Fred Gisa Rwigyema (also spelled Rwigema; born Emmanuel Gisa; 10 April 1957 – 2 October 1990) was a founding member of and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a political and military force formed by Rwandan Tutsi exiles descendants of those forced to leave the country after the 1959 “Hutu” Revolution.
Rwigema was born in Gitarama, in the south 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 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 Yoweri Museveni, the brother of his friend Salim Saleh. It was at this point that he began calling himself Fred Rwigema. 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.
After the NRA captured state power in 1986, Rwigema 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.
On 1 October 1990, Rwigyema led the RPF troops in the first battle against the regime of President Habyarimama Juvenal. On the second day of the struggle, Rwigyema was shot in the head and died, which discouraged the RPF fighters. There is a dispute about the exact circumstances of Rwigyema’s death; the official line of Kagame’s government, and the version mentioned by historian Gérard Prunier in his 1995 book on the subject, was that Rwigyema was killed by a stray bullet. In his later book, however, Prunier states that it is likely Rwigyema was killed by his subcommander Peter Bayingana, following an argument over tactics. Paul Kagame who is now the president of the Republic ofRwanda replaced Rwigyema as the head of the RPF army until the victory in July 1994.
Rwigyema is one of Rwanda’s national heroes. His body was buried at the Heroes Cemetery in Kigali.