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HOW REBELS SEIZED RUJUGIRO'S FARM

By NBF News
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It is perhaps a case of 'the bigger the head, the bigger the headache'. This maxim made popular by Nigeria's late billionaire, MKO Abiola, appears to summarise the travails of Rwandan business magnate, Tribert Rujugiro, who the hard way is grappling with one reality: it is one thing to clobber your way to the top, it is yet another to remain there.

Assailed from all possible sides by some of the most coldly concocted crises, the tobacco tycoon has many times been hit by hurricane, but refusing to be swept away, has found his reputation hanging by the cliff edge. The only thing he has not been linked with is the Italian mafia.

Of all the mud thrown at him, none for Rujugiro is as murky as the accusations that almost successfully linked him with the war in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and portrayed him as a friend and financier of the then rebel leader, General Laurent Nkunda. It came as a cruel blow right below the belt, given that emerging facts appear to suggest Rujugiro himself was a victim of Nkunda's psychosis.

Until his reign of terror was terminated, Laurent Nkunda was a fearsome warlord notorious for reneging on every agreement to end the bloodshed in DRC. He led a force of an estimated 4,500 men called the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The group purported to protect minority Tutsis in the eastern Kivu provinces of Congo but the United Nations and human rights groups say it uprooted hundreds of thousands people. He said he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from 'genocide' – an emotive word following the slaughter by Hutu extremists of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, 10 years earlier. Most local people believed it was all a pretext – his real objective was not the protection of the Tutsi – it was power. He fought in both the Rwandan and Congolese conflicts but first came to widespread notice when he led his forces into the Congolese town of Bukavu in 2004.

The former general ruled his own 'mountain state' from his villa in Kitchanga in North Kivu. Nkunda raised road tolls, taxes on the sale of timber, coltan, gold and other natural treasures. Indeed, Laurent Nkunda's life is intertwined with the history of the Tutsi in both Rwanda and Congo.

Nkunda was born in Congo as one of the sons of thousands of Tutsis who fled Rwanda's ethnic persecutions in the 1960's. He studied psychology and was a school teacher before he took up arms. In 1993, he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front's (RPF) rebellion against the Hutu regime in Rwanda. After the 1994 genocide, Nkunda was among the fighters who invaded Congo to rout Hutu extremists. Nkunda stayed in Congo. He fought along with Laurent Kabila's rebels who overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, but shifted sides to a Rwandan-backed militia – the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) – during the country's back-to-back civil wars.

He turned down a promotion to 'Général major' in the Congolese army (FARDC) because he believed it supported Hutu rebels. He then retreated with hundreds of his former troops to the forests of Masisi in North Kivu where he was said to have been protecting Congolese Tutsis from genocide. Although Nkunda fought in both the Rwandan and Congolese conflicts, he first came to widespread notice when he led the brutal repression of an attempted mutiny in Kisangani in 2002, where more than 160 civilians were summarily executed. Two years later, he captured Bukavu, the capital of South-Kivu, where his men allegedly went on a killing spree, torturing and raping civilians. Human Rights Watch also reported that Nkunda's forces killed at least 150 people in Kiwanja in late 2008.

Rujugiro's farm
In the heat of the war in DR Congo, a UN Security Council Panel Report on Sanctions had it that Rujugiro regularly held meetings with leaders of the rebel group CNDP, including General Nkunda, at his farm in Kilolirwe. Rujugiro is from North Kivu province. The tobacco tycoon is known to have been an important backer of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) during the Rwandan civil war of 1990-1994. Among other things, the Panel obtained a paper copy of an e-mail from Rujugiro dated 28th August 2007, thanking a Dubai-based employee for making the necessary arrangements to pay $120,000 to cover the salaries of the 'soldiers' for 'our friend Laurent N'. An electronic copy of another e-mail sent from Rujugiro to Rene Munya, a South African associate, showed the tycoon asked Munya to clarify the identity of some financial transactions sent by a 'friend' notorious for using multiple identities.

