Rwanda: How Money, Petty Politicking Protected Félicien Kabuga From Justice for 26 Years

opinion

It's not often that you hear of a criminal, anywhere, wanted by multiple jurisdictions with a $5 million bounty on his head, taking a casual morning walk in his neighbourhood.

But that's exactly what Rwandan native and genocide crimes fugitive Félicien Kabuga did.

His neighbours in the exclusive Paris suburb of Asuieves Sur-Seine recounted to reporters after his arrest by French Gendarmerie, on May 16, 2020, how he often exchanged greetings with people as he confidently strolled the streets.

It's not often that you hear of a criminal, anywhere, wanted by multiple jurisdictions with a $5 million bounty on his head, taking a casual morning walk in his neighbourhood.

But that's exactly what Rwandan native and genocide crimes fugitive Félicien Kabuga did.

His neighbours in the exclusive Asuieves Sur-Seine neighbourhood outside Paris recounted to reporters after his arrest by French Gendarmerie, on May 16, 2020, how he often exchanged greetings with people as he confidently strolled the streets.

As the world's most wanted fugitive, Kabuga, most likely, never sat with his back to the door, and the moment he came face-to-face with those mean-looking French cops in tactical gear, he knew his running had come to a dead-end, even before they put the cuffs on him.

Kabuga's arrest in France brings to an end a 26-year manhunt, involving several law enforcement agencies around the world and millions of dollars.

He had decided that he was going to use his vast wealth to evade justice at any cost, even if it meant lives being lost along the way.

Before the law caught up with him, many of those who spent decades tracking him, including Hassan Bubacar Jallow, the former ICTR's Chief Prosecutor, believed that Kabuga spent most his time on the run in Kenya.

When the genocidal regime was defeated by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994, most of the political and military leaders who planned and executed the Genocide against the Tutsi fled the country with wealth.

Mobutu's fall and Arap Moi's hand

In most cases, the fugitives were protected by corrupt systems, while certain governments in the region were motivated by their own political agendas against Rwanda.

Indeed, after Kabuga's arrest and initial arraignment in court, evidence is coming to light of African governments, including Rwanda's immediate neighbours, who facilitated his efforts to defeat justice by issuing him their national passports.

Perhaps Kenya, until July 1997, hosted the largest percentage of the most wanted of the Rwandan genocidal criminals, top on Interpol's list.

That country's ex-president Daniel Arap Moi is reported to have been close to the principal architect of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Juvenal Habyarimana, and the defeat of the Genocidal regime in Kigali had left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Consequently, Nairobi warmly welcomed the Rwandan fugitives and a lot was done to facilitate their stay, as they had the means to buy their way and protection.

After the Government of Rwanda revoked the passports of all known Genocide suspects on the run, Moi's government, in 1998, issued written instructions to immigration authorities to disregard the cancellation.

During the cold war era a certain alliance had been formed among the dictators in the region and was largely rooted in their client relations with Western countries, which had given them a false sense of invincibility.

That's how Habyarimana came to convince himself that as long as he paid homage to France and its rulers, his regime would last forever.

Mobutu Sese Seko of the then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), believed that he had an even higher premium since he served powers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Daniel Arap Moi completed this neo-colonial tripartite clientele in the region.

It was largely on the basis of this relationship that Kabuga, a wealthy businessman and member of Habyarimana's political inner circle, became among the most protected individuals in Kenya, regardless of his fugitive status.

From his privileged position he was able to use his vast amount of wealth to create a ring of powerful protectors, high up in government, around himself.

Things changed dramatically for the genocide crimes fugitives, particularly in the then Zaire after the removal from power, in 1997, of Mobutu Sese Seko.

But the collapse of his regime equally had great impact on the wanted Rwandan criminals in Kenya, which had become a preferred hideout for most of their leaders.

The fall of the government in Kinshasa had caused quite some speculation with political pundits and the media seeking to figure out how it exactly went down.

