DRC’s Numbi, Rwanda’s Nyamwasa…Africans wanted on criminal charges

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: The 20 most wanted Africans…

By Aïssatou Diallo, Fatoumata Diallo, Mehdi Ba, Nadoun Coulibaly, Romain Gras
Posted on Tuesday, 5 October 2021 08:23

Although they have held strategic positions in their respective countries, these once powerful people - from Burkina Faso's François Compaoré to Mali's Karim Keïta and the DRC's Kalev Mutond and John Numbi - are now being cited in criminal cases. We've delved into their criminal dealings in part two of our series.

This is part 2 of a 4-part series

Burkina Faso – François Compaoré, better late than never

A 23-year old case has finally caught up with François Compaoré, the younger brother of Burkina Faso’s former president. Accused of having ordered the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo, who was investigating the obscure circumstances surrounding the death of one of his employees in December 1998, will the 67-year-old Compaoré finally own up to the role that he played in this crime that shook the country?

The decision made by the French Council of State on 30 July, which validated Compaoré’s extradition to Ouagadougou, bodes well for those who have been demanding justice for Zongo’s death and that of his three companions. The case had been closed in 2006 after it was dismissed but was later reopened when Blaise Compaoré fell from power.

However, the fight is far from over. Compaoré’s lawyers, François-Henri Briard and Pierre-Olivier Sur, regretted making a decision that exposed their client to ‘risks of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment’, so they immediately referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ‘to prevent his planned extradition’.

On 6 August, the ECHR announced that it had asked France to suspend the Burkinabè’s extradition until it completed an examination of the merits of the case.

The court further insisted that this request did not ‘prejudge its subsequent decisions on the admissibility or merits of the cases in question’.

Although Compaoré’s lawyers released a statement praising this ‘independent and impartial decision’, the Burkinabè is not off the hook.

At the end of July, he had taken note of the French Council of State’s decision, declaring himself ‘ready to face, with dignity, honour and responsibility, Burkina Faso’s justice’.

Sur denounced ‘the political pressure that France has been exerting in this case, in a matter of justice that is unique to the history of the two countries’.

“This is why we have referred the case to the European Court, the only jurisdiction that can rule from a fair distance,” he said. “If necessary, we will accompany François Compaoré to the red zone to ensure that the right conditions for incarceration and trial are met.”

DRC – John Numbi, a very cumbersome general

59-year old John Numbi – the powerful, influential and feared four-star general – is now caught up in his past. For several months now, the courts have been trying to reopen the case involving the murder of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and his driver Fidèle Bazana, who were killed on 1 June 2010 during a meeting at the headquarters of the Congolese police, which Numbi headed at the time.

After many members of the commando – who had been hiding in Katanga, Numbi’s stronghold – were arrested, the Congolese general finally decided to flee, just a few days before his farm on the outskirts of Lubumbashi was searched.

“In case of discovery”, Numbi – who was officially the target of an arrest warrant dated 14 April and signed by Likulia Bakumi Lucien René, the High Military Court’s auditor general – must be apprehended and brought before the latter.

The problem is that no member of the state services seems to know precisely where the general, an ally of former Congolese president Joseph Kabila, is today. Although Katanga’s military services remain convinced that Numbi was only able to flee in time because he had received a tip-off from within the security forces, his destination remains uncertain. Several official sources say that he passed through Zambia, which borders Katanga, before going to Zimbabwe, a country that maintained close relations with Kabila.

The former president’s entourage refuses to talk about the steps that have been taken to find the general, but someone close to the head of state states that Numbi’s freedom is ‘already reduced where he is’.

Mali – Karim Keïta, a ‘great prize’

In Bamako, to avoid a tense situation with some and the ire of others, it is best to avoid mentioning the name Karim Keïta. Elected member of parliament in 2013 when he was only 34 years old, and then appointed chairman of the Commission de Défense de l’Assemblée Nationale, his meteoric rise elicited crystallised criticism in the Malian capital.

On 18 August 2020, the military coup that led to the fall of his father, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, caught him by surprise. Keïta, who was the subject of public scrutiny and sought by the junta, went into hiding for a while and – with the help of his friend, the late Ivorian prime minister Hamed Bakayoko – found refuge in Côte d’Ivoire. The 42-year-old has been living peacefully between the Ivorian economic capital and the very chic seaside resort of Assinie.

Last year, when Mali was in the midst of political reconstruction, a photo of him having lunch on the beach caused such controversy that Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara sent Bakayoko to ask him to be more discreet. Since then, Keïta has kept a tight rein on everything around him and is more careful about who he associates with. However, on 5 July, the senior investigating judge of Bamako’s Commune IV court issued an international arrest warrant against him. The judges hope to hear from him regarding the case of Birama Touré, a journalist who mysteriously disappeared in 2016 and who was allegedly held for months in a ‘secret’ state security ‘prison’.

Keïta’s close associates say he is formulating a plan. “He believes that the Birama Touré affair is a set-up,” a former leader of the IBK regime who has spoken to him told us. “I think he will prepare his response; but it would be unwise for him to return today, because he knows that he represents a great prize for the military in power.” “Is he aware that he has a share of responsibility in the popular discontent that led to the fall of his father?” asks a politician who has remained in contact with him. Some of those close to him don’t think so.

