He was found dead in his Johannesburg hotel, this week. Before this, Col Patrick Karegeya had been jailed twice over alleged indiscipline, desertion and insubordination and stripped of his rank of Colonel.
The former Rwandan intelligence chief later fled to exile in 2007. He spoke to Robert Mukombozi in July 2010 about his fallout with President Kagame, escape, and life in South Africa.
Before delving into Rwandan issues, could you explain your role in the NRA rebellion?
I was born in Mbarara, Uganda, to a refugee family. I can’t remember how many primary schools I went through in Uganda. I finally earned my Bachelor of Law degree at Makerere University. It was a period of political upheaval; so, after university I started recruiting youths for NRA, but I was later arrested in June 1982 and charged with treason.
I spent three years in Luzira prison. Later, I managed to join [President] Museveni in Luweero until we finally liberated Uganda.
You were in the NRA, so how did you start planning the Rwanda liberation struggle?
It is true at the time of planning the Rwanda liberation struggle, I was an active officer in the NRA [now Uganda People’s Defence Forces]. Meetings were held at my private residence in Muyenga, Kampala. President Paul Kagame and the late Fred Rwigyema were part of those meetings, including others who are now senior leaders and army officers in the Rwandan government.
At that time I was a lieutenant in military intelligence (serving as an assistant Director-Counter Intelligence in the Directorate of Military Intelligence). I was coordinating intelligence over a very wide area before any decision to invade Rwanda could be made. My spy network was widespread across Africa and overseas.
My colleague (Paul Kagame) went to the United States for further studies and he was later informed that we had already invaded Rwanda. Museveni was very instrumental in the planning and subsequent invasion of Rwanda. He supported us and did not hamper any of our missions and agenda; he only asked for our cooperation and we were very cooperative.
What was most challenging in your career as a spy chief, especially in the struggle to liberate Rwanda?
Coordinating intelligence during war is very intricate, particularly in a scenario where you are dealing with insurgents, the perpetrators of genocide. The government did not have structures and that means it didn’t have an intelligence structure as well.
We went ahead and coordinated the return of thousands of Rwandans who had been displaced by the 1994 genocide but among them were ex-FAR and Interahamwe. The massive infiltration caught us off guard. It was very challenging but we built an intelligence structure which was very formidable and successful.
You said Museveni was very supportive but you were instrumental in killing his soldiers during the DR Congo (Kisangani) clashes between the RPA and UPDF between 1998 and 2003.
It is true I coordinated intelligence during that war but the DR Congo issues are very complicated. Fighting the enemy you know (the UPDF) was especially very challenging but inevitable because we had both deployed.
Now [President] Kagame says he will track you down for masterminding terrorist attacks in Kigali. What do you have to say about that?
I am actually disappointed in him. First of all, terrorism is just a political tool used by all dictators to deal with their opponents due to the weight the international community has attached to this charge. That is just blackmail. He [Kagame] has created a lot of divisions in the army.
There were wild allegations that I had problems with the Chief of General Staff [Gen James Kabareebe] but he [Kagame] was actually the man behind all these fabricated charges of insubordination and desertion. I remember when he [Kagame] was being called and asked where I should be jailed. Even the army wasn’t sure about which charges they should prefer against me and where I should be jailed.
For all the jail terms I served in Rwanda, the army, under orders of the commander-in-chief, detained me in solitary confinement, not allowing any family member or friend to visit me, which is extreme psychological torture going by the international human rights conventions. All the orders were coming direct from Kagame. All these are political tools that Kagame uses to silence his opponents. I have actually stopped responding to Kagame’s accusations because it is a waste of time.
We fought for the liberation of Rwanda so that Rwandans can enjoy peace and be delivered from dictatorship but we have not seen that. A dictator can never step down, they are brought down. It’s only Rwandans who can stand up now and fight for their freedom. Kagame will have his breaking point and I think it will be very soon.
There is no one who will come to save Rwandans from the dictatorship of Kagame and there is no time to fold hands. They should stand up to him and say look; we are tired, you have to go.
Obviously, some will lose their lives in the process but those who will die will have lost life for a worthy cause, and I am prepared to support Rwandans who want to fight the dictatorship of Paul Kagame.
How do you explain the mysterious death of Col Rezinde in 1996 and former Internal Security Minister Seth Sendashonga on May 16, 1998, both of whom were assassinated under your watch as the Director, External Intelligence?
It is not only Col Rezinde and Sendashonga who died mysteriously around that time. Many people, especially politicians, died under mysterious circumstances. I can’t say I don’t have information regarding those cases, but Kagame was the boss so he is in a better position to explain those assassinations and mysterious disappearances of people.
Families of people who lost their relatives and friends in mysterious circumstances have the right to seek answers from Kagame and if they want, they can go ahead and institute a legal measure because they have the right to know what happened. When time comes for me to present my version of information, I am prepared to do that.
Rwanda’s Prosecutor General has written to the South African government saying security and judicial organs are in possession of evidence implicating you and Lt Gen Nyamwasa in acts of terrorism and grenade attacks. Are you prepared for extradition?
All those are fabricated and baseless charges. They are saying we bombed Kigali but we both know this is not true, but let me remind the Rwandan government that they have no extradition treaty with South Africa. I and my colleague (Gen Nyamwasa) are in South Africa legally.
We are both lawyers and we have secured political asylum, and we are well aware that no amount of political pressure can change this fact. In fact, we have waited for the Rwandan government to take legal action but we haven’t heard anything from them.
We will not even need anyone to represent us in courts of law on this matter because it is a simple case that is politically motivated. We will meet in court. There is no evidence whatsoever that links us to the bombing in Kigali.
Are you safe in South Africa after the recent attempt on Gen Nyamwasa’s life?
We have political asylum in South Africa and we will remain here. Proximity is very important. If Kagame had remained in the United States [During the 1990-94 liberation struggle and after], he would not be the Rwanda president today.
You sneaked out of the country dramatically in November 2007, how did you beat the security?
The way I managed to slip out of the hands of Rwanda’s security apparatus is still my secret. Besides, if I reveal those details, I may be blocking the way for others who want to escape from Kagame’s oppressive regime.
I know of so many people in Rwanda who would want to use the same route but their day hasn’t come yet and I do not want to be their obstruction.
Profile: Patrick Karegeya
- 1960 - Born to late John Kanimba and Jane Kenshoro, a refugee Rwandan family in Mbarara district.
- 1982 – Graduated with a Law degree from Makerere University.
- 1990 – Served in the Directorate of Military Intelligence in Uganda and later became the coordinator of intelligence services for rebel RPA.
- 1994 - 2004 – Director General, External Intelligence in the RPA/Rwanda Defence Forces.
- 2004 – Serving as Rwanda Defence Forces spokesman, he was arrested and detained for “indiscipline”.
- 2006 – Stripped of his military rank of Colonel on July 13, 2006 by the military tribunal.
- 2007 – Flees to exile.
- Married to Leah and they have a daughter and two sons.
Robert Mukombozi was, at the time, studying for a master’s in Journalism and Mass Communication at Griffith University, Australia.