When a British
friend met up with Patrick Karegeya in a Johannesburg hotel in late 2013, the
former Rwandan head of external intelligence appeared to have reached a crisis
point. There was no sign of the two bodyguards -- supplied by the South African
government -- who once dogged his every move. "He referred to himself as 'a
dead man walking' but strolled from garage to foyer without a sideways glance, taking no notice of possible surveillance,"
remembers the friend. "He was the most depressed I've seen him in years."
who fled into exile in 2007 after falling out with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and
being charged with insubordination, had tired of his shadows. When he and I met
for lunch in late 2012 -- a lunch that went on for hours because, I suspect, he
had nothing else to do -- Karegeya complained that the presence of the two
bodyguards, perched at a table next to us, made normal life impossible. His
wife and children moved to the United States after that meeting, finding the
situation unbearable. Friends later reported he was running short of money and
thinking of taking a job, though he knew a predictable daily routine would
make it easier for Rwandan agents he believed were on his trail.
being Patrick, he decided to be on his own," says political ally and fellow
dissident Theogene Rudasingwa. "He has paid a very big price for that."
29, 2013, Karegeya booked into a suite in the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, a
favorite hangout for South Africa's elite, where he was due to meet a Rwandan businessman
he knew and trusted. When a few days later the hotel staff, alerted by a
worried nephew, opened the door to the suite, on which a "Do Not Disturb" sign
hung, they found his bruised body on the bed. Karegeya had possibly been
drugged before being strangled with a curtain rope. Karegeya's years of
running were over.
and intimate, the murder triggered an international outcry and allegations that
the Rwandan government was behind the killings. Despite his sinister past (Karegeya
was head of intelligence when Rwandan
forces hunted down Hutu refugees in the forests of the Democratic Republic of
the Congo in the late 1990s, killing tens of thousands), the
clever, gregarious spy chief at Kagame's elbow had cultivated relationships
with diplomats, journalists, and foreign officials, and they were shocked by
his death. Moreover, Rwanda was in the headlines because of the approaching 20th anniversary of the country's genocide -- which began on April 7, 1994 -- so it was
a sensitive time.
there was more to come.
On March 3, armed men broke into the Johannesburg home of Gen. Faustin Kayumba
Nyamwasa, searching in vain for the former Rwandan army chief of staff, an ally
of Karegeya who was also living in exile and who had already survived two
botched assassination attempts in 2010. The raid on a "safe house" provided by
the South African government and guarded by a police detail was the last straw:
Pretoria promptly expelled four Rwandan diplomats and a Burundian envoy, citing in a statement
"sustained and organized efforts to kill some of the refugees living in the
clear that these incidents directly link to tensions emanating from Rwanda," a
South African government spokesperson said. Kigali responded by expelling six South African
has denied responsibility for Karegeya's death. The Rwandan high commissioner in London, Williams Nkurunziza, describes claims of government
involvement in Karegeya's murder or the raid on Kayumba's house as "irresponsible
and without a basis in fact." Nkurunziza
reminded me in a late March email that Karegeya stood accused of
organizing a spate of grenade attacks in Kigali in 2013 -- a charge Karegeya
always denied. "The dead dissident was a declared enemy of the state,
who had vowed to effect regime change by force. We cannot be expected to mourn
But the government's denials
sit awkwardly beside what reads like a boastful glorying from Kagame and other
government officials in the state's ability to hunt down its enemies, wherever
they may hide. "Whoever betrays the country will pay the price.… Whoever it
is, it is a matter of time," Kagame told a prayer breakfast on Jan. 12. Gen. James Kabarebe, the defense minister, said in a speech, "When you choose to
be a dog, you die like a dog, and the cleaners will wipe away the trash so that it
does not stink." Foreign Minister
Louise Mushikiwabo, meanwhile, tweeted a curt message: "This man was a self-declared enemy of my Gov & my country, U expect
murder and the continuing attacks on Kayumba were also far from isolated events.
In fact, international human rights advocates see them as the apogee of a 19-year
series of attacks -- both botched and successful -- against those who dare challenge
the administration that took power when Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) expelled
the genocidal regime of Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. As Malcolm Bruce, who chairs the British Parliament's International Development Committee, told me, "The
Rwandan government always denies these things, but there are too many of these
incidents to feel there's not something there. They've got form, put it that
way." And a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in mid-January, "We are troubled by the succession of what appear to
be politically motivated murders of prominent Rwandan exiles. President Kagame's
recent statements about, quote, 'consequences' for those who betray Rwanda are
of deep concern to us."
