MILITARY POLITICS: Gen. Saleh Under Fire Over Rwigyema Killers

pharm geneva; font-size: small; line-height: 115%;”>The two army officers died shortly after the assassination of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) commander Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema.

order geneva;”>Saleh was placed under fire by Ugandans on the popular social networking Forum UAH to explain circumstances under which the two officers died.

dosage geneva;”>It is widely held that Gen. Saleh oversaw the execution of Bunyenyezi and Baingana for reportedly planning the assassination of his longtime friend Rwigyema.

“In God’s name I never killed Bunyenyezi or Baingana. Neither did Kagame kill Rwigyema,” Saleh posted on UAH.

“But I remember it was a nightmare for RPF to lose 3 top commanders and filling the vacuum was miraculous. Please, don’t tell lies,” Saleh added.

“There is nothing I can do beyond swearing by God’s name. You should also swear by God’s name that we are that bad and have not contributed to the development of Uganda,” said Saleh in response to a concerned Ugandan who accused the general of peddling lies.

This is the first time Saleh is openly denying having killed Bunyenyezi and Baingana.



February 1 is a special day for Rwanda. It’s a day that evokes memories of heroic acts by Rwandese.

It’s a special day meant to commemorate the roles played by the country’s heroes in different spheres of life and also reflect on values for which they are remembered.

Heroes and heroines are grouped into three categories which are ‘Imanzi’, ‘Imena’ and ‘Ingenzi’.

The Imanzi group comprises top heroes who exhibited extraordinary zeal in sacrificing their lives for the good of Rwanda while Imena group composes of outstanding personalities who lived as good examples for the rest.

As Rwanda celebrates Heroes Day, we take a recap of the role played by fallen Rwanda’s hero of heroes Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema (Emmanuel Gisa) in the liberation of his country.

Rwigyema was killed on the second day (October 2 1990) of the Rwanda Patriotic Front liberation war against the regime of Juvenal Habyarimana.

Born on April 10 1957, Rwigyema was a founding member and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, an anti-Hutu Power guerrilla group that fought in the Rwandan Civil War.

Rwigyema was born in Mukiranze village, Kamonyi District (former Gitarama) in the Southern Province of Rwanda.

Considered a Tutsi, in 1960, he and his family fled to Uganda and settled in a refugee camp in Nshungerezi, Ankole following the so-called Hutu Revolution of 1959 and the ouster of King Kigeri V.


After finishing high school in 1976, he went to Tanzania and joined the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), a rebel group headed by President Yoweri Museveni, the brother of his best friend Salim Saleh, now a special presidential advisor on security.

Later that year, he travelled to Mozambique and joined the FRELIMO rebels who were fighting for the liberation of Mozambique from Portugal’s colonial power.

It was also at this point that he began calling himself Fred Rwigyema

Saleh trained together with his friend Rwigyema and Museveni in Mozambique with Samora Machel’s Frelimo rebels.

It was there that he adopted Saleh as his nom de guerre.


President Yoweri Museveni in 2010 revealed: “Towards the end of 1976, we had recruited a fresh batch of fighters from within Uganda that included one Rwandan refugee youth, Fred Rwigyema.

“I took this batch of youths to Mozambique for military training. As we were fighting Amin in 1979, thousands of Ugandan youths joined the struggle, some other Rwandan youths among them.

The Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government that was put in power by the Ugandan exiles and the Tanzanians after the 1979 war was not cohesive at all.”

He says some of the victims of that shaky group were the Rwandese youths whom he had recruited into FRONASA (Front for National Salvation Army). They could not be allowed in the new Army, Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).

“I had to keep the late Fred Rwigyema on my small body guard group although he had been denied an army number at Kabamba by the UNLA leaders of that time,” Museveni notes.

“Given the unresolved acute political problems of Uganda, a new and more vicious political-military struggle started on February 6 1981, when we attacked Kabamba. Among the fighters who joined us to attack Kabamba were two Rwandan youths, Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame.”

Museveni says this was the small group that acted as the spark for the thousands of former FRONASA fighters that were scattered all over Uganda in the UNLA. During the five years’ war (1981-1986), other Rwandan youths joined that struggle.