Then, on July 9, 1997, the Washington Post broke the news that the force which planned the campaign, fought the war and ultimately removed Mobutu from power was then Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), now Rwanda Defence Force (RDF).

The story came out after a lengthy interview the reporter, John Pomfret, had with the then Rwanda Vice President and Minister for Defence, Paul Kagame. Kagame's trip to Kenya

Political observers around the world, as well as some leaders in the region, realised that the situation was much different from what they had been made to believe.

A senior editor with a large media house in Nairobi recounted to me how, as soon as President Moi read the Washington Post story, he placed a call to the United States ambassador in Nairobi and when the envoy confirmed the news, even wondering how the president was the last to know, the Kenyan leader hung up on him.

Now he knew it was time to drop his disdainful attitude and to start showing Kigali some respect. The Kenyan president immediately reached out, dispatching his most trusted aides to Kigali with stern instructions to do whatever it took and secure a meeting between the then Vice President of Rwanda and the Kenyan head of state.

Within less than a week after the publication of the Washington Post story, the two leaders met in Nairobi.

As they met one-on-one, delegates on both sides were holding separate discussions.

During the deliberations, the Rwandans handed to the hosts a list of the fugitives hiding in Kenya. As the Kenyans were beginning to read through the names, one official, who was later identified as President Moi's principal private secretary, quickly zeroed in on Félicien Kabuga and declared that he wasn't on the Kenyan territory.

At that point the Rwandan side knew Kabuga had bought off some of the most powerful officials in that country and wasn't going to be an easy criminal to apprehend.

Indeed, by the time the then Vice President Paul Kagame's plane left Nairobi, almost all the fugitives on the list, including Jean Kambanda, who served as prime minister of the regime that carried out the Genocide against the Tutsi, during the 100 days, had been rounded up and flown to Arusha, the seat of the ICTR.

Other fugitives netted on that day included Hassan Ngeze, the editor of the Hutu Power magazine, Kangura, and RTLM's notorious Belgian propagandist, Georges Ruggiu. Even other high-profile figures who escaped the dragnet that day, including Casmir Bizimungu, a former minister and key figure in the genocidal regime were later taken into custody.

However, Kabuga remained at large and former ICTR chief prosecutor, Jallow, says that, in 2012, Kenyan authorities communicated to his office that the fugitives had left their country.

Even at the time when President Moi was desperate to establish good relations with Rwanda, powerful individuals in his inner circle weren't prepared to turn in a man whose price for protection was just too tempting.

The hunt for Kabuga continued and even after the United States government put up a $5 million reward for his arrest and prosecution, he remained untouchable.

This is not because the prize wasn't attractive, but any possible bounty hunters knew very well that a ruthless criminal with money was a dangerous target and his protectors weren't about to hand him over since he was paying them more than the American reward.

In the end, though, $5 million dollars is serious money, and one day someone was going to try to cash in. Businessman killed, thwarting Kabuga arrest

Reflecting on how the Rwandan fugitive exploited the corrupt Kenyan system under Moi's rule to stay ahead of his pursuers, Kenya's Daily Nation recounts how a Nairobi businessman who had gotten very close to Kabuga was killed as he was about to deliver him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents.

The Americans had verified the information provided by the businessman and were pretty convinced this time they had the target in their sights. That was until their informer turned up dead.

According to the publication, "in 2003 a young Kenyan businessman helping agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to track down Mr Kabuga was murdered by a hit squad. Mr William Mwaura Munuhe was killed only hours before Kabuga could walk into a trap laid at the businessman's home in Karen, Nairobi".

The killing caused waves not necessary among the FBI's local Kenyan law enforcement partners, but from the US government which came to the conclusion that their informer had been betrayed by the very people who were supposed to help in arresting Kabuga.

