When news broke nearly three weeks ago that General Karenzi Karake, Director General of Rwanda’s National Intelligence and Security Services, had been arrested in London on charges of mass murder and crimes against humanity in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, many people were understandably caught unawares. The high-profile arrest was very unique. Not only is it rare for a country’s head of intelligence and security services to be arrested in another country, the Rwandan military general’s arrest took place in the staunchly Pro-Kagame United Kingdom.
While the UK Police and various Human Rights Activists deserve credit for General Karenzi Karake’s arrest, Kagame’s double-crossing contribution is worth a mention. The indicted general would not have been arrested by the UK Police if Kagame had not sent him to London. This assumption is based on the fact that the UK Police does not have jurisdiction to arrest a Rwandan general in Kigali under a European Arrest Warrant. Prior to General Karenzi Karake’s arrest, President Kagame had been deliberately provoking and seemingly hoping for this kind of arrest. The mass murder and crimes against humanity charges are too serious for any sane person to ignore without a calculated benefit. Therefore, I find the temporarily immune President’s decision to repeatedly send a certain type of his indicted army officers to risky missions in Europe suspicious. Has anyone ever taken note of the type of indicted officers that Kagame sends to Europe? If you made a quick flashback you would realise that he never risks his top-notch puppet darlings like General Jack Nziza, Colonel Dan Munyuza and Inspector General of Police Emmanuel Gasana. The latter can be discounted as no European would understand his English anyway. Kagame only risks those with whom he has fallen out. Major Rose Kabuye, General Charles Kayonga and General Karenzi Karake are notable examples. If Kagame is unable to identify a single army officer without an arrest warrant with suitable abilities to represent the country in Europe, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) is a rotten lot and Rwandans should be worried.
There is no doubt that General Karenzi Karake’s arrest is an embarrassment for the government of Rwanda. However, unless Kagame and his indicted officers feel that they stand no chance of being acquitted of the serious charges of mass murder and crimes against humanity, it is in their interest to clear their names in court and get the European Arrest Warrants out of the way. Regardless of the outcome, the conclusion of this case through proper court proceedings would pave the way for a genuine reconciliation that Rwandans desperately need. Cohesive national building is hardly achievable through victor’s justice.
Unfortunately, the powers that be in Kigali have found it more fitting to confront the European Arrest Warrants with a hyperbolic aggression using ordinary Rwandans as shields. The individual indictments have been fraudulently turned into a national calamity which innocent Rwandans have been coerced into owning. Following General Karenzi Karake’s arrest, ordinary Rwandans were forced to stage anti-UK demonstrations, the purpose of which they apparently knew very little about. When asked by a Voice of America journalist why they were demonstrating, one gentleman innocently said “We came here to condemn the French and ask them to release our general”. Another demonstrator said “We came here to denounce the Germans. We need our Karake”. Obviously, this does not depict a genuine demonstration initiated by ordinary Rwandans. This is not only a deprivation of ordinary Rwandans’ freedom and livelihood, but also a direct insult to a section of Rwandans who may have unnecessarily lost their loved ones as a result of the crimes highlighted in the European Arrest Warrants.
Thanks to his thriving interest-driven relationship with the west, Kagame has gotten away with far too many crimes for far too long. Many Rwandans have been extra-judicially murdered, jailed on concocted charges or driven into exile for criticising his government. Independent journalism is now regarded as a new form of suicide in Rwanda. Rwandans have been forced to part with their intellect, toe the government line and unwillingly declare love and support for Rwanda’s “strongman”. They will do whatever Kagame and his clique order them to do to avoid trouble. The ongoing third term campaign is a perfect example of how subdued Rwandans have become. They have been bullied into signing documents in support of a constitutional amendment to scrap term limits and indefinitely extend Kagame’s barbaric rule. The bitter fact is that Kagame’s western sponsors have always known and ignored the unbearably heavy burden that their repressive darling has forced Rwandans to carry.
On 25 June 2015, as General Karenzi Karake was attending a court hearing in London President Kagame was busy embarrassing himself in Kigali. I had the opportunity to follow his entire speech live on TV Rwanda (Rwanda Broadcasting Agency). In front of Rwanda’s top brass and policy-makers, the usually arrogant Kagame contradicted himself by admitting that Rwanda was not as mighty as he had earlier forced them to believe. He tried to sugar-coat the uncomfortable awkwardness by hurling insults at his western allies – especially the United Kingdom. In his theatrical speech, President Kagame strived to portray himself as a Pan-Africanist who detested western imperialism to the bone.