It is a pattern
that suggests the Rwandan government may have come to see the violent silencing
of critics -- irrespective of geographical location and host country -- as a
beleaguered country's prerogative. And it is compromising Kagame's
once-glittering image abroad.
decades, guilt at the West's failure to prevent the 1994 genocide has worked in
Kagame's favor. He impressed foreign politicians, economists, and businessmen
as a no-nonsense leader with an anti-poverty agenda who brought cherished
stability to a traumatized country. He has won plaudits from Bill Clinton and
Tony Blair, has schmoozed with Bono and Bob Geldof, and has been a favorite speaker
at investor conferences. His denial of involvement in Karegeya's murder was
made, tellingly, during an interview granted at the World Economic Forum in
of Rwandans who have been shot, stabbed, tortured, disappeared, abducted,
and threatened while Kagame has won these international friends and admirers fills eight pages in the Human Rights Watch report "Repression Across Borders," published in January. The list
of incidents, targeting individuals scattered across Europe, South Africa,
Kenya, Uganda, and inside Rwanda itself, is not exhaustive, Human Rights Watch points out; these
are only the best-documented examples. "We can't prove beyond any doubt that
the Rwandan government is responsible. But a clear pattern of attacks on
Rwandan opponents abroad has been established now for almost 20 years," Human Rights Watch's Carina
Tertsakian told me.
Karegeya's death, the most high-profile case in which Kagame's government was
suspected was that of Seth Sendashonga, a former Hutu interior minister who fled
to Nairobi after complaining about army killings of Hutu refugees. He survived
one assassination attempt before being gunned down in his car with his driver
in 1998. Ironically, some Rwanda analysts suspected Karegeya, at the height of
his powers at the time, of responsibility for that execution. Three men were
tried by a
Kenyan court but found not guilty.
are many others: Charles Ingabire, a Rwandan journalist shot dead in 2011 in Kampala, Uganda, where he had fled for his safety, and Leonard Hitimana, an opposition member of Parliament, who disappeared in Rwanda in 2003 but whose remains have never been
Or take the
case of Rene Mugenzi and Jonathan
dissidents in London who were officially served notice by Scotland Yard in 2011
that there was an "imminent threat" to their lives; they were advised to change
their daily routines. A former Rwandan intelligence officer living in Brussels
was picked up by police upon arrival at a British port and immediately packed
off back to Belgium.
an incident that soured relations between Kigali and London, traditionally one
of Kagame's key defenders on the international stage. "There was a feeling that
a line had been crossed," one former British official told me in February.
"Here was an ally showing no compunction about doing this on the soil of its
closest international ally."
more Rwandans fear for their lives. Ask Theogene Rudasingwa, a former general
secretary of Rwanda's ruling party, whether he feels safe in exile in Washington,
D.C., and he laughs softly. "No, not at all."
drive a relentless campaign of this sort, characterized by such apparent contempt
for national borders and the rule of law? If the Rwandan government is indeed behind
the killings and attacks, is the damage done to Rwanda's reputation worth the
message might be intended for Rwanda's ruling inner circle, which would explain
why targets are so often former insiders. The more dramatic the retribution,
the stronger the reminder of loyalty's value. The fact that Karegeya and Kagame
were once the closest of friends and colleagues would drive the message home:
no mercy for even the best connected of traitors.
also sees the flurry of recent attacks as a tribute to the growing impact of
the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), the opposition party he
founded with Karegeya, Kayumba, and former prosecutor general Gerald Gahima in 2010.
"The classic Kagame narrative, of the hero who has rebuilt post-genocide Rwanda,
is under attack now," Rudasingwa says, "and we are the ones who have created
the conditions for that narrative to be challenged."
that the RNC's founding members were high-profile Tutsis -- the ethnic group primarily
targeted in the 1994 genocide -- who had earned their spurs ousting Habyarimana's
regime was bound to appeal to Rwanda's Tutsi elite, who harbor an abiding fear
of annihilation at the hands of the Hutu majority. The RPF government, in turn,
might have lost some of its long-standing base. "Kagame has never had any
support amongst the Hutus; Tutsi support is fracturing; so he's nervous. He
supports himself through fear," says Rudasingwa.
had recently put out feelers to Hutu opposition parties and, controversially,
the hard-line Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Hutu
rebel group containing exiled genocidaires
and operating in Congo. The RNC argued that gestures toward cooperation were necessary
if the country's still-gaping ethnic wounds were ever to be healed. The
possibility of some kind of joint Hutu-Tutsi alliance forming before the next presidential election, due in 2017, however, might
well have caused the Kagame regime sleepless nights: It is not yet clear
whether Kagame will run, but his party, certainly, intends to maintain power.
Not everyone shares Rudasingwa's interpretation.