In a news release after Munuhe's murder, the US embassy in Nairobi called on the Kenyan government to investigate the killing and went on to affirm that while "the precise circumstances of his death are mysterious and as yet, unresolved, the embassy believes that his death is directly related to his willingness to come forward with information on the whereabouts of Félicien Kabuga".

His accomplices succeeded in protecting him from justice that time but this only delayed the inevitable, for some 17 years!

Kabuga's wealth may have helped him postpone his day of reckoning, but even the few days he has so far been hosted in that Paris jail he has had ample time to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how much you are worth, money won't protect you forever, especially if you are a wanted genocide-crimes fugitive.

As the world's most wanted fugitive, Kabuga, most likely, never sat with his back to the door, and the moment he came face-to-face with those mean-looking French cops in tactical gear, he knew his running had come to a dead-end, even before they put the cuffs on him.

Kabuga's arrest in France brings to an end a 26-year manhunt, involving several law enforcement agencies around the world and millions of dollars.

He had decided that he was going to use his vast wealth to evade justice at any cost, even if it meant lives being lost along the way.

Before the law caught up with him, many of those who spent decades tracking him, including Hassan Bubacar Jallow, the former ICTR's Chief Prosecutor, believed that Kabuga spent most his time on the run in Kenya.

When the genocidal regime was defeated by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994, most of the political and military leaders who planned and executed the Genocide against the Tutsi fled the country with wealth.

They ended up scattered around the world as wanted fugitives with a large number of them finding refuge in African countries. In most cases, the fugitives were protected by corrupt systems, while certain governments in the region were motivated by their own political agendas against Rwanda.

Indeed, after Kabuga's arrest and initial arraignment in court, evidence is coming to light of African governments, including Rwanda's immediate neighbours, who facilitated his efforts to defeat justice by issuing him their national passports.

Mobutu's fall and Arap Moi's hand

Perhaps Kenya, until July 1997, hosted the largest percentage of the most wanted of the Rwandan genocidal criminals, top on Interpol's list.

That country's ex-president Daniel Arap Moi is reported to have been close to the principal architect of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Juvenal Habyarimana, and the defeat of the Genocidal regime in Kigali had left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Consequently, Nairobi warmly welcomed the Rwandan fugitives and a lot was done to facilitate their stay, as they had the means to buy their way and protection.

After the Government of Rwanda revoked the passports of all known Genocide suspects on the run, Moi's government, in 1998, issued written instructions to immigration authorities to disregard the cancellation.

During the cold war era a certain alliance had been formed among the dictators in the region and was largely rooted in their client relations with Western countries, which had given them a false sense of invincibility.

That's how Habyarimana came to convince himself that as long as he paid homage to France and its rulers, his regime would last forever.

Mobutu Sese Seko of the then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), believed that he had an even higher premium since he served powers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Daniel Arap Moi completed this neo-colonial tripartite clientele in the region.

It was largely on the basis of this relationship that Kabuga, a wealthy businessman and member of Habyarimana's political inner circle, became among the most protected individuals in Kenya, regardless of his fugitive status.

From his privileged position he was able to use his vast amount of wealth to create a ring of powerful protectors, high up in government, around himself.

Things changed dramatically for the genocide crimes fugitives, particularly in the then Zaire after the removal from power, in 1997, of Mobutu Sese Seko.

But the collapse of his regime equally had great impact on the wanted Rwandan criminals in Kenya, which had become a preferred hideout for most of their leaders.

The fall of the government in Kinshasa had caused quite some speculation with political pundits and the media seeking to figure out how it exactly went down.

Then, on July 9, 1997, the Washington Post broke the news that the force which planned the campaign, fought the war and ultimately removed Mobutu from power was then Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), now Rwanda Defence Force (RDF).

The story came out after a lengthy interview the reporter, John Pomfret, had with the then Rwanda Vice President and Minister for Defence, Paul Kagame.

Kagame's trip to Kenya

Political observers around the world, as well as some leaders in the region, realised that the situation was much different from what they had been made to believe.

