Friday, May 30, 2008
This is a story published by the RNA, February 11,2008.
Due to the highest and greatest personal estime and respect I have of the Man I so admire, his excellence president Paul Kagame, I am pleased to bring the readers of Journal Minembwe, this long kept interesting story of one of our highly respected man. As mentioned, this story was first published by the RNA, and I thought it is worthy bringing it to the public of Journal Minembwe. So, please enjoy reading and watch eagerly for the real book about him soon to be in the bookstore. So here it goes as Kinzer eloquently narrates it:
Paul Kagame almost didn’t make it to Rwanda to lead the RPF after the death of Fred Rwigyema. It was through a combination of extraordinary resourcefulness, intelligence, guile, some well-placed connections and luck that he did.
Yet Kagame, according to childhood friends, was a measured person. He didn’t react quickly. He wasn’t quick to get involved or embroiled.
Focus newspaper, reports that it is in possession of the first draft of a new biography of the Rwandan president entitled
A Thousand Hills (with the subtitle The rebirth of Rwanda and the man who dreamed it).
The book is to be shortly published in the United States , and we bring you new, intimate and never-before- published details of President Kagame’s remarkable life, as he himself and people close to him tell it to the book’s author, Stephen Kinzer.
Kinzer, a former journalist with The New York Times and the author of several internationally acclaimed books writes: Kagame knew that powerful forces would try to prevent him from reaching the stunned army [the RPF] though he could not be certain what they would do or even who they were.
At the time of Rwigyema’s death from a stray bullet from enemy lines, Kagame was attending a military course at Fort Leavenworth in the state of Kansas in the US . But he had, as he tells it to Kinzer, made the decision to leave the United States to go to the RPF frontline even before the death of Rwigyema. Now the trip back would be far from easy.
Stephen Kinzer writes: The moment Kagame left Kansas , he became the central figure in a-cat-and-mouse game that would be played across three continents. It pitted one man, Kagame – albeit a veteran intelligence agent who was highly motivated, well-trained, richly experienced and full of native cunning – against the security agencies of
Rwanda (the Habyarimana regime) and, in all probability, several other countries as well.
Kagame had much on his mind as he boarded a plane in St. Louis and headed to New York on the first leg of his fateful voyage. He spent the flight lost in thought, imagining what sort of traps his enemies might have set to prevent him from reaching Rwanda , and how he might escape them. His wife, who sat beside him, understood that he was on his way to war, but not even she realized how urgent and dangerous his mission was.
Jeannette Kagame had become pregnant during the couple’s stay in Kansas . Kagame wanted to leave her in good hands and decided to send her to Belgium where one of his sisters lived. That meant he would somehow have to obtain Belgian visas for the two of them.
A friend of Kagame’s was serving as Ugandan ambassador to the UN. Kagame sought him out and asked if he could use his diplomatic contacts to secure two Belgian visas. The ambassador knew that Kagame was a top leader of
the RPF and that it had just launched a war. He found it difficult to believe that at such a crucial moment, Kagame would be thinking only of assuring his wife a comfortable pregnancy.
“What are you guys up to?” the man asked suspiciously. “I don’t know,” Kagame blithely replied. “I’m just here accompanying my wife, taking her to Belgium .” That elicited a laugh. “Are you sure you are coming back?” “Yes, they have enough fighters to launch the invasion. I will finish my course and then go back.”
This weak lie was the best Kagame could conjure. His friend was diplomatic enough not to press further. He called a Belgian colleague, and in short order the couple had their visas. At a travel agency in New York , Kagame bought a ticket to London and Brussels for his wife, and one for himself on the same flight to London and then on to Entebbe .
They arrived at Heathrow and spent the day resting and planning.
Kinzer quotes Kagame: “We went to the airport and I separated from my wife. I was going to go from London to Entebbe using the ticket I had. But as I was checking in for the flight, something came to my mind. It was foolish to go the way that was expected of me. As I enquired about flights to Entebbe , I realized that I would have to fly on Kenyan Airways through Nairobi .”
“That was the ticket I had. As I enquired, I realized there was another flight people were boarding, going to Addis (Ababa). So, quickly I helped my wife to her flight to Belgium . I told her, ‘You’ll be fine. Go
to Belgium . We’ll meet when we meet again. Keep in touch, but for now bye-bye.”
The moment was very emotional. When I bid her farewell and came back to the terminal building, we realized that when she entered the plane, she had left behind her handbag, her jacket, her passport and everything. I had to rush back. Fortunately everything was where we had left it. Neither of us knew what would happen or whether we would meet again. She was pregnant and she was going to stay on her own.