Keïta has not stopped travelling, even though he is on the run. In recent months, he visited the US and even set foot in France. He also paid a visit to his father in Abu Dhabi, where the latter receives regular medical treatment. Although he enjoys the Abidjan authorities’ protection, he knows that he must now be discreet and organise his defence because of the international arrest warrant issued against him. To this end, IBK’s son has hired a tandem of experienced lawyers: France’s Marcel Ceccaldi and Mali’s Kassoum Tapo.

DRC – Kalev Mutond, master spy in exile

Will Kalev Mutond ever face justice in the DRC? The 64-year-old, who was an all-powerful Congolese spymaster and served as intelligence chief for eight years, is being prosecuted by seven plaintiffs for torture, arbitrary arrests, death threats and attempted assassination. Although he has not appeared at any of the hearings in the case against him, nor responded to any of the court’s summons, this man who is very close to former president Joseph Kabila continues to closely follow the investigation. Convinced that this is a political case, he has sued all the plaintiffs for defamatory statements, false accusations and criminal association.

The former head of the dreaded Agence Nationale de Renseignement (ANR), who was the target of an arrest warrant as well as a wanted notice issued on 11 March, is waging this legal battle from abroad. He remained discreet for several weeks, but finally decided to leave the DRC in April. Despite having gone underground and now moving between several French-speaking African countries (his exact location is unknown), Mutond nevertheless maintains contact with the outside world. He uses several numbers registered in different countries on the continent to regularly transmit publications on the latest developments in his case to a small group of people.

Mutond has assured his entourage that he is willing to confront the plaintiffs, but accuses them of fleeing justice. His defence team’s first demand is that the prosecutor at Kinshasa’s Court of Appeal drop the warrant issued against their client so that he can appear as a free man. “If the prosecutor applies the law, then he will return to the DRC to appear before the court,” says the former securocrat’s entourage.

Mutond pleaded with the head of state over his case before he fled – with the help of people close to the latter such as the high representative Kitenge Yesu, who has since died. According to our information, he has maintained a channel of communication with the Congolese president’s office. He is now waiting for his case to be resolved and claims that some of his residences are being regularly searched.

Rwanda – Kayumba Nyamwasa, the dissident

For a long time, he was part of the inner circle of the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) and then the Rwandan army after the 1994 genocide. However, in the early 2000s, 59-year-old Kayumba Nyamwasa – who was head of intelligence and then the army’s chief of staff – came into conflict with President Paul Kagame. As a result, he fell from grace, had to leave Kigali to take up the post of ambassador to India and before he finally defected. In February 2010, he discreetly left the country and went to South Africa, where he still lives.

In 2010, while in exile, he founded an opposition movement – the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) – with a handful of the regime’s other dignitaries. He was also one of the founders of the P5 (Platform Five), two organisations that Kigali considered to be terrorist movements. Kayumba was sentenced in absentia to 24 years in prison by the Rwandan military justice system for desertion, defamation and undermining state security. Kigali also suspected that he had played a role in the grenade attacks that killed several people in the capital in 2010.

So far, all of Rwanda’s attempts to obtain his extradition have been in vain. “There is no extradition agreement between the two countries, whether it concerns suspected or convicted persons,” says a Rwandan judicial source. “Moreover, the indictment used as a basis for the extradition request was hastily drafted and was deemed insufficiently convincing by the South African authorities.”

In the meantime, Nyamwasa has been granted political asylum after he was almost shot near his home in Johannesburg in 2010. His wife and the South African authorities believe that Rwandan agents were behind this assassination attempt.

Burkina Faso – Hyacinthe Kafando, the invisible man

Hyacinthe Kafando is elusive. Wanted since 2015 by Burkina Faso’s judicial authorities for his alleged involvement in the assassination of former president Thomas Sankara and his 12 companions on 15 October 1987, Blaise Compaoré’s former security official seems to have vanished into thin air. He is believed to have been part of the commando that broke into the meeting room of the Conseil de l’Entente, where the crime was committed. Where is he now? How did he manage to leave the country? Did he have accomplices? So many questions remain unanswered just a few months before the opening of an emblematic trial, which is scheduled for 11 October, 34 years after the events took place.

According to several sources close to the case, Kafando left Burkina Faso in 2015, when the transitional authorities reopened the Sankara case. The military investigating judge, who wanted to hear from him, had issued him a summons; but Kafando did not show up, so a warrant was issued for him to be brought – by force – before the judge. The retired warrant officer had already disappeared by the time the gendarmes went to look for him in Boulsa, his village which is located in the centre-north, a little over 100km away from Ouagadougou. However, he had been placed under surveillance, hence the hypothesis that the forces of order or even the authorities of the time helped him escape.

Kafando is said to have travelled to Côte d’Ivoire in 2015 via Mali. Since then, he has not been heard from and remains unaccounted for despite the international arrest warrant that the military justice system issued against him. The former non-commissioned officer and former member of the Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (CDP) will be tried in October for ‘assassination’. Three other men – Nabonsouindé Ouedraogo, Idrissa Sawadogo and Yamba Élysée Ilboudo – who were part of Compaoré’s security team at the time of the crime will also face court.

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