Recently, Kayumba Nyamwasa appeared on the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) radio to deny accusations by those who have worked closely with him over the years. He seems bothered by their consensus he is a selfish, greedy coward who always sought to promote himself above any other consideration.
Kayumba was particularly incest by Gen. Kabarebe’s speech describing him as a treacherous opportunist. But this view is reinforced by other officers, active and retired, who served with Kayumba.
I took the time to chat with serving and retired officers who knew him the most and who reveal that the greatest cause Kayumba ever believed in was: Kayumba.
From the picture those officers paint, it is clear Kayumba was always in it for Kayumba, not for any higher cause. As soon as he joined Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), in 1985 as it was about to capture power, Kayumba was already weighing how to personally profit from the fruits of other people’s sacrifice.
Months after and the NRA capture of power, he inveigled a posting to Gulu, where his main focus was looting goods that he would send for sale to Kampala and Masaka.
In 1990 when the RPF struggle began, the initial RPA attack was repulsed with its soldiers and residents of the areas they had attacked went on the run for their safety.
Kayumba did not take part in reorganising the soldiers and reassuring them. Instead, he raided the farms of fleeing residents, personally driving thousands of their cattle to his farm in Mpororo, Uganda.
He was not just greedy; he was cynical too. A few weeks after Gen Fred Rwigema’s death, the battle at Lyabega in Mutara, where he had stolen the cattle, also took the lives of two more top commanders: Majors Chris Bunyenyezi and Peter Bayingana. Kayumba had had enough.
According to officers who were with him at the time, Kayumba reached out to two other top commanders and urged them to join him in abandoning their fighters, and the struggle, to cross back into Uganda to preserve their lives.
When they didn’t heed his advice, he took them for enemies. One of the officers says that Kayumba believed they had betrayed their knowledge of this cowardice. He would hold this grudge against them for years.
In 1998, as RPA Chief of Staff, he tried to get one of them killed out of vengeance, “At one time he lured me into enemy defences after he had communicated with them to eliminate me. I was supposed to be killed. My colleague knew Kayumba had this grudge and told me ‘it is you they want. Let me go instead, they will not do anything to me.’ They were disappointed to see that it was him, not me, who had gone there. But Kayumba knew we had uncovered his treachery.” Imagine trying to get your own colleague killed by the enemy, the officer remarked.
But his true colours and attitude of sabotage had begun to show even earlier, only people ignored it until they couldn’t anymore. In September 1991, the RPA was overpowered by enemy fire at its headquarters in Kikoba. A rejoicing Kayumba joked with some fellow officers that the High Command had also gotten a taste of the action, “They also got busted,!” he laughed! (Nabyo babipfumuye!). His colleagues looked on aghast, wondering which side Kayumba was really on.
Kayumba is also a coward, as already noted above. A retired officer recounts that after the genocide killings began in 1994, the order was given for a swift march to rescue people.
Different battalions were on the move. Kayumba left Mulindi, the then RPA headquarters, along with the 21st Mobile Force; he would be the cause of disaster along the way, bogging down the entire force. “He demanded that the entire battalion focus on protecting him. Nothing else mattered. For him, there was no point in saving people if Kayumba was not safe,” said an officer who served in the unit.
When the unit came under heavy enemy fire, Kayumba retreated to the rear, abandoning the force he had left Mulindi with. “He abandoned us, only to reappear as we stopped the genocide,” an officer testified.
The situation was still tense and chaotic, exactly how Kayumba wanted it. “As you know, there were still dead bodies strewn everywhere at the time. But we were surprised to hear that Kayumba already had vehicles, houses, and was already involved in smuggling.”
So it’s clear that from Gulu he had learned how to exploit the chaos to amass riches. By 1998, Kayumba had 2000 hectares of land, 1000 heads of cattle in Mutara alone; he also had forcefully expropriated houses in Kimihurura, Nyarutarama, and Nyagatare.
“We had serious problems of resettling people. Many refugees who had returned to Rwanda couldn’t find land to settle on. Kayumba alone had enough land to settle thousands of returnees.” Other officials followed Kayumba’s example to grab land and houses, “this was simply unacceptable!”