Emerging facts obtained by this newspaper show that 2008 was not the first time Tribert Rujugiro was implicated in the Congo war. Rujugiro was first implicated in the DRC conflict in a UN Report issued on 12 April 2001 (Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of the Natural Resources and Other Form of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo) as a major financier of a rebel group in the country as well as an exploiter of the country's natural resources.

Rujugiro strongly denied those accusations and after a meeting with the UN DRC commission, followed by a formal complaint, the UN Security Council extended the investigation panel's mandate which eventually cleared him of the accusations in a final report of 15th October 2002. Evidence sent to the UN showed that Rujugiro had never dealt in minerals during the entirety of his lifetime, whether in the DRC or anywhere else in the world. After the complaint was lodged to the UN, the body upon taking a second look at the case released a revised version of the report, without mentioning the name of Tribert Rujugiro.

If the tobacco manufacturer heaved any sigh of relief, his joy was not to be for long. Six years later, a new UN Report on 12th December 2008 called 'Final of Excerpts on the Democratic Republic of Congo' again linked Tribert Rujugiro to the war in Eastern Congo and alleged that he was providing financial assistance to the rebel leader, Gen. Laurent Nkunda's movement, CNDP. For the second time, the Rwandan businessman had to challenge the report findings.

To extricate himself from an intricate web, the Rwandan wrote in a letter sent to the UN: 'I categorically deny that I am directly or indirectly involved with the CNDP as suggested by the report or that I provide financial assistance to the CNDP and I strongly contest the veracity of any testimony which would sustain the version that I play a role in CNDP financing.' He called upon the UN Security Council to instruct the Group of Experts to verify and prove the allegations, which have since damaged his reputation.

The UN Report further stated that Rujugiro regularly met with CNDP top leaders including General Laurent Nkunda at his two farms located in the former rebel controlled area of Masisi, Eastern Congo.

Rising to the defence of the embattled businessman who is said to employ about 3,000 workers in Rwanda, DRC, Uganda and South Africa; independent analysts reason that if Rujugiro visited Eastern Congo to inspect his farms, it cannot be an issue since he owns them. Rujugiro himself has come out to say that he has met Laurent Nkunda only once in his life; and that was at a social event.

In the various public debates that the Rujugiro controversy has provoked, analysts on both radio and newspaper have come out to say it is a common knowledge that Rujugiro possesses a number of farms and even acquired new land in Masisi. Land papers clearly show that those farms in Masisi were acquired at the time when DRC was still known as Zaire. By an unfortunate coincidence, his land falls under the rebel controlled area of North Kivu Province and the militia wasted no time in establishing a military base on it, something which was beyond Rujugiro's control.

Pointing at the Dafur war in Sudan, the Lord Resistance Army in Uganda, Charles Taylor in Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and other regions on the continent or elsewhere in the world, the public analyst Kyungu Kikudji reminded everyone that the Laurent Nkunda CNDP like any other rebel group does not seek permission of land owners to establish military bases in areas under their control.

In God's name
Though every army in the history of humankind has been responsible for one atrocity or the other, Nkunda appeared to have mixed his with showmanship. General Nkunda was known to use religion as a rallying cry to the point of committing atrocities which one preacher described as the warlord's contribution to the depth of the problems and the erosion of human values in the Congo. One of the striking acts that helped hone the character of Laurent Nkunda was the assassination in Congo of a journalist well known for opposing him; the second was his bizarre mix of religion with macabre rites. Indeed; at the core of the warlord's eccentricity was the religious fervor with which he led his troops. Apparently, he was very influenced by the evangelistic movement, and as a pastor in the Pentecostal church, he regularly helped to convert and baptize his troops. He proudly sported a pin, 'Rebels for Christ.' Before each drink and meal, he and his faithful prayed. 'We fight in the name of the Lord,' he told an interviewer. 'That is what I tell all my troops. When they fight, they have God on their side.'