The RNC appears to have lost momentum since the initial fanfare of its launch,
failing to make much impact among voters back in Rwanda. Some analysts suggest,
instead, that Karegeya and Kayumba were seen as threats because of the vast
network of contacts they maintained in Africa's Great Lakes region, a legacy of the
RPF's murky history of cross-border interference. As the former head of
Rwanda's "Congo desk," Karegeya had deep insights into the rebel groups -- Rwandan
proxies -- operating inside eastern Congo and into the illegal mining
activities that have plumped Rwanda's coffers. He was suspected of being a source
for a 2012 United Nations panel of experts report into the M23 rebel movement, a report that said the M23 took direct military orders from Kigali. The BBC also reported recently that
Karegeya was advising intelligence officials in South Africa and Tanzania,
whose troops are part of a U.N. peacekeeping force battling the M23.
yet totally clear what impact the mounting allegations about the Rwandan
government's tactics and methodology toward its opponents will have abroad. To
be sure, the relationship between Rwanda and Western powers is no longer quite as
happy as it once was: London suspended direct budget aid in 2012 when Kigali's
links with the M23 were exposed by the U.N., while the United States froze some
military funding. Yet those hoping for further and stronger admonitory action from
the West over assassination reports face the same problem in Rwanda as in
Ethiopia, another long-standing "donor darling": Authoritarian regimes with
shocking human rights records often deliver impressively in areas prized by
development officials, like the Millennium Development Goals, and thus are
allowed a pass on some of their most egregious behavior.
with the Central African Republic in disarray, Islamic fundamentalism making
inroads in West Africa, and Sudan showing signs of descent into a new civil
war, the United States, in particular, is grateful for Rwanda's readiness to
help police Africa. Kigali has sent troops to join an African peacekeeping
force in Darfur, for instance, and also has dispatched peacekeepers to Bangui.
special friendship with Rwanda, meanwhile, dates back to the days of International Development
Secretary Clare Short -- a warmth inherited by the Labour MP's Conservative successors. Rwanda
even joined the Commonwealth in 2009, becoming only the second country with no
history of British colonialism to do so.
Department for International Development says there are no plans for
further aid cuts as a result of Karegeya's death in Johannesburg: Approximately
$149 million will flow to Rwanda this coming fiscal year, to be directed -- under
close supervision -- to education and agriculture. The alternative, supporters
of continued aid say, would only hurt the poorest of the poor.
terms of reducing poverty, Rwanda is a very good partner," says Bruce, the chair of the British Parliament's International Development Committee. "In terms of government-to-government relations, it's lousy. But it's
better to be there than walk away." (This approach, I would respond, ignores
the essential fungibility of aid, which arguably makes close supervision
irrelevant, while also sidestepping the central question of how stable
authoritarian regimes like Kagame's, notwithstanding impressive development programs,
are likely to prove in the long term.)
watchers think recent events will at least give donors helpful leverage when
it comes to insisting that Kagame step down at the time of the 2017 elections, rather than heed
growing calls from domestic supporters to
alter the Rwandan Constitution and run again. But these analysts also doubt the recent
uproar over assassinations will trigger more than some diplomatic straight talk,
conducted in private. "I honestly think they're all a bit frightened of
Kagame," one human rights advocate told me.
tangible, but possibly more significant, is the impact that allegations against
Kagame could have on Rwanda's reputation beyond the corridors of Western
governments. After all, a country's image is an emotional, subjective thing, and
tipping points can be unpredictable.
country's cherished position on the moral high ground -- victim, not
perpetrator -- has played a part in economist Jeffrey Sachs's decision to
include Rwanda in his Millennium Villages Project, in evangelical pastor Rick Warren's
rollout of his peace program there, in former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's choice of it as a launchpad for his Africa
Governance Initiative, and
in Starbucks's and Wal-Mart's signing of coffee export
deals with Kigali. For years, I've heard Western businessmen, fresh from a
first meeting with Kagame -- who makes a virtue of a brisk, shoot-from-the-hip
style of interaction that goes down particularly well in the Anglophone world --
gush in surprise, "Isn't he marvelous?" And for a time, I shared some of their
enthusiasm. I had stood at the side of mass graves in Rwanda and smelled the
putrefaction, interviewed Congolese officials who seemed callously indifferent
to the 1994 massacres and the terror they sowed, and known the very real threat
that genocidaires still active in
eastern Congo represented to a new Rwandan regime.
But since then I
have read too many U.N. panel of experts reports tracking Rwanda's cynical
exploitation of Congo's mineral assets, too many accounts by reporters
and human rights groups whose work I respect, connecting dots and raising
disturbing questions about the Rwandan government's treatment of its critics. When
a banker now asks me, "Isn't Kagame marvelous?" -- as happened only last week --
the image of Karegeya's strangled body comes to mind.
I am not alone in making that immediate, distasteful mental association.
Photo: Mary Altaffer-Pool/Getty Images