We separated. I went to Ethiopian Airways, bought a new ticket to Entebbe . I had someone I knew in Addis who worked for the OAU and I called him, told him I would be passing through and asked him if I could stay a day or two while I waited for my flight to Entebbe . He was happy and said everything would be fine.”
This was not a good time for anyone to be passing through Addis Ababa , Kinzer comments. For several years, the Ethiopian dictator Haile Men¬gistu Mariam had been slaughtering
his opponents in a campaign called “the white terror”. Now with rebels closing in on the capital, his regime was on the brink of collapse.
Desperate soldiers raged through the streets settling old scores. Several elite units were posted at the airport, assigned to prevent enemies of the state from fleeing.
“There was real chaos there, a lot of commotion,” Kagame is quoted in the book.
“When I arrived at the airport, things were a bit difficult. You had to declare if you had any cash. If I declared my money it would be robbed, or taken from me. Possibly I would lose my life. You could see chaos even at the airport. I decided not to declare my money. I got through alright, and found this guy waiting for me. Getting in was easy. Getting out was going to be more difficult because they check you.
I stayed a day or two. My flight to Entebbe
was supposed to be on a Sunday. I asked my host if he had the possibility, diplomatic or otherwise, to assist me to go through the checks at the airport. If they find you with cash and you didn’t declare it, they confiscate it and there is a case. He told me it wouldn’t be possible for him to do it himself, but he had a friend who would help me through diplomatic means, someone senior he knew.
In the end this person couldn’t be found, but I had to go. I couldn’t wait another day. I would have to take some risks, maybe bribe someone at the airport.
At the first stage of check-in, I showed my ticket. Then there was a check point as you were going in. Your bags had to be x-rayed, then you would go into a small room where you would be searched and declare everything.
When I got to that point, I kept thinking what I would say or do. Should I put some money, maybe a thousand dollars, in my pocket and tell the person to please help me and take the money? But suppose it doesn’t work? I kept thinking
to myself. I was in the queue and as I got to the front I stepped out and went to the back again, to give myself more time to think. I did that twice, and then I decided to go to the washroom.
I took a thousand or two thousand dollars out and put it in my shirt pocket. The rest I left in the envelope inside my briefcase. I went back in line. People were moving in. Something happened, and just like that, in a split second, I decided to take a chance with very high risk. As a person in front of me entered, someone came running up to the man checking people in.
The man stepped out. The two of them talked. They kept talking, so what I did, with my briefcase in my hands, I walked past this space of about two meters between the x-ray machines. I decided to walk between the machines and the room where people were being searched.
I was expecting someone to call me and say, ‘Where are you going? Come back!’ If someone followed me I was going to use the money and say, ‘How about making a deal?’ But the
two of them were in a very intense discussion. I made it through, and got to the place where passengers were waiting for my flight.
While I was there, I saw a pastor putting on his collar. He was talking to the lady next to him in the Ugandan language. He said they had been sitting there too long, and then he said, ‘Haven’t they found that person they were looking for?’ So I was curious.
I asked the pastor why we were waiting so long, what was happening. He told me that fellows from Ethiopian Airlines were running around and that the flight was being delayed. When he asked why, one of those fellows said they were looking for somebody dangerous.
I thought that maybe it was me they were looking for. I sat there for about twenty minutes, and then saw some Ethiopian Airline officials coming off the plane. They said now it was time for boarding. We started going down the tarmac.
Before you boarded, you had to identify your luggage. After you identified it, they would put it on a trolley, drive it over and put it into the airp/lane compartment. Curiously, as I was looking around for my bag, I couldn’t find it. I looked around. Other people were picking out their bags. I kept searching.
Immediately, I realized that in my bag there were books from the college, army uniforms, compasses, pocket knives, the kind of things you need when you
are in the field. I saw a man there supervising. He had picked out my suitcase and put it between his legs. He had documents in his left hand and a walkie-talkie in his right hand. He was talking to some people. So I quickly thought: should I ask him why, what’s wrong with my luggage?
The man was standing between the luggage and the plane. He was quite busy talking into the walkie-talkie. I decided to go behind him and gently picked my bag from between his legs and put it on the trolley. Maybe he didn’t realize it. He kept standing with his legs apart as if something was still there.
While I was sitting in the plane, I watched that man for a long time. Another man came and they walked away. He seemed to have forgotten there was something he was supposed to be watching. I think what made it easier for me was all the confusion in Addis.
