FDLR top commander confiscated Eugene Nkusi’s phone for two weeks on suspicion he could be a double agent of the Rwandan government. It was hoped “someone” would call, which would have resulted into automatic death for Nkusi. The Chronicles traces the life of a man who spent over two decades in the top echelons of the militia group yet they suspected he is either “Umunyenduga” or “Umutsi wiyoberanyije”.
Nkusi Eugene alias Nkubito François, 60, has been a survivor of odds. He was born in Rusatira, part of the current Huye district, southern Rwanda. In the 1970s and 80s, Nkusi’s father changed birth places of his six children to appear like they were from northern Rwanda, which was home of President Juvenal Habyarimana together with most of the country’s top political and military leaders.
Widely documented records show that up until 1994, Rwanda’s politics were first controlled by the “southerners” known locally as “Abanyenduga” led by President Gregoire Kayibanda. When he was ousted in 1973 by his military chief Maj Gen Juvenal Habyarimana, control of state affairs shifted to “northerners” or “Abakiga”.
The discrimination in schools was not only done to Tutsi but also to Hutu from the south. The conflicts of north vs south remained a major problem in Rwanda. In fact, the Abakiga (Hutu) from the north were more violent against the Tutsi than the ordinary Hutu, according to simplistic accounts about Rwanda from the time. When power shifted, so goes the account, it gave birth to the proceeding battle between the so called ‘northerners’ vs ‘southerners’.
It was within this battle of the regions that Nkusi grew up. As he began schooling at Remera primary school in Rusatira, the father, a civil servant, was transferred to Pfunda Tea Factory in current Rubavu district.
“My place of birth was changed so that I appeared like I had the ancestry of the north. No Umunyenduga (southerner) could study from there,” Nkusi tells us, saying the father changed birth documents of his children to being born in Kanama commune, Gisenyi prefecture.
From primary, Nkusi went to College Inyemeramihigo, a school reserved exclusively for northerners. One incident happened at this school which has stuck in Nkusi’s psyche. The notorious Commandant Biseruka Stanislas came to school in 1978 to address students that had completed lower secondary (Tronc Commun) about an impending selection of candidates for the elite military school, the ESO.
“He arrived in a helicopter. He told us that it would be only Abakiga (northerners) to be selected so that Abanyenduga (southerners) never dominate us again. He said College Inyemeramihigo was established specifically to develop our area. I heard that with my own ears,” said Nkusi during our interview.
Anastase Murekezi, the former Ombudsman and minister
Nkusi didn’t go to military school, instead the family relocated back to Butare, attending an agricultural training college for four years. He got a job attached in a government project managing Gishwati forest. Nkusi would later be transferred to Kigali at the agriculture ministry headquarters working with an extension project that operated in different regions.
In commune Muvumba, in current Nyagatare district, eastern Rwanda, Nkusi survived another incident. It was in 1991. The mayor Onesphore Rwabukombe put together security report which had a list of alleged collaborators of the RPF rebels, which list included Nkusi’s name. The RPF had launched liberation struggle in October 1990.
Nkusi narrated: “I was saved by the Mbanzanira Innocent, who was in charge of security in Mutara prefecture. He hailed from Rutatira, my home region and was known to our family. He called me to his office and showed me the security report. He said once the security committee convened, nobody would know how and where I disappeared. I fled the station back to agriculture ministry headquarters to inform them. My superior Anastase Murekezi gave me a transfer to another region.”
Anastase Murekezi is former immediate Ombudsman and held different cabinet portfolios for many years in the post 1994 governments.
We ask Nkusi if indeed he was collaborating with RPF rebels, to which he responded: “During the Habyarimana government, anyone from the south was viewed with suspicion. For my case, every region I stayed or office I worked, people often commented about my height. Their view was that no Hutu can be as tall as I was. So, even though my birth documents showed I was from north, few believed when I presented them. My security was never assured all those years.”
When the 1994 genocide against Tutsi began, Nkusi was working from Gikongoro, current Nyamagabe district. As the mass killing of Tutsis reached the area, Nkusi’s elder brother and younger brother were killed in a such a horrific manner that as he speaks about them, Nkusi became emotional.
The local officials targeted Nkusi’s family, accusing their late father of being Tutsi who changed ethnicity to Hutu, and that of his children. Nkusi’s father was also accused of aiding other Tutsis to change ethnicity. Nkusi’s elder brother was accused of links to agriculture minister Frederic Nzamurambaho, who was himself killed at the start of the genocide on suspicion of rebel links. As for Nkusi’s young brother, local officials alleged he often went to meet “Inyenzi” (RPF rebels).
“I remember very well, my young brother was taken by Nyawenda Hesironi, Bourgmestre of Rusatira commune, saying he was taking my brother to where our father went, which meant to be killed,” said Nkusi, with emotion, adding, “As for my elder brother, he sought refuge at ISAR Rubona, but was chased away by Dr Nyabyenda Pierre, telling my brother that there was no room. He came back to our village and that is where the Interahamwe killed him by cutting off finger after another, while shouting ‘Look, do you really believe these fingers are for a Hutu.’”
Dr Nyabyenda Pierre was scientific director at the ISAR agriculture development institute. The overall director of ISAR, Charles Ndereyehe Ntahontuye lives in The Netherlands. He is wanted in Rwanda over the mass killings at ISAR.
Nkusi managed to escape from the area. Together with multitudes fled westwards, thanks to a French-provided safe passage. Nkusi remembers a roadblock where he was stopped. “Had it not been for brother-in-law, a soldier, who told the Interahamwe I was his relative, my fate would have been sealed there,” he told us.
