Kigali, Rwanda | By Timothy Kalyegira | Raging around the heart of central Africa since last year are two civil wars, that in the Central African Republic and more recently South Sudan. The Democratic Republic of Congo after a brief victory against the M23 rebels, is teetering back into its familiar 18-year period of instability.
But there is one more Great Lakes and Central African nation to watch as well: Rwanda.
This is going to be a very uncertain year for Rwanda, whichever way one looks at it.
Just before New Year’s Day, the former director of counterintelligence in Uganda’s NRA national army from 1986 to 1990 and later Director of Rwanda’s foreign intelligence service, Col. Patrick Karegeya, was murdered in his room at the Micheangelo Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Several Rwandan nationals have been arrested in Mozambique on suspicion of involvement.
Karegeya’s murder has cast a shadow once again over post-1994 Rwanda, and reinforced its image as a kind of East Germany, a lethal police state.
After holding its silence, the United States government on January 17, 2014 condemned Karegeya’s murder. The way the BBC reported it, it appears Washington believed this to have been a state-orchestrated assassination.
Whether that is true or not, if that is what Washington now appears to believe, that will shape the way the U.S. deals with Rwanda.
Usually what happens is that it becomes a joint western position, soon followed by the news media and academia.
This year, 2014, marks 20 years since the genocide that harrowed the world’s conscience. For 20 years, the 1994 genocide has been cast as an evil deed planned by an extremist Hutu-dominated government and targeting Tutsi and “moderate” Hutu.
However, over the last seven years a new pattern has taken shape. The narrative of the Hutu as killers is fading into the background.
The FDLR, a militia made up of former Hutu government soldiers and the occasional arrest of former government and provincial officials and functionaries on suspicion of taking part in the 1994 genocide are the last remaining accusation against the Hutu.
These days, gradually becoming the norm, is increasing cases and reports and rumours of harassment of their opponents by 1994’s liberators, the Tutsi-dominated RPF government.
Opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and former intelligence and army officers are for the most part stifled in they are in Rwanda or in jail, or increasingly in exile.
Dozens of Tutsi who took part in the 1990-94 guerrilla war are coming under increasing pressure from their fellow Tutsi in power in Kigali. The ethnic tensions in Rwanda are taking on a Tutsi versus Tutsi face, with the Hutu now mostly bystanders.
At the very beginning of the invasion of Rwanda from Uganda in October 1990, this Tutsi versus Tutsi intrigue and assassination briefly interrupted the launch of the RPF’s invasion, when leading officers Major-General Fred Rwigyema, Major Peter Bayingana, Major Chris Bunyenyezi and Major Frank Munyaneza all died within a month of the invasion, reportedly after the three latter officers plotted and eventually assassinated Rwigyema.
The second-in-command of the RPF’s forces, Lt. Col. Adam Wasswa, a Tutsi from Mbarara, died under still-unexplained circumstances in 1991 in Uganda as he was heading to or from an RPF High Command meeting.
The RPF pulled out of this first crisis and united for long enough to re-focus its energy on the task ahead and less than four years later had captured state power in Kigali.
There was a honeymoon period felt all the way back in Kampala, with Uganda glowing in the aftermath of this military victory and the Tutsi receiving the world’s sympathy.
By 1995, however, there started to emerge disturbing reports of major reprisals in Rwanda and across the border by the new national army, the RPA.
The English-speaking western news media largely ignored these persistent reports and concentrated on helping the RPF consolidate power and re-build the economy.
The Belgian, French and German media, for their part, took a keen interest in these reports, of massacres of Hutu refugees in a camp at Kibeiho to the arrest and liquidation of prominent Hutu and the seizure of their property and a reign of terror quietly being unleashed on the country by the new leaders.
In Uganda in the late 1990s, the belief started to gain traction that this new Rwanda was turning into some kind of police state where citizens lived in fear.
At the same time grew a well-coordinated public relations campaign by the Kigali government working through Ugandan journalists, in which an image was painted much like the first image of the Museveni government after 1986 — a nation speeding ahead under the resolute leadership of the guerrilla-turned-statesman; the economy growing by leaps and bounds and open to western investment; the “dark days” of the past being replaced by a new era of intellectual soldiers.
This new Rwanda, along with a similarly perceived new Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia and Laurent Kabila-led DR Congo were baptized the new crop, the “new breed” of African leaders by the Bill Clinton administration in 1996.
On and on the story went. The Hutu president Pasteur Bizimungu was summarily dismissed and arrested and replaced by Vice President Paul Kagame.
More and more Hutu politicians fled into exile, their fleeing portrayed as proof of their guilt and hand in the 1994 genocide.
The former Interior Minister and now exiled in Nairobi, Kenya, Seth Sedashonga, was assassinated in Nairobi as was a prominent Hutu officer, Major Theoneste Lizinde, also in Nairobi.
Others like Major Wilson Rutaysire, Assiel Karera, Alex Kagame and so on died under mysterious circumstances.
The first crop of RPF luminaries, such as Theodene Rudasingwa, Gerald Gahima and more fled into exile or fell into disfavor.
Some noted that it was not just leading Hutu fleeing into exile but also now leading Tutsi.
But in comparison with Uganda, Rwanda still had cleaner streets, working traffic lights, a generally more efficient government bureaucracy and relatively less corruption, so this exodus into exile or (for the Tutsi), back into exile was drowned out by the glowing World Bank, London, BBC and Clinton and Tony Blair evaluation of Rwanda.
In November 2006, a French counter-terrorism Judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, issued a report implicating President Paul Kagame and several senior RPF officers of having shot down the Rwandan presidential jet in 1994, that triggered off the genocide.
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Kigali angrily denied the accusation, staged demonstrations outside the French embassy and cut off diplomatic relations with France.
In February 2008, a Spanish Judge, Fernando Andreu, issued an arrest warrant for 40 senior Rwandan officers on similar charges.
The climax of this murky situation and suspicious murders and climate of fear came in June 2010 when an attempt at assassinating the former Chief of Military Intelligence during the RPF’s war and later Chief of Defence Forces, Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, aborted in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Suddenly, the English-speaking western media in reporting on the attempt on Nyamwasa’s life referred to Sedashonga’s assassination and others over the years, showing they suspected Kigali all along but had chosen to keep quiet.
The already tense atmosphere in Rwanda has just got even more tense and will continue to do so, especially after President Kagame warned that those who betray Rwanda will face consequences.
How much longer this fragile country can sustain this level of intrigue and tension remains to be seen.