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Museveni to Rujugiro: Restrain Himbara, Sell Tobacco Factory to Save Uganda-Rwanda Relations

 In February 2018, President Museveni called exiled Rwandan billionaire businessman Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro to Uganda. 

Rujugiro, who lives in Dubai and South Africa, flew to Uganda where he met President Museveni.

In an interview with New Vision, Rujugiro discloses that President Museveni requested him to close down some of his businesses in Uganda. 

Rujugiro runs the multi-million dollar Meridian Tobacco Company operation which opened in Arua a few years ago. 

The plant is a subsidiary of Pan-African Tobacco group, the manufacturers of Supermatch cigarettes.

Tribert Rujugiro

He also boasts businesses in South Africa, Dubai, Nigeria, Angola, and in all neighboring countries to Rwanda and sells products in 24 countries.

Asked on his interaction with Museveni, Rujugiro said “In February 2018 President Yoweri Museveni asked to meet me. That was the only time I met him.”

He added: “The President asked if I was fighting Kagame. I told him that I was not interested in Rwandan politics and was not involved in any shape or form.”

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President Museveni then told Rujugiro, who was among the businessmen that raised millions of dollars to help RPF fight and defeat the regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, that there was some critical writings that were going around penned by Professor David Himbara who used to be Kagame’s economic advisor. 

Himbara has in the last few years used social media to publish critical articles about Kagame and his policies. 

Himbara has equally criticized Kagame’s foreign trips and questioned his ability to transform the country especially the rural areas. 

Himbara, who lives in exile in Canada, is a brother of Col Tom Byabagamba, the former commander of the Republican Guard which protects President Kagame.

Byabagamba was on March 31, 2016 sentenced by the Military High Court of Kanombe to 21 years in prison, including for inciting insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image. 

Col Byabagamba and his wife Mary Baine at the military court in 2015

The prosecution had accused him of criticizing the government, alleging state involvement in assassinations of opponents, and complaining about foreign and economic policy.

Is he your friend?

During the 2018 meeting, President Museveni asked Rujugiro “if Himbara is my friend, and if so, if I could ask Himbara to stop writing because he was upsetting and embarrassing Kagame.”

Rujugiro says he informed President Museveni that Himbara had worked for Kagame for over 8 years and that the two men had their own issues that could only be sorted out by themselves. 

Rujugiro recollected that “during that meeting, Museveni insisted that Kagame wanted peace and that for Rwanda and Uganda to have that peace, I should try to sell my businesses and leave Uganda.”

In response, Rujugiro told the President that “I was going to try and find a buyer and leave Uganda. I did not want the region to have problems because of me.”

However, President Museveni reassured him that Uganda is a country of laws and that he must not to throw away his business or sell under pressure. 

“Even today, I am trying very hard to sell but I have not yet found a buyer,” said Rujugiro. 

Asked why Rwanda wanted him to close his business in Uganda, Rujugiro responded: 

“They do not care about me. Kagame knows I am a simple guy and I can live on US$1,000 a month. I started off as a clerk in my adult life. Kagame is jealous of my investments in Uganda. You go to Arua and see what I have done there. It is not just about making money but working with communities.”

Rujugiro said he has businesses in South Africa, Dubai, Nigeria, Angola, and in all neighboring countries to Rwanda where he sells his products in 24 countries.

Kagame accuses Rujugiro of using his businesses to fund rebel movements targeting Rwanda. 

Rujugiro told Museveni that “If I closed my Ugandan businesses, that amounts to less than 10% of my income.”

He said if he really wanted to help the rebels fighting Kagame, he would help them from 90 percent of income coming from the remaining businesses. 

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