However, whoever has carefully followed Kagame’s political games would agree with me that he is a superficial Pan-Africanist who often cunningly uses some of Africa’s greatest sons’ attractive and genuinely Pan-African statements to gather support for his selfish political manoeuvres. In fact, President Kagame never comes up with verbal attacks against the west unless something is horribly wrong with his political interests. It is always about him and nothing else.
His political strength has always been remotely controlled and largely determined by his western guarantors, often confusingly referred to as allies. That explains why Kagame treats Rwandans and their African neighbours, including their leaders, with an appalling level of arrogance and contempt. The fact is that he is fully in bed with the west and frequently flies there with a sizeable number of hired and daunted Rwandans to exhibit his relevance and reaffirm his loyalty. In return, these powerful western backers openly sanitise Kagame’s stinking pile of cross-border atrocities. They are quick to criticise and warn Presidents Nkurunziza of Burundi and Kabila of Congo against their third term ambitions, but remain dead silent about Kagame’s aggressive third term drive.
This support has given Kagame extra wings to fly over his neighbours. That is why, two months ago, the third-term-seeking Rwandan president paradoxically criticised, with great confidence, his Burundian counterpart for seeking a third term. Furthermore, in 2011 Kagame came out and declared his support for NATO’s bombing raids on Libya. This move surprised many since the African Union was busy lobbying western powers to give AU-led peace talks between Muammar Gaddafi and the Western-backed Libyan rebels a chance. This disloyal behaviour was seen by many Africans as an attempt by the Rwandan President to please his western sponsors.
Certainly, this level of lenience is not free. Kagame must be doing them a big favour to earn such a special treatment. As we all know, western and African interests tend to collide, especially when these interests are based in Africa. We also know that it is impossible for anyone to productively serve two conflicting interests at the same time. Thus, it is not coincidental that under Kagame’s leadership Rwanda has always been at loggerheads with her neighbours.
Interestingly, due to his powerful western friends’ unconditional support, Kagame has grown complacent and forgetful of his rightful position as a small African puppet with little or no international influence. The United Kingdom is Rwanda’s largest single source of foreign aid and one of the world’s most influential countries. Without the United Kingdom’s political and financial support, Kagame’s repressive regime would be severely incapacitated. Any straight-thinking person would expect Kagame to know this.
Surprisingly, the Rwandan president has repeatedly provoked the British government and overstretched their patience. Four years ago, Kagame did not think twice before exporting his cross-border terrorism to London. In May 2011, two Rwandan exiles living in London were warned by UK Police that they faced an imminent threat of assassination at the hands of the Rwandan government. As if this was not annoying enough, last year the government of Rwanda rushed to suspend all BBC Kinyarwanda language programmes, staged countrywide anti-UK demonstrations and verbally attacked the UK government in response to the documentary “Rwanda’s Untold Story” aired on BBC TWO in the United Kingdom. Since BBC Gahuzamiryango (the Kinyarwanda language channel) had nothing to do with the documentary, the relationship between the documentary and the suspension of all BBC Kinyarwanda language programmes was not only weak but suspicious. Thanks to its independence and local penetration, BBC Gahuzamiryango was already at loggerheads with the Kigali government even before the documentary was made. Thus, the government of Rwanda’s reaction was widely interpreted as a thinly veiled execution of the repressive regime’s longstanding scheme to keep Rwandans away from any independent source of information.
It is shocking that Kagame thinks that it is acceptable for him to send hit squads to assassinate Rwandan exiles on British soil using British financial aid and irrationally close the BBC as he publicly directs undiplomatic and demeaning insults towards the UK government; but unacceptable for the UK government to preserve their country’s institutional independence. If President Kagame honestly expected the UK Prime Minister to stop BBC TWO from airing the documentary “Rwanda’s Untold Story”, then Rwandans need to tighten their belts for more turbulent rides as they might be led by an individual who lives in his own strange political world. Just because he is omnipotent and takes all executive, parliamentary and judicial decisions in Rwanda; he expects the UK government to play around with their well-built institutions to satisfy his inflated ego. He needs to understand that what he does in Rwanda is abnormal and impossible in the UK.
In a nutshell, General Karenzi Karake’s arrest in London has not only put President Kagame on a collision course with one of the most powerful sponsors of his repressive regime but also exposed his chronic pretence. It is high time he politically matured and stopped creating massive scenes, like a spoilt child whose ego has been tamed, whenever faced with a political challenge. Clearly, Kagame does not have moral authority to lecture anyone about Pan-Africanism as he is anything but a promotor of African brotherhood, unity and symbiotic development.