By JACK McBRAMS
After concluding his business for the day on the evening of Sunday 16 October 2022 at Lilongwe’s Bwalo La Njobvu business area, Rwandese national Emile Noel Habimana, 31, packed up, called his driver and headed off to his Area 6 home where he picked up his three kids and dropped them off with his recently-divorced wife Gentille Girinimata in Area 9.
Around 8 pm, he called his driver and errand boy, fellow Rwandese national Rafiq Munyamagaju and the pair headed off to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa to see his girlfriend Hawa Hashim with whom he had a two-year-old daughter.
Rafiq told Police investigators that he drove the car, a Toyota Hilux minibus registration number KK3519 both to and from Dzaleka.
At the camp, the tradition was that Rafiq would drop off his boss at the house and then loiter around the camp with his friends until Habimana called him for them to drive back.
On this particular night, Habimana called him at exactly 12:24 am, instructing him to come to pick him up, and head back to Lilongwe.
In his affidavit to the Police, Rafiq says, as is usual with most business owners’ minibuses, the vehicle had no seats in the back as it was mostly used to carry goods.
However, there was a mattress, pillow, and blanket on which Habimana slept as Rafiq drove.
According to Rafiq, around the Malawi Institute of Management (MIM), just after the Daeyang Luke Hospital junction, he lost control of the vehicle, swerved to the right and crashed into a concrete street pole.
Information from the Police report says Rafiq sustained minor injuries on his forehead and right elbow as a result of the impact while the car’s windscreen was broken and the front bumper crushed.
When Rafiq realised that Habimana was unconscious, he flagged a car and rushed his boss to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 3:44 am.
A FISHY POSTMORTEM
An initial Police report, which PIJ has seen, recorded a few hours after the accident says a T/Sgt Kambeta of Kanengo Police visited the site of the accident but found that the victims had already been rushed to KCH.
The report further states that a Mr Banda, a clinical officer conducted a post-mortem examination of the dead body and submitted his report that death was due to head injuries.
Rafiq then called his cousin Marco Amon Ruhirwa, who was staying with Habimana at the time. Both Marco and Rafiq are cousins to Habimana’s ex-wife Gentille.
Marco then proceeded to call Gentille, other members of the Rwandese community as well as Habimana’s elderly mother, who all arrived at the mortuary.
There are contradicting reports as to who exactly ordered the post-mortem and embalming but the family accuses Girinimata of having the autopsy done behind their back. However, the Police claim that they sanctioned the autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Reads the Police report: “On 17th October an initial autopsy was conducted by Mr Banda, a forensic clinical officer requested by Police from Kanengo Police Station in the presence of Marco and other Rwandese community in Malawi. But present at the mortuary was also Gentille and her children, the deceased’s mother and other persons from the Rwandese community.”
By this time, according to the report, Rafiq had left the hospital and Gentille took over the process.
The report says after the autopsy was done, a ‘well-wisher’ then paid for the embalming of the deceased’s body and burial was scheduled for the next day, October 18, 2022. The report does not name the well-wisher and PIJ’s efforts to trace the individual amongst relatives and the Rwandese community proved futile.
This is where it gets interesting.
FAMILY DISOWNS AUTOPSY
Habimana’s young brother Claude Rukondo told PIJ that his sibling divorced his wife in November 2021, although he had been dating a fellow Rwandese who resided at the refugee camp.
“Actually, they have a child together and he used to go and visit her. So, what would happen is that he would take his driver with him, who also happened to be his ex-wife’s cousin,” he said.
Rukondo notes that the driver, 27-year-old Rafiq, would drive Habimana to Dzaleka, and wait for him around the camp, after which the two would drive back.
On the fateful day, the family claimed that according to his phone’s call log, Habimana called Rafiq at 12:24 am instructing him to come, pick him up, and head back to Lilongwe.
“But after that phone call, my brother’s phone went off,” he says.
After about two hours, around 2:42 am, Rafiq is said to have called Gentille informing her that they were in an accident.
Gentille reportedly also had the body embalmed and readied for burial before Habimana’s relatives had been informed.
Sensing foul play in the nature of the accident and the speed at which the post-mortem had been conducted and the secrecy under which the Habimana’s body had been handled, the family stopped the burial process and requested a second autopsy.
“We suspected foul play in this whole issue and that is when we took up the issue with Kanengo Police,” Rukondo explained.
He explained that there were several things that were evidently off in the manner of his siblings’ death.
“First, they say the accident happened at 2:24 am, yet they left Dzaleka at 12:24 am. That distance only takes 30 minutes. And secondly, the accident happened at MIM, yet they rushed him to Kamuzu Central Hospital instead of Daeyang Hospital which is just next to MIM,” he wonders.
As a result of the suspicions, the family reported the matter to Kanengo Police who then ordered the burial process to stop.
“That is when we were able to request a second post-mortem at KCH,” he explained.
THE SECOND AUTOPSY SAYS IT WASN’T AN ACCIDENT
The second autopsy, as requested by the family, was conducted on 20 October, three days after Habimana’s death.
A postmortem report, titled Report into Allegation of Conspiracy to Murder conducted by KCH senior forensic clinical officer Andrew Mwale, concluded that the Rwandese national died due to commotio cordis, massive hemopericardium and haemothorax.
Commotio cordis is a phenomenon in which a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes sudden death in the absence of cardiac damage.
Hemopericardium is most often the result of acute blunt or penetrating trauma, from direct pericardial damage, myocardial contusion, or proximal aortic injury.
Hemothorax is a collection of blood in the space between the chest wall and the lung.
“The cause of death was identified as a pericardial tamponade due to heart muscle and inferior vena cava rupture,” the report concludes.