Pacifique Ntawunguka alias “General” Omega
Nkusi crossed into eastern Zaire, now DR Congo. Across, Nkusi went with that military brother-in-law into Panzi camp, controlled by the defeated government army and militias. After a shot while, Nkusi left the military camp to live in Hongo refugee camp which was for civilians. Here, Nkusi, then 35 years of age, found love and got married.
In 1996, the camp was attacked, forcing the thousands of refugees to flee different directions. Nkusi went deep into the interior of Congo. Thousands were repatriated back to Rwanda.
“We knew that going back to Rwanda was sure death at the hands of Inkotanyi, so we chose to live in the forests,” says Nkusi, who first lived in Kalehe refugee camp, north of South Kivu capital Bukavu. Here, the camp was also destroyed, forcing more to move further deep into Congo.
At this point, the militia force, the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR), with its armed branch PALIR or Party for the Liberation of Rwanda, forced Nkusi to join, according to him, which he declined.
He narrated to us: “I made up a story to them that many years back I had wanted to join the army but was prevented because I was branded Umunyenduga (southerner). I told them – ‘So, if you want to me join, you have to count my rank from that time’. I faked that story because I had been living with them for some time and knew what they detested. They didn’t want anything to do Abanyenduga. They allowed me to join, but I remained a civilian. Together with several other who were educated, we worked at headquarters.”
In 2000, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (French: Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR) was born. Nkusi was based in Rutshuru. He would remain working at headquarters for many years dealing with rebel-community relations. He personally knew all the top FDLR commanders.
Nkusi would later be moved to intelligence, directly under the deputy FDLR/FOCA commander Pacifique Ntawunguka alias “General” Omega. He is known to be a venomous ethnic extremist.
President Paul Kagame’s Security Advisor, Gen James Kabarebe, who was Rwanda’s former defense minister and RDF chief, knows Gen Omega first hand. At different fora, Gen Kabarebe narrates an incident in which he held direct phone conversation with Gen Omega, urging him to return home. Omega apparently told him he would only ever come to Rwanda when it was no longer inhabited by Tutsis.
Gen Omega’s children are in Rwanda, with one having completed a government-funded scholarship in China. The others are all at university, or working.
In September 2018, the reclusive FDLR-FOCA commander, Gen. Sylvestre Mudacumura (also known by his noms de guerre Bernard Mupenzi and Pharaon) was killed in a raid near Bwito-Monument, in north Kivu.
Nkusi tells The Chronicles he was at another distant base controlled by Gen Omega, but immediately knew of the demise of their commander. Elections were scheduled to vote for a new top military commander. Nkusi told us that Gen Omega confided in some associates that he didn’t want Nkusi to be around when elections took place.
Nkusi narrated to us: “Gen Omega sent me on emergency mission [far away] in the refugee camp located in Kirama. He had confided with some key commanders that I was Inyenzi and didn’t want me around. I insisted that I would travel the next day. But the Commander who delivered the message said ‘Omega has ordered that you leave immediately’… That commander hails from Butare, so was he was like me.”
Nkusi went on: “In FDLR, it was impossible for a Munyenduga (southerner) to rise up the top ranks. In case they couldn’t manage to eliminate you by killing, they would send you on a mission and then alert the enemy so that you get caught. Many commanders were captured as result of such schemes.”
Nkusi returned days later to find a big party ongoing to celebrate the elevation of Gen Omega to “Commandant FOCA”. In his speech, Nkusi reveals that Gen Omega said: “We know there are Inyenzi in our ranks. I’m going to solve that problem once and for all.”
Nkusi’s phone confiscated
As part of new reorganization, Gen Omega transferred Nkusi to work at the political headquarters of FDLR President Iyamuremye Gaston alias Byiringiro Victor Rumuli, Victor Rumuri, Michel Byiringiro, Rumuli, whose base was located about a full night’s walk away in Kazaroho, in north Kivu.
Here, meetings were convened by Iyamuremye to discuss Nkusi’s fate because the transfer message said Nkusi was Inyenzi. It was decided that he works in coordination unit, which was distant from the insider operations. He was attached to the intelligence coordination unit.
“Can you imagine I still have the appointment letter signed [by Iyamuremye], because I fled with it and a few of my valuable belongings,” said Nkusi.
A few months later, the coordinator of the intelligence unit fell gravely ill. Rumours circulated that the “poison” Nkusi had allegedly brought from Rwanda is what was ailing him. To make matters worse, the sick commander was a close ally of Gen Omega whom he strategically put close to Iyamuremye.
Nkusi narrates: “The situation was so serious my life was on the line. They were going to kill me. Such tense moments were numerous during my time in FDLR. For example, while I was still working with Omega, a commander was killed. They blamed me. They confiscated my phone for two weeks to see if anyone called or SMS, while I was on surveillance. No one suspicious telephoned.”
But how come Nkusi was never executed? He says it was because various other commanders were also suspected to be spies, yet without tangible evidence.
The final straw that convinced Nkusi that he either had to escape or would be killed, is a murder plot hatched to send him on a mission from where he would be executed. Nkusi says he got wind of the plan.
“I escaped and found my way to Rwanda. While here, I received information that one commander who was also long suspected of being Inyenzi, was executed. They said since Agronome had gone, others will also go, so they killed him,” Nkusi narrated.
The gravely ill commander, whom Nkusi was accused of poisoning, was still in critical condition when Nkusi fled.
Agronome is French translation for agriculture officer. It is a reference which was used on Nkusi within the FDLR due to his background as employee within the agriculture sector back in Rwanda.
To date, Nkusi, father of three, is at the Mutobo demobilization and reintegration center in Musanze district. He has been there for nearly two years like 750 other ex-combatants.
Nkusi’s children and wife repatriated to Rwanda during the early years of the FDLR.