Anatomy of a spy boss murder
It seems the Kagame regime will stop at nothing to stamp out dissidents and detractors, even if it means hunting them abroad, Jacques Pauw reports.
How ironic that a maestro of assassination could fall prey to the same plots and ploys he had once used.
The same regime that former Rwandan external military intelligence chief Colonel Patrick Karegeya defended with blood ostensibly turned on him this week and left him lifeless in a swanky hotel room.
Dissident compatriots of the 54-year-old Karegeya were dumbfounded that the former Rwandan spymaster could so easily be lured into a death trap set for him at Sandton’s Michelangelo Hotel.
A top police unit is now searching for a Rwandan palm oil trader by the name of Apollo Kiririsi, who had a meeting with Karegeya at lunchtime on the last day of 2013.
By the time Karegeya’s body was discovered almost 20 hours later, Kiririsi had vanished. There is no record of him at the hotel as the room was booked under Karegeya’s name.
The Hawks’ Crimes Against the State unit is probing the probability that Kiririsi is a Rwandan agent who had befriended Karegeya over the past year to set him up for murder.
Karegeya had picked Kiririsi up on December 29 at the Sandton Gautrain station and took him to the Michelangelo Hotel.
Kiririsi said he had just flown in from Abu Dhabi. At around 2pm on Tuesday, Karegeya went to the hotel for his fatal meeting.
The slightly chubby Karegeya, a law graduate from Uganda’s Makerere University, fought back. He is said to have been trained by the Mossad and is a veteran of two of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars.
Karegeya was strangled and had no wounds, but there was blood in the room. At least one of his assailants left the hotel wounded.
Another political assassination?
Critics of Rwanda President Paul Kagame say the murder carries the hallmark of yet another assassination carried out by the bespectacled strongman’s intelligence forces.
Supporters of the regime, however, point to Kagame’s accomplishments in bringing stability and limited prosperity to his troubled nation.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have for years documented the complicity of Kagame’s security forces in the killing of his opponents across the continent.
The UN has accused Kagame of fomenting rebellion in the eastern Congo and recently found that his forces might have committed acts of genocide in the region.
In the country itself, opposition politicians are either in prison or dead, journalists have been jailed and political parties have been banned.
Kigali has, predictably, denied that it targets political dissidents and claims that Rwanda is a budding democracy in which there is increasing space for political opposition.
Why Karegeya came
Karegeya sneaked into South Africa in February 2008, claimed refugee status and settled in Joburg.
His arrival followed a fallout with Kagame, just three years his senior. He was arrested and jailed for “indiscipline” and stripped of his rank in 2006.
Kagame and Karegeya fought side by side in the Ugandan rebel movement that brought Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986 in Uganda.
Museveni then allowed them to form their own Tutsi rebel movement, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
It came to power in 1994 when it ended the genocide in Rwanda in which some 800 000 Rwandans died.
Karegeya wielded enormous power as Rwanda’s external military chief and was once in Kagame’s inner circle.
He was also credited with hunting down the enemies of the post-genocide regime across the region.
Fingers have pointed at him for, among other things, the assassination of former Rwandan interior minister Seth Sendashonga in 1998.
Sendashonga was appointed as a minister after the genocide, but then found evidence of the new regime’s complicity in post-genocide massacres and abuses.
He sent his findings to Kagame – and in doing so effectively signed his own death warrant.
Sendashonga fled to Kenya and then Tanzania, where he continued compiling his incriminating dossier against Kagame. He was gunned down in 1998, days before he was due to testify before the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The Rwandan ambassador in Kenya and Karegeya were accused of being the masterminds behind the killing.
The ambassador was recalled to Rwanda, where he was inexplicably murdered.
Karegeya said in an interview after his arrival in South Africa that he would “tell all” when the time was right.
It would have been a confession that Kagame could ill afford.
The gang of four
In March 2010, Karegeya became one of the so-called Gang of Four when three more former Kagame confidants fled Rwanda.
Kagame’s former chief of staff, Dr Theogene Rudasingwa, and Rwanda’s former attorney-general, Gerard Gahima, settled in the US while former army chief General Kayumba Nyamwasa chose South Africa.
The Gang of Four became instrumental in establishing the Rwandan National Congress (RNC), a multi-ethnic political movement that wants Kagame voted out of power.
The Rwandan government has outlawed the movement and a farcical military tribunal sentenced the Gang of Four to long-term imprisonment.
Nyamwasa survived two assassination attempts in Joburg in June 2010. In one of the attempts, he was shot and wounded in the stomach.
A Rwandan intelligence agent and his accomplices are now on trial in Joburg and evidence has been presented that the very top of Rwandan intelligence ordered the shooting.
The court was told about tape recordings in which the head of Rwandan military intelligence discussed the assassination of Nyamwasa and Karegeya with intelligence recruits in South Africa.