Kinzer comments: with this brazen maneuver, Kagame escaped from a police force that would certainly have arrested him and perhaps either killed him or turned
him over to his enemies in Rwanda . He soon learned that other agents had also been waiting for him in at least two other cities. In Brussels , immigration officers had detained Jeannette as she left her plane, and taken her to an interrogation room.
“Are you alone?” she was asked. “Yes.”
“But you were supposed to come with someone else.”
“Yes, but I am alone.”
The officers cross-examined Jeannette Kagame for nearly two hours, returning again and again to the question of where her husband had gone. She could not utter what she did not know and they finally allowed her to leave. Ethiopian and Belgian security officers, however, were not the only ones on alert that day.
Before leaving London , Kagame had called an RPF supporter in Kenya and asked her to meet him at the Nairobi airport. There was no time to call again after he
changed his plans, so she went to the airport as they had arranged. There she asked an immigration officer she knew to escort Kagame from his plane. After all the passengers had disembarked, the officer came to her with information he had kept to himself.
“The person you asked me to pick up and help through was not on the plane,” he said. “It’s just as well, because we were alerted to be careful with this person. We were instructed that if he came here, he was to be detained and questioned.”
Having eluded police at airports in London , Brussels and Addis Ababa , Kagame needed to make his way through one more, at his final destination in Uganda . He had called several friends in the Ugandan intelligence services to tell them he was on his way and ask for help in passing through the airport. When the plane landed, he was relieved to see one of them waiting on the tarmac. The friend passed the new overall commander of the RPF through a warehouse!
The shaping of a revolutionary
Stephen Kinzer was in Rwanda for several weeks last year doing research for A Thousand Hills. He sat down several times and for several hours with the President for interviews in his office, at his home, and during his travels on state duties.
Kinzer also talked to members of the president’s family, such as his mother,
and the first lady; he talked to several people who participated in the RPF war or were involved in it some way or another; he talked to childhood friends of the President’s and he crossed over, to Uganda, to talk to comrades of Kagame’s in their NRA days.
A Thousand Hills is a meticulously researched, detailed piece of work that traces Kagame’s first involvement in a guerilla movement. That was when he was one of the first 27 fighters of Yoweri Museveni’s NRA which attacked Kabamba Military Police Academy in 1981. The aim of the raid was to loot the armory.
Kinzer writes: Darkness, always a friend of guerrilla armies, was settling over the Ugandan town of Kabamba as a band of fighters prepared their attack. Museveni had planned this operation personally and in great secrecy. At his side were twenty seven armed men and fourteen others without weapons. All were Ugandan except two sons of Rwandans: Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame.
The operation went haywire when sentries realized something was
amiss, challenged the driver of the guerillas’ truck and shooting broke out. The guerillas stormed into the barracks through gunfire, grabbed whatever few weapons they could and escaped, lucky that they weren’t all dead. This was Kagame’s baptism of fire.
Kinzer writes: In this war as in any other, soldiers needed to be not just fighters but specialists in one discipline or another. Kagame had no trouble choosing his specialty. For a long time he had been attracted to intelligence work. Later he would insist that he developed this interest only “because the situation demanded it,” but it also suited his personality.
He was by nature quiet and introspective, but also curious, observant, analytical…It did not take long for him to become one of Museveni’s close protégés and senior intelligence officers.
Paul Kagame describes his early days as a member of the NRA thus: I used to walk long distances. Sometimes I was sent up to two hundred kilometers away, either in search of contacts or places the guerrilla group could move to in the bush.
I would study the territory, see if there was enough water, if there was terrain to hide, if it was likely that people would support us. I would go and spend days, weeks and months alone, or sometimes with a couple of other people… sometimes you’d take someone by force, capture him and say, “You must guide me.” You have to release such a person carefully so he won’t give you away. Because of my appearance alone, people would say, “This is a stranger.” So most of the time I had to move at night…
One time we had to go through some villages and we were caught there when the morning broke, before we reached our hiding place. We met some people and they started shouting. They knew we were not from there. We had to arrest these people and threaten them that if they continued making noise we would kill them…when we got to a place where there was good cover, we told them they could go back.
The book details how, after the Ugandan guerrilla war, Rwigyema and
Kagame moved ahead with the work of organizing for an eventual return to Rwanda, by military force if necessary; the clandestine work the two – as leaders of the Rwandese Patriotic Force – did shaping the movement into a cohesive politico-military organization, how they used their position and influence within the NRA to quietly encourage more young sons of Rwandan exiles to enlist, and guiding the careers of these soldiers, steering as many as possible to training courses and field commands.
