It all started as Karegeya, Kayumba split. In mid 2013, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) had scheduled an election for its leaders in South Africa for Aug 8. However, in the weeks preceding the election, the party experienced infighting and consequently the election was postponed. Two camps had emerged, one supporting Emile Rutagengwa and another supporting Frank Ntwali, a brother in law of Kayumba Nyamwasa, the presumptive leader of the party.
Elections were finally held on October 27, 2013. The election pitted former Rwandan intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya against Kayumba. Although the two men were not in the race, they backed rival candidates.
This is the first time disagreements between the two erstwhile allies were becoming manifest and thereby leading RNC closer to a split. In a highly contested vote, the group close to Ntwali took over all the posts.
Kayumba was accused by some members for interference in the elections and was asked to apologise. Kayumba had “forced” Mike Rwarinda and Ferdinand Barihiga to withdraw their candidature in favour of Ntwali. There were complaints that Etienne Mutabazi was protected from competition when he was not a good performer. It is claimed that RNC members were not happy and have no confidence in the leadership.
During campaigns there were character assassinations where some members were accused of working with the Rwandan embassy in Johannesburg. This was the first time accusations of infiltration on the RNC were taking center stage in the party and thus bringing Kayumba and Karegeya into a direct collision course. Kayumba wanted his brother in law, Ntwali, to stay in power by blocking Kennedy Gihana, supported by Karegeya.
RNC sources say the Karegeya-Gihana group’s strategy was to attract new blood who do not identify with RNC – people who question the sudden change from being RPF to FDLR. A heated debate ensued with veiled threats and recriminations.
A meeting to discuss the disagreements was called and a compromise was struck: Karegeya and Kayumba agreed not to attend the election. But on the day of the election, Karegeya appeared at Dovenshire Hotel; Kayumba did not. However, voters elected pro-Kayumba candidates among them Ntwali; a genocide suspect called Mutabazi was elected vice chair while Gihana was elected SG.
According to RNC insiders, Karegeya demanded that his choices pass, a factor that annoyed Kayumba who considered himself the natural leader. Karegeya accused Kayumba of being camera hungry even though RNC was losing momentum and becoming disorganised by the day.
Kayumba responded that Karegeya was a womanising traitor who was leaking secrets to the government of Rwanda through Gihana. Kayumba believed that this (Keregeya’s links with Kigali agents) is what contributed to his (Kayumba’s) attempted assassination.
A compromise was reached after a long discussion between the two. But Kayumba advised the executive committee that Gihana should never access any RNC documents. The Kayumba group then held a meeting without Gihana.
On 21st December, in a meeting dubbed Ingando and coinciding with RNC’s third anniversary as held in Pretoria where both Kayumba and Karegeya attended. People complained that they were not satisfied with the executive committee and accused Kayumba of threatening them not to vote anyone except Ntwali.
The meeting quickly degenerated into chaos. Karegeya called Ntwali a disaster for RNC and wondered why he (Ntwali) had made no effort to resolve the bad blood among members.
Karegeya said good leaders must know how to handle crisis otherwise they would be stoned to death. He said the executive should have handled the conflict before Ingando. According to our sources, Karegeya left the meeting saying he had another meeting which he claimed was in RNC’s “actual interest.” This was the last time Karegeya was seen with Kayumba.
On the morning of Jan. 1, 2014, Karegeya’s body was discovered in room 905 at the Michellangelo Hotel in the plush Sandton area of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa.
Hotel records indicate that Karegeya had booked into the US$350 (Approx.900.000) a night hotel on Dec.29.
Hotel security opened the room with a master key after Karegeya’s nephew, David Batenga, showed up at the hotel and refused to leave without speaking to him.
He was suspicious because all his earlier attempts to contact Karegeya at his home and at the hotel room had failed. All Karegeya’s three phones were off.
When Karegeya’s room was opened, reports indicate that security sensed that the occupant of the room was slumped on the bed in an unusual position.
“I don’t think this person is sleeping. Call the police,” the receptionist is quoted to have said.
When police arrived, they confirmed Batenga’s worst fear.
South African authorities said Karegeya might have been strangled after they found a rope and a blood soaked towel in a safe in his room. Initial reports do not say whether it was Karegeya’s blood on the towel.
Batenga, who is now believed to be the last family member to have seen Karegeya alive, says he had last spoken to his uncle via Blackberry Messenger (BBM) at 7.47pm on December 31, 2013.
By lunchtime on January 1, according to some reports, Batenga “couldn’t take it anymore”. He went to Karegeya’s home, but apart from his car not being there, nothing seemed unusual.
Batenga then went to the hotel. His uncle’s Audi was in the parking lot.
At the reception, hotel staff got no answer when they called room 905.
A porter went upstairs and, ignoring the “Do not disturb” sign, knocked. There was no answer.
Karegeya had a home in the same Johannesburg area and speculation is rife about why he hired the expensive hotel room.
By the time of writing this story, neither the special unit of the South African police’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, called the hawks; nor the hotel staff were offering any clues. Most of the information was being gathered from family members and members of the Rwanda exile community in Johannesburg, including Batenga.
Batenga is quoted to have said Karegeya hired the hotel room for one Apollo Gafaranga, a well-known businessman based in Rwanda. What is unclear is why Gafaranga did not hire the room in his names if he was the one using it?