Following the failed attempt on Nyamwasa, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Rwanda for more than a year.
Both Nyamwasa and Karegeya were placed in a defence intelligence protection programme, but in September 2011, City Press unearthed another plot to kill Nyamwasa when Rwandan intelligence hired a private security firm to find out where the general was being housed.
They also recruited Rwandan refugees as assassins to shoot him.
Defence intelligence hastily moved Nyamwasa to another location. Although he is still under protection, in 2011 Karegeya left the programme, saying he had to earn a living and needed to move around.
Karegeya lived alone in the upmarket and highly secure Featherbrooke estate near Krugersdorp, on Gauteng’s West Rand.
His wife and two sons lived in the US and his daughter in Canada.
When the Americans killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the Rwandan government mouthpiece, the New Times, warned Nyamwasa and Karegeya: “You can run. You can hide. But you won’t escape.”
A nephew’s concern
Rwandan refugee David Batenga repeatedly warned his uncle not to trust the businessman that claimed to be a sympathiser of the RNC.
“Kiririsi said Kagame is a dictator and should go,” said Batenga. “My uncle fell for him and started trusting him.”
Karegeya knew that he was living in the shadow of Kagame’s henchmen. In 2012, the chairperson of the RNC in Africa, Frank Ntwali, was attacked and stabbed 12 times. He survived.
In the same year, the sister-in-law of the African secretary-general of the RNC, Pretoria attorney Kennedy Gihana, confessed that she was recruited by Rwandan intelligence to set him up for murder.
The State Security Agency (SSA) warned the leadership of the RNC in the same year that they face imminent danger.
The Rwandan government cancelled their and their families’ passports.
In the past two years, Rwandan exiles in the UK were warned by local security agents of a Kigali plot to kill them.
Sweden and Belgium deported Rwandan diplomats for spying on Rwandan refugees.
Batenga warned Karegeya on Tuesday: “I don’t think it is safe for you to go alone to this meeting.”
Batenga sent Karegeya a phone message at 7.47pm to make sure he was okay.
He received a message back not to be worried.
We don’t know if Karegeya wrote the message or when the killers pounced, but last time the card key for the room in the posh hotel was used was just after 8pm.
Batenga called Karegeya at midnight to wish him a happy new year.
He did not answer any of his three cell phones.
Batenga identified Karegeya’s swollen and badly-bruised body the next afternoon.
“How could Karegeya have walked into this trap?” Batenga asked. “It shows you the regime will stop at nothing to get us.”
A race to arms
Some of the RNC’s office bearers don’t sleep in their own beds and those who qualify for gun licences have armed themselves.
“We are scared and we don’t know what’s coming next,” Gihana admits.
He was recently in hospital after a car accident and his family had to keep its name a secret.
Gihana wants to meet authorities and demand protection for RNC members. He also wants to know how it is possible for foreign agents to operate so freely in South Africa.
The assassination of Karegeya poses a massive foreign policy dilemma for government.
When Nyamwasa was shot in 2010, it almost led to a breakdown of diplomatic relations.
Should the Hawks find evidence that Rwanda had a hand in the killing, South Africa will be compelled to act against the man once described as the West’s “darling dictator”.
For now, a group of Rwandan refugees who under the UN’s convention are entitled to protection from South Africa will continue to look over their shoulders and ask the question on everyone’s lips: who is next?
What government will do about it
International relations department spokesperson Clayson Monyela says government will not comment on the murder of Colonel Patrick Karegeya because a police investigation is under way.
He said the situation was not expected to cause diplomatic tensions between Rwanda and South Africa as there was no evidence linking the Rwandan government to Karegeya’s killing.
But another senior government official with high-level diplomatic ties suggested the case would cause diplomatic tensions, and that there should be consequences if a link to the Rwandan government can be established.
The killing of Karegeya on our soil was a diplomatic issue that government should have responded to, the official said.
“Sincerely, from a diplomatic point of view, something like this is not acceptable. It undermines diplomatic relations which are based on mutual respect.
“It also undermines the agenda of the African continent which is moving away from getting rid of people like this.
“Africans are just tired of this,” said the official.
The official said Pretoria’s decision to shelter people who are at odds with their governments had caused tension with Zimbabwe, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, but said their governments had come to accept that South Africa was bound by its human rights laws and international conventions.
“It has not been easy for South Africa to keep people who are in a bad space with their own governments.
“It is not easy because we have relationships with those countries. But you can’t just bundle them and take them back to their countries.”
The Rwandans have not contacted South Africa following Karegeya’s killing, but the official said the South Africans will have to go through diplomatic channels if they wanted to raise concerns.
“We are fully engaging all our institutions that are supposed to deal with this matter. We don’t want our country to be one of those where people just come and kill
“We also don’t want this thing of people settling scores by killing people. We don’t want it to take root. We’ve got a reputation to protect.” – Sabelo Ndlangisa