In March 1985 when the NRA opened up a second front popularly known as the Western Axis, Museveni appointed Rwigyema was it commander.

Earlier in February 1983 NRA’s Rapid Response Force in commander, Salim Saleh, was wounded in fierce fighting with government forces at Bukalabi on February 21, 1983.

Brig. Pecos Kutesa, while narrating this incident in his book, Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986 – How I saw it, recalls how Fred Rwigyema broke down and cried when he saw an injured Saleh being carried to the rebel headquarters.

Rwigyema and Saleh were too close to an extent that after his death, Saleh took charge of his family.

The Bukalabi battle demoralised the NRA because not only was the top rebel fighter injured, but about 10 senior NRA fighters including the likes of Mwebaze Rwamurinda and Mugabi Kanunda, were put out of action. This did not deter Rwigyema from fighting on.

After the NRA captured state power in 1986, Rwigyema became the deputy Minister of Defence. He was regularly at the front line in northern Uganda during the new government’s offensives against remnants of the ousted regime.

“We won a total victory in 1986. This time, on account of the progressive forces being in control of the situation, the fighters from among the Banyarwanda refugee community that had been with us in the struggle could not be purged from the new Ugandan National Army, NRA,” says Museveni.

“Although there were some chauvinist sentiments lingering around, this time my pan-Africanist ideas gained the upper hand because I was in ultimate control. The refugee Banyarwanda fighters were this time fully integrated in the NRA, Fred Rwigyema becoming a Major-General when we introduced ranks in January 1988. Fred Rwigyema kept telling me about their homeland Rwanda — from which they were excluded by the sectarian regime that was in charge,” the President notes.


“I emphasised to him the importance of doing political work to unite opinions among the Rwandese. That is why I assisted him, sometimes, to go to some places which I cannot remember very well to meet Kanyarengwe who was, I think, in exile in Tanzania that time. When Pasteur Bizimungu and another person, Kajekuhakwa, fled to Uganda, Rwigyema came to tell me the information they had brought.”

Museveni then decided that for the future of the Rwandan struggle these officers could benefit from further training to add to the NRA guerilla training and experience.

“I nominated Fred Rwigyema to go for the Senior Command and Staff course in the USA. He came and told me that his continued presence in Uganda was important; otherwise, the Banyarwanda fighters that had been integrated in NRA could escape and launch an unplanned struggle. Instead, Paul Kagame took up the slot.”

“Just before I left for the United Nations meeting in New York, Rwigyema came to see me at the old State House in Entebbe. I was so busy with other meetings that I told Rwigyema I would meet him when I came back from the UN meeting. Although I cannot remember the atmosphere very well because of time, he appeared to be troubled by something.”

“While in New York I got a phone call from Mugisha Muntu, who was Army commander then, that the Banyarwanda members of NRA had escaped and entered Rwanda. In fact Fred Rwigyema had even sent me a message to that effect. It was in the middle of the night in New York. President Habyarimana was also in New York. I tried to ring him but I was told that he was asleep and could not be woken up.”


On the second day of the 1990 RPF offensive into Rwanda, Rwigyema was murdered by two of his sub-commanders.

He had called a staff meeting with three close associates – Peter Bayingana, Chris Bunyenyezi and Stephen Ndugute.

During it, a fierce argument over strategy developed. Rwigyema wanted to advance slowly in order to politicize the Hutu peasantry and get them to join the RPF.

Bayingana and Bunyenyezi wanted to seize power quickly, ignoring the Tutsi-Hutu identity split. Ndugute remained a silent bystander. The dispute grew heated and Bayingana drew his pistol and shot Rwigyema in the head.

In the resultant chaos, Ndugute escaped and returned to Uganda to inform President Museveni of the events.

Museveni in turn sent his trusted brother and right-hand man Salim Saleh to Rwanda, where he found Rwigyema’s body in a swamp, gave it a proper burial, arrested Bayingana and Bunyenyezi and brought them back to Uganda for interrogation.

They were later executed.

Rwigyema remained buried in Kagitumba until the war ended and his body was reburied in the Remera Heroes Cemetery.

Rwigyema remain top on the list of the country’s heroes.

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