However, this was no ordinary soldier but an exceptional opportunist. Kayumba had by this time risen to the position of Army Chief of Staff and part of an army that still had major challenges, not least the insurgency involving the defeated genocidal army and militias making incursions into the country in the dark of the night only to withdraw as daylight set in.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
Kayumba’s greed was ignored due to more pressing circumstances that required greater priority attention. However, he took it beyond the tolerable. Even as the insurgency was raging, Kayumba was busy sowing divisions in the army by creating “personalised officers.” He would demand personal loyalty rather than loyalty to the institution. “He liked officers who praised him, giving them petty rewards, promoting those who praised him and punishing those who didn’t,” said an officer who worked closely with Kayumba at General Headquarters. “Those who resisted were sidelined, regardless of how effective they were.”
In sowing these divisions, Kayumba would engage in egregious violations of the military ethos and creed, “He would send those he didn’t like to war and refuse to give them reinforcements. When they came under heavy fire he would do nothing because he wanted to expose them as ineffective in order to not promote them or to frustrate them,” another officer testified to Kayumba’s sabotage.
“Kayumba didn’t mind if denying officers reinforcements on the battlefield caused the loss of many soldiers. Indeed, we lost many soldiers as a result of this kind of selfishness.”
Kayumba’s problems begin
Sowing divisions in the army marked the beginning of Kayumba’s problems, according to army sources. It became clear that Kayumba was planning on a weakening the army for his own selfish ends, including through manipulating some officers by offering them petty benefits, even promotions.
Kayumba had miscalculated, however. When he thought he had won the loyalty of a sizeable number of officers, he began to undermine the army. He had a surprise coming: “Kayumba was shocked that the same officers he thought were personally loyal to him turned against him,” said another source. “That’s our doctrine. Some things can be tolerated.”
A source indicates that Kayumba foolishly thought he would weaken the army. Instead, he weakened himself, “He isolated himself this way.” From there on, it was downhill, a self-inflicted fate he could never recover from, “Kayumba left himself alone and exposed. You don’t mess with the basic RPA-RDF doctrine. He was foolish,” a retired officer observes. This became Kayumba’s legacy, “it is how he is remembered in the army,” says a serving senior officer.
Ironically, Kayumba had inadvertently helped to build even stronger cohesion within the army that he had sought to divide and weaken. He now claims to have been sidelined by the army. However, “rather than being sidelined, Kayumba had sidelined himself,” a retired officer revealed. Soon he lacked the authority of command, with the only exit left as an obvious possibility.
His choice was to go for further studies. The awkwardness wasn’t lost upon him that someone in his position was leaving for studies at the very moment the entire northern and north-western regions of the country were engulfed by an insurgency. An officer who approached Kayumba about this decision recalls his response, “Wars in Rwanda will never end,” Kayumba said, before suggesting that whatever was expected of him “could wait!”
But why did Kayumba rise to the top of the army, we asked these officers? They point out that Kayumba had risen to that position despite his dubious character and that he was skilled at concealing his weakness until he couldn’t any longer.
According to these officers, Kayumba is someone who will say anything to promote himself, a character that shows in his different media appearances in Uganda. For instance, in a New Vision story, Kayumba says that Rwanda was to blame for the events in Kisangani.
However, he doesn’t say why he signed the joint report of inquiry that concluded that the entire saga was provoked, and initiated by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and that the RPA was forced to defend itself. “Why did he sign a report that had conclusions he didn’t believe to be true?” asked a retired senior officer. “But that is who he is.”
“As someone who was trusted, he proved that he wasn’t reliable. Certainly, he was not someone the struggle could rely on and with time this became obvious, even to Kayumba himself, which prompted his departure,” a former colleague of Kayumba observes.
“When it counted most, there is no help he gave to those who trusted him. His exit is really because he realized it had become clear to all that he was a selfish opportunist who had failed to ideologically align with the cause. A sell-out!”
Even people like Theogene Rudasingwa testify to Kayumba’s greed, selfishness and tendency to ride on backs of others. Rudasingwa believes the “cowardly armchair general,” who claims to be commanding soldiers, sending them to die, in the DRC from the comfort of his couch in South Africa “must account” for a lifestyle of “recklessly and selfishly” placing others in harm’s way for personal benefit.
Friends and foe agree that from his time in Gulu in 1985 nothing much has changed about Kayumba Nyamwasa’s selfishness. Indeed it says much if his colleagues in exile are still complaining about the same character flaws in 2019.
More than 30 years should be enough for someone who aspires for leadership to start thinking about selfless ambitious. However, just as a hyena never changes its spots, neither can Kayumba Nyamwasa change his fundamental character of a selfish opportunist.
These are the traits of a cowardly traitor who chose to desert the army for personal and other country’s interests fit the circumstances Kayumba found himself in. Good thing Rwandans know and can’t be fooled by his opportunism.