Posted on Thursday, 13 August 2015 11:16

Rwanda: Karenzi in court

Photos©Denyse Uwera/Ap/SipaThe arrest of the spy chief in London has stirred up a diplomatic storm


There will of course be plenty of time to meet with General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake in London, the Rwanda High Commission assured us on 16 June.

Now it seems that there will be far more time than anyone imagined. After Gen. Karenzi was arrested at Britain's Heathrow Airport on 20 June on a Spanish arrest warrant, he was arraigned in a London court and was given bail of £1m ($1.6m) but ordered to surrender his passport and stay in central London until a hearing in October to rule on his extradition.

The arrest of Karenzi, secretary general of Rwanda's National Intelligence and Security Service, quickly blew up into a diplomatic storm.
The loudest thunderclaps came from Kigali, with foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo condemning the triumph of "European solidarity" over African dignity.

Days later, President Paul Kagame made one of his angriest speeches to parliament, saying the arrest showed "absolute arrogance and absolute contempt".

Was the arrest orchestrated by London as a warning shot to Kagame as he prepares to run for the presidency a third time? That is the hope of Kagame's many foes, who say that his fervent support in the West is beginning to fall away. However, Kagame is still buttressed by the British establishment and its counterparts in Washington.

Prime Minister David Cameron supports Kagame at least as enthusiastically as his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Bail the London courts requested for Gen. Karenzi in his Spanish extradition case

Cameron's close friend and former overseas aid minister Andrew Mitchell set up Project Umubano in 2007. Through the project the Conservative Party raises funds for development projects in Rwanda and sends its younger staffers to work in ministries in Kigali.

Indeed Mitchell, who was criticised for approving a £16m aid package for Rwanda on the day he resigned from the ministry in 2012, dismissed the 180-page Spanish warrant, saying the arrest was carried out "for political reasons and not judicial ones".

Dismissing the Spanish case cobbled together by a "junior court", Mitchell echoed Kagame's criticisms: "This is a political use of the European arrest warrant [...] by supporters of the genocidal regime [under late President Juvénal Habyarimana] against those who stopped the genocide."

Former prime minister Blair has been just as enthusiastic behind the scenes. He got his barrister wife Cherie to represent Karenzi at the extradition hearings. That puts Kagame's barbs against the West into perspective.

But much more significant is Kagame's ability to mobilise support in his region.Within days of Karenzi's arrest, foreign minister Mushikiwabo flew to Addis Ababa to get the African Union (AU) to demand his immediate release.

The case slots neatly into the AU's ongoing campaign against the International Criminal Court (ICC) and what it regards as other Western-inspired attempts to try African politicians.

Kigali has also eagerly championed Kenya's campaign to put the ICC and its defenders on the back foot.

In the end, it is the domestic resonance of the case against Karenzi that carries the most political weight.

Although the Spanish case leads with Karenzi's responsibility for the death of two Spanish aid workers in late 1994 as his troops sought out those responsible for the genocide that killed more than 800,000 Rwandans between April and July, it raises again the theory of a second genocide – that is, the argument that having stopped the genocide in mid-1994, Kagame and officers from his Rwandan Patriotic Front then organised vengeance killings against its perpetrators and collaborators, willing and otherwise.

United Nations (UN) investigations found that some 40,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutu, died in attacks in late 1994 and a further 200,000 died as they fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo between October 1996 and May 1997.

The UN has never publicly attributed blame for the violence. To have these arguments aired in a Spanish court in the middle of an election campaign would be problematic, even for a candidate as confident as Kagame.

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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