A senior editor with a large media house in Nairobi recounted to me how, as soon as President Moi read the Washington Post story, he placed a call to the United States ambassador in Nairobi and when the envoy confirmed the news, even wondering how the president was the last to know, the Kenyan leader hung up on him.

Now he knew it was time to drop his disdainful attitude and to start showing Kigali some respect.

The Kenyan president immediately reached out, dispatching his most trusted aides to Kigali with stern instructions to do whatever it took and secure a meeting between the then Vice President of Rwanda and the Kenyan head of state.

Within less than a week after the publication of the Washington Post story, the two leaders met in Nairobi.

As they met one-on-one, delegates on both sides were holding separate discussions.

During the deliberations, the Rwandans handed to the hosts a list of the fugitives hiding in Kenya.

As the Kenyans were beginning to read through the names, one official, who was later identified as President Moi's principal private secretary, quickly zeroed in on Félicien Kabuga and declared that he wasn't on the Kenyan territory.

At that point the Rwandan side knew Kabuga had bought off some of the most powerful officials in that country and wasn't going to be an easy criminal to apprehend.

Indeed, by the time the then Vice President Paul Kagame's plane left Nairobi, almost all the fugitives on the list, including Jean Kambanda, who served as prime minister of the regime that carried out the Genocide against the Tutsi, during the 100 days, had been rounded up and flown to Arusha, the seat of the ICTR.

Other fugitives netted on that day included Hassan Ngeze, the editor of the Hutu Power magazine, Kangura, and RTLM's notorious Belgian propagandist, Georges Ruggiu.

Even other high-profile figures who escaped the dragnet that day, including Casmir Bizimungu, a former minister and key figure in the genocidal regime were later taken into custody.

However, Kabuga remained at large and former ICTR chief prosecutor, Jallow, says that, in 2012, Kenyan authorities communicated to his office that the fugitives had left their country.

Even at the time when President Moi was desperate to establish good relations with Rwanda, powerful individuals in his inner circle weren't prepared to turn in a man whose price for protection was just too tempting.

The hunt for Kabuga continued and even after the United States government put up a $5 million reward for his arrest and prosecution, he remained untouchable.

This is not because the prize wasn't attractive, but any possible bounty hunters knew very well that a ruthless criminal with money was a dangerous target and his protectors weren't about to hand him over since he was paying them more than the American reward.

In the end, though, $5 million dollars is serious money, and one day someone was going to try to cash in.

Businessman killed, thwarting Kabuga arrest

Reflecting on how the Rwandan fugitive exploited the corrupt Kenyan system under Moi's rule to stay ahead of his pursuers, Kenya's Daily Nation recounts how a Nairobi businessman who had gotten very close to Kabuga was killed as he was about to deliver him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents.

The Americans had verified the information provided by the businessman and were pretty convinced this time they had the target in their sights. That was until their informer turned up dead.

According to the publication, "in 2003 a young Kenyan businessman helping agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to track down Mr Kabuga was murdered by a hit squad. Mr William Mwaura Munuhe was killed only hours before Kabuga could walk into a trap laid at the businessman's home in Karen, Nairobi".

The killing caused waves not necessary among the FBI's local Kenyan law enforcement partners, but from the US government which came to the conclusion that their informer had been betrayed by the very people who were supposed to help in arresting Kabuga.

In a news release after Munuhe's murder, the US embassy in Nairobi called on the Kenyan government to investigate the killing and went on to affirm that while "the precise circumstances of his death are mysterious and as yet, unresolved, the embassy believes that his death is directly related to his willingness to come forward with information on the whereabouts of Félicien Kabuga".

His accomplices succeeded in protecting him from justice that time but this only delayed the inevitable, for some 17 years!

Kabuga's wealth may have helped him postpone his day of reckoning, but even the few days he has so far been hosted in that Paris jail he has had ample time to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how much you are worth, money won't protect you forever, especially if you are a wanted genocide-crimes fugitive.

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