Many queries, few answers
One line of inquiry suggests that Karegeya, if he hired the room for Gafaranga, clearly he possibly wanted his guest’s visit to be kept secret. If that is the case, why did Karegeya; as his nephew says, personally drive to Gautrain Sandton station on December 29 to allegedly collect Gafaranga?
If the visit was secret, why did Karegeya and Gafaranga allegedly spend at least three days together? The duo allegedly met on December 30 and, on the fateful day December 31, 2013, Karegeya reportedly told his nephew David Batenga that he had gone to meet Gafaranga again. He never returned.
It was not clear by the time we went to press if Gafaranga, who is apparently a well-known personality in Kigali, had been questioned by the Kigali police, Interpol, or the Hawks.
The Sunday Times of Rwanda’s Sunday Magazine interviewed him in its May 24, 2009 issue. It described him as humorous, down to earth, intelligent, and one of the more successful entrepreneurs in the country. He is the proprietor of a top Cinema in Kigali and deals in real estate.
The South African police had also not published any CCTV images of individuals seen entering or leaving room 905 during the period Karegeya is thought to have been murdered.
All this is unusual because Karegeya, even in exile in South Africa, was a very high profile figure.
Karegeya was a top member of a very vocal opposition in exile to Rwandan President Paul Kagame that includes the former Rwandan chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa. The duo are said to be connected to the highest levels of South African security, foreign affairs, and even President Jacob Zuma.
Karegeya grew up in Uganda just like several other former Rwandan refugees including President Kagame. He worked in the country’s intelligence before going to Kigali towards the end of 1994.
He served in the Kigali government as the chief for external intelligence from 1994 to 2004.
But once he fell out with Kagame, he was demoted to army spokesperson, later relieved of his duties, stripped of his rank as Colonel and jailed twice. He fled to South Africa where at one point, he was said to travel on a Ugandan passport in the names of Patrick Batenga.
Three years after he arrived in South Africa, Karegeya and Nyamwasa in 2010 formed a political party, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC). Other top figures in the party are the former director of cabinet, Theogene Rudasingwa, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Gerald Gahima, and its leader, Frank Ntwali.
According to Frank Ntwali, who heads the RNC in Africa, when Karegeya arrived in South Africa in 2007, the South African government put him under state protection.
But Karegeya’s death comes just one year after Karegeya and the South African government agreed in 2012 to end the close protection.
“They agreed that they would allow him to walk without bodyguards or without protection, which has turned out to be a miscalculation,” said Ntwali
“He knew that his life definitely was in danger… that’s why he fled Rwanda, but I think he got to a level where he thought that here he would be able to evade them,” Ntwali is quoted to have told journalists.
It is not clear why Karegeya felt the security provided by South Africa had become an encumbrance.
The RNC in a statement described Karegeya as “a courageous soldier who died on the battlefield”.
“His vision for an inclusive and free Rwandan society earned him the admiration and respect of most Rwandan political actors, both in the predominantly Tutsi ruling party and in the predominantly Hutu opposition political parties,” the party said.
The RNC, perhaps as expected, also pinned the murder of their former party member on Kagame’s government, which they claim is in the habit of targeting key Rwandan opposition figures in “South Africa and the rest of the world”.
“…investigations have found overwhelming evidence of the involvement of Rwanda intelligence operatives in those assassination attempts,” reads their statement, “By killing its opponents, the criminal regime in Kigali seeks to intimidate and silence the Rwandan people into submission.”
The party cites assassinations; including two attempts against Gen. Nyamwasa in Johannesburg in June 2010, to reinforce their accusations.
But Kigali’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Vicent Karega dismissed the allegations. It is always best, in situations of such accusations to wait for official police statements.
In the past, despite claims by opponents that there was clear evidence linking the Kagame regime to the Nyamwasa shooting, the trial of suspects has not produced any results since 2010. A related case, which claimed that assassins had been sent to finish off Nyamwasa as he lay sick in hospital over the first shooting fell apart after the main witness withdrew his testimony. He told court that the South African police had bribed him to pin the other five witnesses.
Karegeya himself has been no stranger to accusations of assassinating his enemies and other sins.
James Kabarebe, a former Chief of Defense Staff of Rwanda in a 2010 interview with The Independent described Karegeya as a very reckless man “who has no fear for anything, even telling a blatant lie that would be discovered – just to get his way.”
“Karegeya lacks seriousness and never takes anything seriously,” Kabarebe said.
At the time, The Independent was investigating a case in which Karegeya had successfully won a United Nations (UN) consultancy job worth US$ 77,000 a month. The problem, The Independent found, was that he lied to get it.
In 2011, there were reports of a Burundian woman who claimed Karegeya led her to kill; by poisoning, a popular Rwandan singer, Jean Christophe Matata.
The woman, whose identity remains a secret to protect her family, allegedly claimed Karegeya was upset when in late December 2010, she hooked up with Matata.
Matata died abruptly on January 03 in a South African hospital when he had gone to preform there. His death was explained as multiple organ failure.
Karegeya, who was her sexual partner and apparently appears to have been spying on her, allegedly told her that Matata could be used by his enemies in Rwanda to harm him through her.
He then told her to spike Matata’s drink so that she could go through his phone records and other documents. Unknown to her, the substance Karegeya supplied her to use on Matata was a slow acting poison. None of this has been independently confirmed.