October 2 1990, time check: minutes past 10 o’clock, a sunny morning that would later turn out to the darkest moment in the history of Uganda and Rwanda.
Just two days after launching an offense against the government forces of Juvenile Habyarimana, Maj.Gen. Fred Gisa Rwigyema is gunned down.
Rwigyema, commonly known as Fred amongst his peers was a Ugandan military officer of Rwandan origin who rose to become one of the most intelligent, trusted commanders of the then rebel leader Yoweri Museveni and standout figures in guerrilla force of the national resistance army NRA.
Fred born as Emmanuel Gisa; 10 April 1957 was a founding member and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a political and military force formed by Rwandan Tutsi exiles descendants who were forced out of their country after the 1959 “Hutu” Revolution.
Rwigema was born in Gitarama, in the south of Rwanda in 1960 he and his family fled to Uganda and settled in a refugee camp in Nshungerezi, Ankole following the Hutu Revolution of 1959 and the ouster of King Kigeri V.
This humble background would later motivate him to fight for his rights and later emerged as one of the finest freedom fighters.
After finishing high school in 1976, he went to Tanzania and joined the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), a rebel group headed by Yoweri Museveni, to fight against Idd Amin regime.
In 1979, he joined the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) that sent Idi Amin to exile. He later joined Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), which fought a guerrilla war against the government of Milton Obote.
After the NRA captured state power in 1986, Rwigema became the deputy Minister of Defence, deputy chief of defence forces, a position he also held in the bush as deputy commandant to Gen. Elly Tumwine.
Rigyema a Rwandan born however, was never settled, soon launching another liberation war for his people in Rwanda alongside colleagues including; Paul Kagame.
Before launching attacks on the Habyarimana government, Rigyema had very huge hopes of freeing Rwanda and living a happy quiet life with his wife and children
“I have done my best for Uganda. Now I want to go back home, to Rwanda, I just want to be by myself with my wife and child. The only thing I want to do is to write a book, my memoirs. I don’t want to be in power. I shall be retired after we get down to Kigali”
Unfortunately, Rwigyema never reached Kigali alive as he had wished, dying on the second day of the struggle.
According to a close friend, former Soroti Municipality MP, Mike Mukula, Rwigyema was a great nationalist for both Uganda and Rwanda and one of the greatest Pan Africanists he has ever known.
“That is the kind of fearless fighter you had. Rwigyema was a fearless fighter, great commander and was prepared to die for Uganda and Rwanda, no wonder he was one of the first causalities in the liberation of Rwanda.”
“We used to watch football together, he was a great supporter of Villa, he would be so excited that he would go to the coach to ensure the team wins.”
A bush war colleague, and current minister without Portfolio, Al-Hajji Abdu Naduli when interviewed by NBS in 2015 said that he wanted to escort Rwigyema to the liberation war of Rwanda because he liked his character and selfless drive.
“He was so bright and calm. Rwanda lost so much.”
Former army Commander, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu said Rwigyema was “was quiet and disciplined and used to command a lot of respect among officers,”
How did Rwigyema die
On the second day of the Rwanda invasion (October 2 1990), while speaking on his radio call for reinforcement following an ambush by government forces, Rwigyema was allegedly shot by a sniper attached to the Rwanda Government Forces.
However, Rwigyema’s death was kept a secret until November 1990, for fear of demotivating the RPF fighters. Until this day, there are several theories regarding Rwigyema’s death with some saying he was shot by his own colleagues following mistrust and infighting.
Informal sources claim that when he was shot, the fighter Rwigyema was, went down saying: “The fool has shot me, but let the RPG work on him,” ordering fighters in his command to roll out fire towards the direction of the sniper and killing whoever was with him.
Rwigyema is survived by two children and a widow.