were Toronto-based Mugenzi Tabitha Gwiza the sister of Adeline Rwigara, U.S.A based Xaverine Mukangarambe also a relative, Edmund Bashayija and Jean Paul Turayishimye – both based in USA and family members. Prosecutors provided WhatsApp messages said to be conversations among them plotting various acts.
In a highly publicised ruling early December 2018, a panel of three High Court judges dropped charges of forgery and inciting insurrection against Diane and the mother. The two were set free, a move followed by celebration that were marked by hugs in and outside court.
However, something happened so often in all the times the Rwigara’s appeared in court. As proceedings ended, or whenever an unfavourable ruling was pronounced, it was followed by ‘Mtcheewing’ in unison by the two in the doc, and also by close family members.
‘Mtcheewing’ is kwimyoza in Kinyarwanda. It is an act in which a sound is made when one sticks tongue to the roof of the mouth and tries to suck in air. It’s a common expression of disgust and contempt used widely on the African continent. Nigerian movies have taken it a step further. Very often, the expression is used when someone is powerless in the face of adversity. It is the case of the Rwigaras.
While the two Rwigara’s were still in their own trouble zone, focus shifted to Anne Rwigara, the other daughter who had been granted bail. Her case was tax evasion. Prosecution accused her, as top manager of the family tobacco company, of not paying taxes over years amounting to Rwf 6.8billion (about $6.7m at current rates).
Earlier in March 2018, the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) auctioned hundreds of boxes of cigarettes of Premier Tabaco Company raising Rwf 512m. Other materials of the factory were also auctioned generating Rwf 1.7billions. Todate, the family still owes the tax body billions.
Another case of mismanagement of the tobacco company was opened on Anne Rwigara and other shareholders. Heard at the commercial court in Kigali, the tax body sought for the company to be taken over as those in charge were causing it to make losses. The share holders included Anne, the mother and a company called Surrass Company Ltd.
On Thursday last week September 16, the Rwigara family was back at the Commercial High Court to hear their appeal against the auction of another of their properties; a building adjacent to the hotel which was demolished back in 2015.
Children want MUM to be quiet
The history of the case is that a local commercial bank Cogebaque wants to auction this building. However, the Rwigara family had petitioned the court to halt the process, arguing it had not followed due process.
It emerged in session last Thursday that a crucial document which would have helped stop the auction, was missing from the evidence which the court received. In the back and forth exchanges between the judge and Rwigara family lawyer, it became known that the document was submitted, but somehow went missing.
In futile attempt to make the judge not grant go-ahead to the auction promising to re-submit the crucial document in question, the pleas were ruled inadmissible. To the disgust of the Rwigara family, the judge rule that Cogebaque should go ahead with the public auction set for this Friday September 24.
Again, in unison, the Rwigara family, who were all in court, could be heard loudly reacting with; “Mtcheeew”.
While the daughters have gone silent since at least 2019, the mother is not about to stop making more strong statements especially in interviews with BBC and VOA great lakes services. Of recent, she said the government of President Juvenal Habyarimana was far better compared to current leadership. By making a comparisons with a government accused of planning the genocide against Tutsis, the Rwagara widow had gone beyond the expected societal limit of what can be said publicly.
That is not alone. The family has gone to home of opposition politician Ingabire Victoire following her presidential clemency in September 2018. It is one of those actions made by the Rwigara widow in support of their public comments claiming it was government which is sowing divisions among Rwandans.
Inside Rwanda, some media that have been tagged as associated with government have ran campaign after another, accusing Ingabire and others of being the extension of the genocidal ideology aimed at extermination of Tutsis from Rwanda.
The Rwigara widow has also been doing what is considered the unthinkable in Rwanda; giving interview to YouTube channels run by Rwandan exiles. Inside Rwanda, these YouTubers are branded ‘Hutu extremists’ with same agenda as Ingabire.
The same media have published derogatory details, some highly sexual, about the early life of the Rwigara widow going back to the early 1980s.
In a seeming response to Rwigara widow’s Habyarimana comparison comments, the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB), summoned her during the genocide commemoration week in April this year. She refused and made it clear in furious media interviews. RIB issued more summons, which she responded to later that April, perhaps to avoid arrest. No progress has happened.
In the Kiyovu family mansion where they are isolated with virtually no visitors, as the children especially eldest daughter Diane have resorted only to social media posts and likes, their mother refused to be kept silent.
According to sources, the children have unsuccessfully tried to have her stop giving interviews to exiled YouTubers and VOA/BBC.
The family’s frustration was out in a Tweet written by third born son Arioste Rwigara; “To those giving my mother interviews: PLEASE STOP. Thank you.”