The holiday season ended with a thud in the Republic of South Africa where a former Rwandan intelligence officer, Patrick Karegeya, was murdered in a hotel room in Sandton, an upscale enclave of Johannesburg at the end of 2013. Mr Karegeya was an alumni of the NRA Bush War and like President Paul Kagame, had served as an intelligence officer in NRA prior to the 1990 invasion of Rwanda.
South Africa is an important haven for other high profile fugitives from Rwanda, including the former army chief Kayumba Nyamwasa. Different countries have evolved different methods of dealing with high risk fugitives. A fugitive is not an ordinary asylum seeker whose claims for relief are tied to an individual incident or a group threat that targets members of a particular political, social or religious group. Fugitives are fleeing from an active threat of prosecution or even liquidation or other intolerable circumstances. For fugitives, the flight does not end with arrival on dry soil.
The death of Karegeya has received a lot of international press due to a number of reasons. First was the sophistication with which his killers prepared to liquidate him. He had been cultivated by the alleged assassin for more than four years. Second was the shock factor. South Africa is in a different profile from countries like Uganda where refugees are routinely abducted and transported to the border, the last being that of Lt. Joel Mutabazi last year. Kenya is no different. A former minister - Sendashonga - met his death in Nairobi after fleeing from Kigali.
But on a more sober reading of events, the South Africans were not dealing with ordinary criminals, they were dealing with a high level group of assassins, highly trained to kill effortlessly. The international media ran a few unflattering stories about Kigali and Kigali did the needful, dispatching its army of image makers to sow doubts in the dominant narrative.
Mr Karegeya, like many Rwandans, has family in Uganda. More than family, he has a home and a lifetime here. He left for Rwanda as an adult. He was 30 years old at the time of the RPF invasion.
Mr Okello Oryem, the State Minister for International Affairs, had a chance to correct himself quickly when, on humanitarian grounds, he offered a position that Karegeya’s family was free to return his body home to Mbarara for burial.
Movement of dead bodies is not a simple matter. A dead body travels on a passport issued post-humously. Uganda would have to issue travel documents to a national of another country, absent evidence that he had held a Ugandan passport at the time of his death. South Africa would have to clear the body on the basis of these documents. This situation could only happen with a no objection from Uganda. In the end it could not happen and Uganda had to revert to the default position under its own immigration and nationality laws.
Intelligence personnel operate at the centre of political and economic life of a country and their defection or departure has a lot of collateral implications. The world has been treated to Wikileaks and Edward Snowden over the last three years and given an idea of what kind of information even a junior intelligence official has access to. Karegeya’s assassins, from a report in African Review, seem to have been interested in what he held as much as his life.
This story is unlikely to end here. It is a dilemma for South Africa. Sometimes it becomes too hot to host some individuals. In the case of Rwanda, punitive actions have included in the recent past withdrawal of travel documents for immediate family members. Many countries are reluctant to allow holders of refugee travel documents safe passage for fear of jeopardising bilateral relations. The statements by Rwanda Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo describing the deceased as an “enemy of the state” released in twitter-verse, accentuate this unrelenting scorn towards those who have fallen out with the system.
The UK probably has evolved one of the best practices in handling these situations. It has hosted the high and the low. High profile fugitives live in near seclusion under assumed identities. But even the UK has failed on some occasions, falling to strikes by rival forces like the KGB hunting for fugitives on its territory. The Americans use a relocation policy, moving sensitive refugees across the country away from attention areas and steering them to new careers while encouraging them to break ties with home.
Today, modern practice poses other constraints on political fugitives. Very few countries allow them to actively organise on their territory. During the Obote regimes, fugitives were routinely picked up with tacit approval from Nairobi. Tanzania, during Amin’s time, simply broke off relations with Uganda and was the vanguard of forces that overthrew Amin. South Africa seems to have taken a have-it-both-ways approach, simultaneously maintaining ties with Rwanda while hosting a vibrant political opposition.
Patrick Karegeya died on the battlefield; let him be forgiven for whatever went wrong in his life. RIP!
Mr Ssemogerere, an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. firstname.lastname@example.org