Though it would not be the first time that the name of God had been used to consolidate power, and certainly not the first time religion had given hope and purpose to unemployed young men without good futures, someone once close to Nkunda decided to speak out. Reverend Samuel Meyele, one of the pastors working for HEAL Africa hospital who counsels women victims of sexual violence, said Nkunda's faith at one point seemed real. Reverend Samuel recalled that when Nkunda first joined a neighbouring Pentecostal church in Goma, he and him were even friends at one point. When Nkunda first started leading his troops into war, Reverend Samuel said that none of the local churches would believe it. They were finally convinced that he was the one leading the crimes and atrocities, and his own church ended up excommunicating him. 'What he does now, is not part of the church. It is not right. He can call himself Pastor and Pentecostal, but this is not what we believe.'

Appalled that someone again was using God as a licence to kill and that a blood-thirsty General was using the 'God card' as a way to manipulate and control his troops, decent countries, people and businesses did their best to advertise the distance between them and Laurent Nkunda in whose territory children were getting severely malnourished, mothers were starving to death, and people of all ages displaced, injured and despondent.

It was about this time that copies of email correspondences between Rujugiro and one of Nkunda's Commanders, Gahizi Innocent, were sent to the UN experts. In a protest letter to the UN, the tobacco tycoon distanced himself from Gahizi, stating: 'I imagine somebody sent those emails to fake some documents in my name to dupe the Group of experts. It's a pity that they never thought of verifying such emails, well knowing how it is easy to forge using the internet.'

Nothing immediately happened following that protest, but eventually the UN responded asking Rujugiro to meet the Panel of Experts again. As observers began to ponder how a new UN report (12 December 2008) by the Group of Experts can implicate Rujugiro again on similar accusations after he was cleared by the same UN body in the 2002 Report, an embattled Rujugiro would say he was a victim of international conspiracy scripted by foreign businesses powerful enough to have former secret agents in their employ and who would stop at nothing to acquire his business turfs in Africa, be they in South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria or DRC.

Shedding more light, Kyungu said: 'These days, even petty criminals are able to assume someone's identity to commit one crime or mischief on the internet. We hear cases of identity fraud almost on a daily basis. People go on Facebook and claim they are Barrack Obama when they are not. We have heard editors of newspapers cry out that someone has hacked into their email account using their names to send messages to important people in the society. These things happen every day but what can we do. When you look at it, you will see that this is another blunder on the part of the so-called informants. It was the same way the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had Rujugiro's name on their list in April 2001. Someone forgot or just did not know that though this man owns or has stakes in numerous businesses in Africa and the Middle East, he does not deal in minerals.'

Like a bad penny
Not a few people have asked why Tribert Rujugiro has become the bad penny in the DRC conflict, always turning up in the UN Report. The Public Affairs commentator, Kyungu Kikudji said that given the fact that the UN experts have undoubtedly been fed with false information, it is obvious the informants are motivated by something far beyond human rights. 'Rujugiro must have something they want badly,' he notes.

It has also been suggested that naming Rujugiro in a report related to the exploitation of minerals could be an attempt to link Rwanda to the illicit trade of minerals in the DRC. In the report, Rujugiro is said to be close to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and a member of his Presidential Advisory Council. What the report failed to say is that this Advisory council, set up for the sole purpose of looking at government policy has a majority of foreign members like Professor Michael Porter, Ex- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Priest Rick Warren, among others.

Emerging facts suggest that the close relationship between Tribert Rujugiro and President Paul Kagame is a little exaggerated. While it is true that Rujugiro was involved in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at the time of the struggle, he has never been involved in any political forum or acts since the end of the struggle in 1994. If anything, it is a relationship of mutual respect and nationalism with the President at a time leaning on the billionaire businessman to throw in his wealth of experience in building a country styled as the Switzerland of Africa.

In addition to being one of the close advisors of President Paul Kagame, Rujugiro was part of a new initiative called Rwandan Investment Group (RIG), a private investment company created by some 43 local investors. Created in September 2006 and possibly modelled after Nigeria's Transnational Corporation Plc (Transcorp) RIG, headed by Rujugiro, was investing in extraction of methane gas in Lake Kivu in the western part of Rwanda, silk and cement production, maintenance of Kigali industrial park and peat extraction.

