El Hadj Hussein Radjabu is no longer imprisoned at Mpimba Penitentiary Prison as of Monday 2nd March- By Philippe Ngendakumana translated by Diane Uwimana
No smashed door, no sounds, no gunshots. His first escape attempt was a great success. The escape of the prisoner – sentenced for 13 years, after serving eight years served- was clean. A well-oiled operation, conducted masterfully. The escape is even more spectacular given that he escaped with three other detainees, acclaimed as the most famous political prisoners in Burundi according to the civil society organizations. They are Baudouin Ndindi Ribakare, Rémy Ndikumana and Cyriaque Irankunda respectively, the co-accused, bodyguard and El Hadj Radjabu’s steward.
“It is rare that prisoners escape in a group without being police opening fire. There are often leaks from the plotters and the escape plan tends to be aborted before its execution, “says a detainee. After this nocturnal escape, the news spread like wildfire among prisoners. Until as late as9 am, prisoners performing their chores in the lush banana plantations outside the prison walls were still unaware of the success of Radjabu.
Mystery on the modus operandi
Prisoners differ on the time of the escape. Some argue that it would have occurred Sunday at 10:30 pm. Others say it must have taken place at 3 am on Monday morning. But reports are unanimous and undisputed that on Sunday around 6 pm when it was time to empty the courtyard, Radjabu returned to his quarters as usual.
The prisoners agree that the escapes must have enjoyed the complicity of prison guards, who carefully were dressed up as police. Also agreed unanimously is the fact that the escape was facilitated by the lack of electricity at the prison on the night from Sunday to Monday.
A terse statement from the Ministry of Justice stated that the “incident occurred late
at night.” According to the same statement read on Tuesday 3rd March by Elianson Bigirimana, Deputy Spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, it was not until midnight that the permanent sergeant went to the guard. He found that the police officers Yves Niyomwungere and Desire Nduwimana had abandoned their posts.
He also realized that the keys of the prison kept by the Brigadier “De corps” Ezekiel Horicubonye had been thrown on the floor under the door of the hut where the police were asleep waiting their turns to climb the towers. With this argument, the Ministry of Justice notes two “facts”: one is an escape but not a kidnapping and the other one is the complicity of three policemen. He noted that these officers are “not found at the place with their guns and their “Motorola” radio.
Internal sources from the prison deny having suspected anything. First, they point out, Radjabu “was afraid to go out after the prescribed hours of re-entry in the rooms,” says a tenant of the infirmary area (the privileged area in Mpimba Prison).Detainees remember that Sunday night, a dense smoke was seen at neighborhood infirmary. “This must have been Radjabu burning his papers,” speculates a detainee.
There were no other personal belongings other than a fridge in Radjabu’s room.
One prisoner remembers that Radjabu was all smiles on Friday, two days before the escape. Apparently he stated to other prisoners – “Musisikie Woga , congrès ya CNDD-FDD haitawezekana . Nkurunziza! Vyake vimekwisha.”(Don’t be afraid. The CNDD-FDD congress cannot be held. The carrots are cooked for Nkurunziza).
Much is too much!
According to reliable sources, at the end of January, Radjabu was isolated from proximity with other prisoners’ and was closely scrutinized after a crowd of supporters pressed the entrance to the prison to greet the former strongman of the CNDD-FDD upon his announced release. That event proved to be a hoax.
But this was not a pleasure for the Minister of Justice who ascended to the plate and affirmed that such illegal demonstration can only be a response to a call from the prison thrown by Radjabu himself. For the Minister Barandagiye, Radjabu could not be eligible for conditional freedom.
Radjabu welcomed the remarks by a smirk,” recalls a detainee. And perhaps, these decisions to isolate and deny him a conditional freedom may have been the straw that broke the camels back after eight years of humiliation in Mpimba prison.
Who is the “De corps”?
Ezekiel Horicubonye was the brigadier “De corps” at the police station in Mpimba prison for almost four years. He was known as someone who complied with the instructions of his superiors. He was a policeman that prisoners were not wearing their hearts as they say; he made no service “for fear of getting wet.” For this, he had little contact with the prisoners, even less with Radjabu.
The native of Musigati in Bubanza province was a veteran of the FNL. But, some suspected him to ride in the service of the ruling party. Four days before the operation, he had evacuated his family from the camp on the pretext of having a family commitment to his native hill. He requested permission for this from the Chief.
The escape of Radjabu took place when the prison was guarded only by new police officers who had just been freshly assigned to Mpimba prison. They were therefore not yet well trained in use of their new position.