Kinzer comments, they built their rebel army in a way no revolutionary group ever had: within the national army of another country.
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By any standards Paul Kagame qualifies to be one of the most successful revolutionaries of the modern age, the author adds.
The president’s early life is intertwined with the history of modern Rwanda – fleeing massacres with his family when he was just a toddler, ending up in exile with the entire family in a neighboring country, etc.
Kinzer narrates the early friendship of Fred (whom Kagame first met in Uganda in their refugee camp in Ankole), how they spent much of their childhood searching for firewood and water, how they were so much in the company of each other that many who met them thought they were brothers.
The book narrates how the two boys used to play at being inyenzi (with sticks tied
in banana leaves to stand in for guns), taught and encouraged by an old man who himself was a refugee and how thus the spark of an idea was passed from one generation to another. They were already rehearsing for the war to come, Kinzer comments.
The book describes Kagame as being brilliant in primary school; how he won a place at Ntare Secondary School ; how while there he became distracted and lost his academic concentration.
The author comments, after Kagame’s early burst of achievement he had stopped to consider the circumstances of his life and what he saw pained him: the injustices (which later incubated an anger in him that was a main catalyst for his choice to lead a revolutionary life), the anger was to increase when his father Deogratius lost his life, a hereditary noble who died a heartbroken man.
When his father died, the loss deepened his unfocused anger. He let his grades slip and became a troublemaker at school, Kinzer writes. At first he rallied his Rwandan schoolmates to fight
back against Ugandan kids who taunted and insulted them.
Then he went further, actively picking fights with the locals.
Yet Kagame, according to childhood friends, was a measured person. He didn’t react quickly. He wasn’t quick to get involved or embroiled. He would stand aside and assess the situation. He was always intent on listening, but
he was also a fighter. We always had someone insulting us and he wouldn’t stand for that.
“I remember vividly the time when some Ugandans were calling us names and assaulting us,” one of his childhood friends is quoted. “We were living in quarters with forty kids in each one, and he organized ours to fight against them. They were bigger than he was, but he was always saying: ‘We can’t give in to those guys. We can’t let these guys call us whatever they want. We can’t be submissive.’”
In 1976, (when Paul was midway through secondary school) Fred suddenly disappeared. Both young men had become restless as they searched for a way to channel their inchoate anger and Paul suspected Fred had embraced some kind of clandestine mission, perhaps in opposition to Idi Amin. This disappearance led Paul to wonder whether the wider world might have some place in it for him as well.
Kagame was later to graduate from Old Kampala Secondary School .
The author quotes Kagame: I started feeling, in my thinking and whole being, very rebellious. I wanted to rebel against everything in life. I felt some kind of undefined anger. There was something I wanted to overcome, but I didn’t know what it was. You were always reminded in one way or another that you didn’t belong here ( Uganda ); that you weren’t supposed to be there.
You have no place that you can call yours. You have no right to speak, so you keep quiet. Everything reminds you that you are not where you belong. It had almost become normal, but nothing anyone could get used to.
One of the major slights Kagame suffered was at the flight school in the town of Soroti in eastern Uganda . In 77, the (now defunct) East African Airlines placed an advertisement in Ugandan newspapers; the airline needed new pilots and was offering to train ten qualified young men at the flight school.
Kagame, writes Kinzer, had been fascinated by aviation since childhood and he jumped at the chance; he took the entrance exam with more than a hundred other applicants and when the results were posted, he was thrilled to see he was one of the ten successful candidates.
Believing that he had finally found a path toward normal life, he strode into the school director’s office, announced he was one of the successful applicants and declared himself ready to enroll. The director
could tell that the young man in front of him was no Ugandan, but a refugee from Rwanda . “You?” the man barked. “Get out of here you Rwandan!”
Slights such as these are what the children of Rwandan refugees – in Uganda , Burundi , Tanzania , and Congo and further afield endured on a daily basis. Many never accepted the sentence of eternal exile that Rwanda ’s new masters (the “ Hutu Republic ”) had imposed upon them. They lived without a country and from their ordeal drew a sense of purpose.
With an almost mystic focus, they came to believe fate and history had assigned them a transcendent task: to find their way back to a homeland many of them barely remembered, but idealized.
Kagame went further. He persuaded a Ugandan to give him a “travel document” and in 1977 crossed into Rwanda ; he traveled to Kigali to visit with one of his relatives, a distant uncle who became the young man’s first friend in Rwanda . Once in Kigali , only after dark did the young Kagame dare venture
into the streets.