If anyone thought that Rujugiro, through the Rwandan Investment Group, was enjoying enormous government patronage; they were in for a big shock. When Kabuye Sugar was privatized, and Rujugiro with a group of Rwandan businessmen made the highest offer, the business was sold to Madhvani, an Indian group. Similarly, when the Rwandan government commenced the privatization of state-owned businesses in 1996, Rujugiro made the highest offer for shares in Tabarwanda, but the shares were sold to British American Tobacco (BAT). Now the backbreaker: while Rujugiro was in London, 42 hectares of his land was taken over by the Rwandan government without public motive, despite the fact that Rujugiro was in possession of the title deed to the property. Kyungu said that if Rujugiro was truly involved in Rwandan politics after 1994, it is doubtful that this would have occurred. 'These are just a few examples to show that Rujugiro has never enjoyed any favour from the Rwandan authorities; he has been treated like any other Rwandan national and has never been a close advisor to President Kagame, than through the Presidential Advisory Council.'

Investigations reveal that though RIG is made up of native shareholders like Transcorp Nigeria, there are a number of differences between the two companies in relation to parent government. RIG has received a concession to produce power and supply to the local electrical company, a concession which was the fifth granted by the Government.

The concession carried a lower rate of purchase of the supplied electricity, and carries no financial support or facility apart from a guaranteed purchase and payment of supplied power.

At this very moment, out of the five concessions given by the government, RIG is the only one which has started work, and is already extracting the gas. The Rwandan government will benefit majorly from this concession as the power will be supplied at almost 60% of the current cost paid by the government.

It was further gathered that RIG is a purely business-oriented group of 42 members who put together equity of 25 million USD to invest in exciting opportunities in the country. Contrary to reports, the group never received any favours from the government including the time Rujugiro was Chairman of the company.

End of the road
Now that General Nkunda is under house arrest in Rwanda, Tribert Rujugiro must be wishing it would also mean the end of the road to the trailers of lies circulated against him. Because Nkunda has long promoted himself as the only man who can protect his Tutsi tribesmen in eastern DRC from Hutu forces, the warlord had attracted accusations that he was a stooge of the Tutsi-led government in neighbouring Rwanda. In a curious anti-climax, it was the Rwandans who finally arrested Nkunda. For over one year, the former rebel leader has been living under house arrest in the Rwandan capital Kigali where he spends his days in a villa watching television.

The Congolese government issued an international arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in 2005. Today, it says it wants Gen Nkunda to be sent back home to face trial.

Human Rights Watch says it is still cataloguing the atrocities of his troops, implicated in numerous killings, torture and rapes.

More than one million people have fled three-way clashes between Gen Nkunda's forces, ethnic Hutu Rwandan rebels and the Congolese army in recent years.

Although a peace deal officially ended DR Congo's war in 2002 and a subsequent deal in January to disarm rebel groups in the east, Gen Nkunda and his men refused to join the army, as former rebel units were supposed to. His force remained around Goma, always a potential threat to DR Congo's precarious peace. Nkunda's lawyer, Stephane Bourgon, says his client has been illegally detained and that Rwanda has even refused to grant him access to his client. Bourgon used to communicate with Nkunda through his wife. But since December, she is no longer allowed to visit her husband.

'Nobody is visiting Nkunda anymore. This is a total violation of every international instrument to which Rwanda is a party to, and this is very bad,' says Bourgon.

Analysts say Nkunda's arrest was key to a deal between the Great Lakes neighbours to end the region's conflicts and ultimately to crush Hutu rebels. Rwandan and Congolese soldiers – including Nkunda's former men – then jointly turned their guns on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a splinter group of Rwanda's former Interahamwe militia.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has not publicly indicted Nkunda, but has opened investigations into the actions of his militia as the UN has accused his CNDP of serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers during his five-year rebellion in eastern Congo. The CNDP's current leader, Bosco Ntaganda, has been promoted to General in the Congolese army while he is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri.