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Rwandan exiles targeted across Africa

November 23rd, 2021
topics: Refugees and Asylum
by: Cyril Zenda
located in: Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique
tags: Paul Kagame, Rwanda genocide, Zimbabwe

One after the other, prominent Rwandan exiled dissidents on the African continent have been killed. Now, death is a real threat that forces most members of this community to sleep with one eye open and to walk with their backs firmly to the wall.

After nearly two decades of being a serious player in the Zimbabwean commuter transport sub-sector, Sadiki - a Rwandan refugee - has started shifting his investment to the cross-border trucking business. This is because he is planning to leave the southern African country that has been his home since 2003. The decision to be on the move again was a very difficult one, but Sadiki feels like he has no choice since his sixth sense tells him that his safety is now compromised.

“It’s no longer safe here anymore,” Sadiki, who made the decision to find another home two years ago after Zimbabwe and Rwanda established a diplomatic relationship, told FairPlanet. “What we fled from [at] home is now pursuing us, so we have to move,” added the 59 year-old, without giving more details. 

This way, the numbers of Rwandans living in Zimbabwe have progressively dwindled over the years, particularly ever since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

Fears Not Unfounded

Sadiki’s renewed fears for his personal security are shared by thousands of Rwandan refugees living in many other African countries, especially in those countries that have warmed up to Kigali’s diplomatic charm in recent years.

With most of these Rwandan refugees forcefully resisting repatriation to the country that they fled during - and in the aftermath of - the 1994 genocide that killed nearly a million people, their fears are not entirely unfounded as they are vindicated by the regular killings and abductions that the exiled community continues to suffer.

In September, Révocat Karemangingo, the businessman vice president of the Rwandan Refugees Association in Mozambique (ARRM) was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside his house in a suburb of the capital, Maputo. This happened weeks after Rwanda had deployed an army unit in Mozambique to help Maputo fight off a pesky insurgency

In May, Cassien Ntamuhanga, a Rwandan journalist who had sought asylum in Mozambique, was kidnapped by eight men claiming to be police officers and has never been heard of since. Police and NGO sources in Mozambique said Ntamuhanga was arrested on 23 May on Inhaca Island, taken by boat to the mainland, shackled, handcuffed and handed over to the Rwandan embassy in Maputo. 

In August 2019, Louis Baziga, the leader of the Rwandan diaspora community in Mozambique, was also shot dead by unknown gunmen in Maputo.

In February 2021, Seif Bamporiki, a leading Rwandan opposition politician, was shot dead in South Africa, where he lived in exile.

As the list of victims continues to grow, human rights organisations and President Paul Kagame’s detractors have consistently accused Rwanda of targeting or killing opposition members abroad who are involved in - or perceived to be involved in - activities against the government. 

Kagame, who has always angrily dismissed the charges, in return accuses some Rwandan exiles of being “traitors” who carry out and/ or finance “terrorist” activities aimed at destabilising his country.

is Kigali 'Neutralising' Threats?

However, a Rwandan exile who has lived in a number of southern African countries told FairPlanet that the killings, which he referred to as assassinations, were inherently linked to Rwandan’s complicated history.

“The targets of these assassinations are usually those that are active in politics,” he told FairPlanet on strict condition of anonymity after weeks of cajoling. “Realistically, one cannot expect those in Kigali - who have pulled a spectacular come-back in the past - to allow the same trick they pulled in the past to be played on them […] all governments in the world have both covert and open programmes to neutralise threats, so it would be naïve to expect Kigali to do nothing about dissidents abroad.”

A Complicated History

The Rwandan refuge crisis has its roots in the country’s complicated history of Hutu and Tutsi tribal politics that date back to the colonial days. These tribal politics resulted in the 1959 revolution that toppled a Tutsi monarchy, forcing over two million people to flee to neighbouring countries where they spent three decades regrouping and meticulously preparing a comeback: a “national liberation” goal that would be realised when the country emerged from the genocide with a Tutsi government. 

At only 26,338 square kilometres (10,169 square miles) in size, Rwanda is a relatively small country, which creates pressure for land among its 12 million-plus citizens.

The previous government of assassinated Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana had always insisted that there was not enough land to accommodate any returnees from the 1959 exodus. After the 1994 genocide, the returning Tutsi refugees of the 1959 exodus took over the land and properties abandoned by fleeing Hutus.

Some of these Hutus who fled after the 1994 genocide had themselves taken over the land and other properties of the Tutsis who had fled the country in the aftermath of the 1959 revolution. 

These acrimonious exchanges have made the return of some of these refugees more difficult to this day.

About 270, 000 Rwandan refugees from the 1994 genocide remain scattered in about a dozen major African refugee host countries - Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Their consistent spurning of repeated repatriation overtures has been taken as confirmation of their hostility towards the Kigali authorities. 

Eyebrows Raised Over Mozambican Intervention

While Kigali insists that its Mozambican intervention is driven by altruistic motives - and at its own cost - there have been suggestions that France, whose interests in the multi-billion dollar gas and oil bonanza in the Cabo Delgado area was falling into jeopardy, could have deployed the Rwandan army as a proxy force to secure these interests.

The Rwandan exile added that Kigali’s intervention in Mozambique could have been prompted by fears of the possibility of Rwandan dissidents scattered in several countries in east and southern African countries using the insurgency to train their own 'liberation' force. 

“There was also fear that if the Mozambican insurgency dragged on, those Rwandans born in exile who may be having ideas of one day 'liberating' Rwanda could be tempted to get battle experience in this insurgency, just as Kagame and his colleagues prepared themselves through Yoweri Museveni’s rebel movement in the early 1980s,” he said.

The insurgents in Mozambique have been targeting mainly young people in their recruitment amid suggestions that some foreigners were providing some financial backing.

Recently some of Mozambique’s neighbours started tightening screws on members of the refuge communities within their borders as suspicion arises that the insurgents could be recruiting some of their fighters from refugee camps within Mozambique itself or in any of its six neighbours.

Hit List Of Prominent Refugees

Rwandan Refugees Association in Mozambique (ARRM) president Cleophas Habiyareme said during a crisis meeting held in Maputo in the aftermath of Karemangingo’s killing that the persecution of Rwandan refugees is taking place in “almost every country in Africa.” 

“There are many killings of people from our community, but there has never been justice,” Habiyareme said at the meeting that discussed the putative list of 20 prominent Rwandan refugees allegedly targeted for elimination by the Kigali regime. “We know that there are lists that are circulating indicating the people who must be killed.” 

He added that his compatriot, the late Karemangingo, was part of Rwandan intellectuals, journalists and businessmen targeted by the Kigali government in several African countries that also include South Africa, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya.

Just like Sadiki in Harare, Habiyareme said that Rwandan refugees see the opening of a Rwandan embassy in Maputo in 2019 as another factor that has jeopardised their safety. 

Claude Nikobisanzwe, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Mozambique, is the same diplomat who in 2014 was expelled from South Africa for suspected involvement in the murder of former Rwandan intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya.

Kigali’s Modus Operandi

“For the large Hutu community in Mozambique, however, the Rwandan deployment is bad news,” wrote British journalist Michela Wrong, who earlier this year published a book titled Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad about Kagame and his regime.

“Two of the Rwandan diplomats now serving at the high commission were expelled from South Africa in 2014 because of their suspected role in a series of violent attacks against the exiled opposition, including Karegeya’s murder.” 

Both the Rwandan embassies in Maputo and Harare were opened in 2019 as part of Kigali’s diplomatic offensive.

“This, Rwandan dissidents will tell you, is how Kagame operates. He uses his network of embassies and friendships with foreign governments to pursue perceived enemies across the world, bartering his troops’ security potential for their compliance on the human rights front.”

In the aftermath of the January 2014 killing of Karegeya, Kagame defended his country’s right to self-defence against those who “betray” it.

“We didn’t do it, but my question is - shouldn’t we have done it?” Kagame said, clearly referring to Karegeya’s death, but without naming him.

“No one will betray Rwanda and get away with it. Regardless of who you are, there will be consequences,” Kagame said.

Image by Heminem90, Wikipedia.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Rwanda Zimbabwe Mozambique
People hold candles during a commemoration ceremony of the 1994 genocide at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda.
© Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Rwanda President Paul Kagame enters a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda, as the country commemorated the 25th anniversary of the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed over a 100-day period.
© Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
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