In plain language, this means that heavy pressure was exerted on the victim’s chest which led to the busting of one of the arteries to the heart.
The autopsy also rules out the notion that the cause of death could have been a road accident.
“The general appearance of the concussion areas…was consistent with injury which occurred at the time of the blunt chest trauma and could not be associated with large surface areas of the rear portion of the minibus in [an] unorganised manner since there was no single passenger seat,” Mwale observes in his report.
He concludes that a complete and detailed investigation to rule out a criminal act leading to the cause and manner of death seems more appropriate than a mere assertion of a road traffic accident.
A ROCKY MARRIAGE AND A MESSY DIVORCE
According to Getille’s testimony, she had been married to Habimana for 10 years before they filed for divorce in November last year. She claims that during the 10 years, the marriage was rocked by domestic violence, major differences with Habimana’s family and infidelity by her husband as he fathered a child out of wedlock.
On why she rushed the burial process, Gentille told the Police that she was misled by the Rwandese community on her involvement and handling of the process of death and the arrangement for her ex-husband’s burial.
“I did everything out of goodwill for a man that I loved so dearly and for the sake of their children,” she told the Police.
She described the marriage as filled with hardships and domestic violence. However, she says she had no motive to kill the father of her children as the pair reached an amicable property agreement that had been endorsed by Habimana’s parents, the couple’s lawyers and the High Court.
According to Habimana’s relatives, most of the couple’s property that they acquired since they arrived in Malawi in 2011 was registered in Gentille’s name.
A July 3, 2022, High Court settlement which we have seen, signed by both parties, states the couple’s properties as 13 residential properties, three commercial properties, five shops and eight vehicles. The total value of the properties is not established.
The terms of the divorce were that she would get 70 per cent of the property, while Habimana would get 30 per cent. At the time of Habimana’s death, Gentille was in the process of transferring his share of the property to his name.
“That is why we suspect her to be involved in all this because we believe that she did not want to surrender the 30 per cent to him,” Rukondo told PIJ.
In an interview with PIJ, a seemingly irate Gentille said she would not comment on the matter as the “Police know everything”. She demanded to be interviewed in the presence of the Police.
“If you want all the evidence, just go to the Police because the case is with the Police. If you want me to give you my testimony, let us meet at the Police. Anything I will say, I will say at the Police because all the truth is with the Police,” she said.
Gentille threatened to sue PIJ if we published the story.
A DISTRAUGHT FAMILY SEEKING ANSWERS
The family, however, feel that they are not being served justice, as the evidence is clear. Their inquiry is based on the following facts: after the accident, Habimana’s body was laying on the mattress at the rear of the minibus and there was not even a single area of trauma on his external body suiting a major car accident that would cause immediate death.
They accuse Rafiq of deliberately crashing the minibus so as “to mimic a spontaneous major road traffic accident.”
In their filing to the Police, the family further contend that their relative’s death was a result of a well-executed and successful conspiracy and assassination plan.
“The plan and decision by Gentille to attach Rafiq and Marco so close to Habimana and stay at his house was with sinister motive as informants and disguised traitors.
“The involvement of Gentille and her relatives and close friends in arranging the embalming and quick burial of the deceased was meant to distort information and evidence as to the cause and manner of death,” the family wrote in their report to the Police.
“Habimana was murdered for Gentille’s selfish desire to keep over 70 per cent of the wealth shared with her upon the divorce.”
They point to the fact that, to date, no proper explanation has been offered as to why the body was quickly embalmed before, clothes for the burial and coffin were bought the same morning he died, a graveyard site for burial was paid for, a quick burial date arranged and an order for laying the of wreaths arranged in which Gentille and her children were placed first ahead of his relatives despite that she was an ex-wife.
“The intention was to corrupt samples that would lead to the true and actual cause and manner of death.”
Rukondo says the family suspects some Police officers of acting in liaison with Gentille to defeat the ends of justice.
“It’s been almost a month since this incident, but there is no movement on the case. The autopsy clearly states that our brother was murdered, and the Police know the circumstances around the event, but they seem to be dragging their feet.
“My parents are old and this issue has affected them greatly. As a family, all we want are answers. We seek closure,” he said.
‘POLICE INVESTIGATING THE MATTER’
National Police spokesman Peter Kalaya told PIJ that Police are investigating the sensitive case that was first reported as a road traffic accident case before the murder allegations surfaced.
“We are a professional service with professional detectives who are investigating this case; we will get the results from our investigations that we will gather professionally,” he said before he accused some unnamed interest groups of attempting to influence the case.
“From our observations, it is clear that there are individuals that are compromised and overzealous and want to influence the outcome of this investigation. However, we are not going to allow this to happen because,” he said.
“Among other things, those individuals fabricate stories to give the impression that Police are not doing our job. However, I would like to assure everyone concerned, including the deceased’s family that we will get credible results from the investigation.”
Kalaya noted that the Police are not the ones that determine the cause of death.
He says the Police presented the two postmortems to the hospital for clarity.
“They reconciled the two postmortems and gave us one final postmortem. However, they also admitted that the postmortem that was valid was the second one because it is more detailed. As such, they advised us that it is the one that has to be taken as the official one, although with a few alterations.
“The hospital also told us that the cause of death is not yet determined because other samples have been sent for further analysis. As Police, we don’t have the final say on the cause of death. Let me clarify that the Police depend on experts such as pathologists to do the post-mortem,” he said.
He claimed that the Police are not to blame for the two conflicting postmortems.
“It is not our fault, we were not part of the two postmortems. The hospital would be in a better place to explain why they issued two conflicting postmortems,” he said.
According to Kalaya, Police arrested Rafiq on suspicion of murder and also for causing death by reckless driving, as he does not possess a driving licence. He is remanded at Maula Prison.