Out in the streets, he walked endlessly, slowly absorbing the reality of a city that had until then existed for him only in dreams and stories. Kinzer writes that in Kigali , Kagame relied only on the shadows and his instincts to keep him safe.
Kagame discovered that a bar called The Kiyovu attracted a clientele of politicians, civil servants and police officers who liked to gather after work for beer and conversation. He became a regular. His routine was to slip in as unobtrusively as
possible, sit at a table by himself, speak to no one and nurse one Fanta after another.
He seemed to be lost in his own world, but actually he was listening intently to conversations around him. What he overheard was mostly gossip and news of the political rialto: who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out.
It fascinated him. At this stage,
the young man had essentially become a self-employed intelligence agent. Kinzer writes that in Rwanda Kagame assigned himself a classic intelligence mission: to make sense of a complex situation by analyzing a thousand scattered clues. Without realizing it, he was moving into the world of subversion and covert action.
Kagame stayed in Rwanda for six weeks and a year later he returned for a second trip, this time traveling through the countryside. He watched, listened and assimilated a torrent of impressions.
These experiences shaped him in two important ways. First they were his introduction to the homeland he had never known. From his observations he drew valuable insights into Rwandan life, especially a renewed sense of outrage at the country’s apartheid-style political system.
Kagame wrestled long with the question of what he and his generation could do to bring their people back home. It was during this time that he heard a piece of welcome news. His childhood friend, Fred Rwigyema, had
surfaced in the town of Fort Portal and was looking for him.
Paul quickly made his way there and found Fred with a dramatic story to tell: he had left school after being recruited by followers of Yoweri Museveni, at the time a rebel leader determined to overthrow Idi Amin’s macabre tyranny. This was a reunion that would change the course of Rwandan history.
Kagame too would join the NRA and become a guerrilla fighter. The rest, as they say, is history.
Shall we share a glass of milk?
A Thousand Hills however is not only about the hard issues of politics and revolution. The third half of the book is a tour through today’s Rwanda , comprising
about a dozen snapshots or mosaic pieces of varying lengths and tones. The book also contains romance… that of Jeannette, the future first lady of Rwanda , and Paul.
Kinzer writes: He (Kagame) had remained single. This was even after the NRA took power in Kampala , with Kagame as one of the successful leaders of the movement. He focused intensely on the clandestine project that obsessed him, while most of his Rwandan friends married and began raising families.
After a time he found himself the only bachelor among them. They rarely missed a chance to tell him it was time for him to marry. Slowly, Kagame came to agree.
The author continues: Following Rwandan tradition, Kagame asked relatives to help him find a suitable wife. One had a suggestion. She knew a poised and educated young Rwandan woman, Jeannette Nyiramongi, who had been born in exile in Burundi after her father, a Tutsi sub-chief, had fled his homeland.
From his contacts in Kenya , where this eligible lady had taken a job, Kagame learned enough about her to intrigue him. He decided to take a trip to Nairobi , even though it would not be without risk. Kenya and Uganda were on bad terms, and the appearance of a senior Uganda intelligence officer in the Kenyan capital would be grounds for suspicion or worse. Certainly no one would believe that he had come to court a woman.
In Nairobi , Kagame enlisted the help of a friend who knew Jeannette. They decided to drop in on her at work and offer one of the hoariest clichés in the history of courtship, the excuse that they were “just passing by.”
As a teenager, Jeannette had belonged to cultural groups where older people taught younger ones Rwandan songs, dances and traditions. Like many Rwandan refugees, Jeannette included RPF leaders in her panoply of heroes. Kagame, whose name had for years been whispered from ear to exile Rwandan ear, was among them. Now he had come to court her.
The chapter continues: Sensing his innate shyness and utter inexperience with women, she casually mentioned that it was lunch time and invited him and his friend for a snack at her apartment.
“No, I am in a hurry,” Kagame lied.
“Well,” she persisted, “if you can’t have lunch, how about just a glass of milk?”
Jeannette guessed that she might tempt Paul out of his awkwardness by offering him some, and she was right. Their romance developed over glasses of milk. Kagame narrowly escaped arrest in Nairobi, and left in a hurry.
He told Jeannette by phone that he could not return to Nairobi, and
persuaded her to visit him in Uganda. She agreed and during her visit he proposed. She said yes, and they were married in the June of 1989. (End)
Rwanda News Agency/Agence Rwandaise d'Information
Posted by Minembwe at 5:38 PM