By Jennifer Fierberg
There are no words that can provide comfort to someone who has experienced profound loss. Mere attempts at platitudes and words of solace can never fill a void so big it cannot be measured. However, sitting with Leah Karegeya, one knows they are in the presence of strength, courage, power and a woman filled with God’s love. There is also a palpable heaviness that Mrs. Karegeya carries in suffering from the loss of her husband at the hands of one of Africa’s worst dictators in history.
Mrs. Karegeya has no doubt that President Paul Kagame of Rwanda had her husband viciously murdered in a hotel room in South Africa on New Year’s Eve 2013. He was found strangled on a bed where he had gone to meet what he thought was a friend. There have been no announcements in the case thus far and no arrests have been made.
President Kagame stated at a Prayer Breakfast that his death was deserved and that he has no remorse or care that Patrick Karegeya is dead. Mr. Karegeya was once one of Kagame’s closest confidants during the RPA invasion into Rwanda from Uganda and his Spy Chief later after the RPF took power. According to Mrs. Karegeya, it did not take long for Mr. Karegeya to see the man he was serving was not the same man that he fought alongside in the bush. Mr. Karegeya wanted out from under President Kagame and this is when Kagame began to arrest Mr. Karegeya in hopes of crushing is spirit into submission and forcing him to remain on his payroll. Mr. Karegeya was in and out of jail for three years in Rwanda but held to his resolve that he would not apologize despite the demands of President Kagame as well as James Kabarebe, the current Minister of Defense in Rwanda.
This writer sat with Mrs. Karegeya in a coffee shop in Washington DC in order to discuss how her life has changed since the devastating loss of her husband. Her words are bluntly honest and she spared no anger at the man who she believes ordered her husband to be murdered. There was laughter and there were tears as we spoke but there is no doubt that sitting in the presence of deep grief is a humbling experience.
JF: Tell me about Paul Kagame. How would you describe him today versus the man you knew years ago?
LK: I personally have no words to describe Kagame but I think he said it all himself when he told a journalist , “God made him in a strange way.” How do you define someone who has stolen your property, revoked your citizenship, fabricated lies and crimes about you and as if that is not enough, murders your husband? There is no human description I have for Kagame but this is what I know and believe; God did not create anyone to kill, to steal and or destroy his people. There is a scripture in the bible that gives me an idea of who he may be, but wise and Godly people should debate to know who he is exactly.
The scripture is John 10:10, which says, “The thief comes to lie, to kill, to steal and to destroy,” referring to the devil. Kagame perfectly practices these three elements, which qualifies him to be either a devil or someone acting directly on his behalf. His wise friends Rick Warren and Antoine should tell us better because clearly they should know the difference between good and bad.
JF: How has your life changed and the lives of your children been affected by the murder of your husband?
I think the worst you can do to any human being is to make him or her an orphan or a widow because that means changing life completely into a negative scenario.
I would say that generally we have all reacted differently to the situation, especially when you feel that life will never be the same. Personally, I have experienced denial, anger and anxiety then bargaining, which I pray leads me to forgiveness then a complete acceptance. For my children, I can give an example of one reaction during the time when we were struggling to travel for his burial and were still in shock. A friend of ours, not a Rwandese, was genuinely trying to offer us help and volunteering to help get us where we badly needed to go and my children refused completely saying they did not trust the person. In trying to convince them that I know this person very well, they told me that even their Dad was betrayed and killed by one whom he considered a friend.
We are affected in terms of trusting anyone, especially our own people. My young son, Richard, he does not say he comes from Rwanda but he tells people he comes from South Africa, which is not entirely false anyway. The only time he enjoyed his life and felt the peacefulness of childhood was when he joined his father in South Africa before we came here to the US. That is where he considers to be his home. I also sometimes tell people that I come from South Africa or Uganda because I find no pride in saying that I come from Rwanda anymore. Briefly, we have been affected in many ways including socially, economically and psychologically but we trust God to overcome.
JF: You said to me recently that, “President Kagame had done one of the worst things to all Rwandans. He has made us not trust each other.” Can you explain what you mean?
LK: For that one I wish to give an example of what i witnessed recently in Washington DC at a civil society discussion workshop on American policy in relation with African dictators and democracy. There were two Rwandese from the Rwandan embassy who had come I guess not to contribute any ideas like others but purposely to spy on who was there and what was being said about their regime. It happened that one of them was a young woman whom I regard to be my daughter because my husband was her guardian and very close to her entire family and we personally gave her away in marriage in our home. What hurt me the most was not her being a spy of Kagame and defending the regime but how she disguised herself and introduced herself with a different name other than her real name. This is someone I know quite closely, her real name is Kathleen, but she introduced herself as Jackie, which is the name of someone else in her family. I made it worse for her as I referred to the name of her big sister who also works for Kagame and, poor girl, I could see how she was embarrassed when she realized I was present.
To me this is really awful and truly shows how even the younger generation is being destroyed. How long can you pretend to be someone who you are not? How long can you run or hide from a relative or a friend just because of a paycheck today which may not be there tomorrow? Trust me, with these remarks she may be promoted but then what? After the meeting when I spoke to her she confessed she is an “observer ” when it comes to the government and its President. I could read fear and betrayal in her eyes for standing next to me that is certainly not her own making.
JF: After Patrick was murdered, General Kabarebe made some very disparaging comments regarding his character. What is your response to him?
LK: It was very hurtful especially at that moment; but it was not a shock for some of us who know Kabarebe. This is what you would expect from a captive coward whose conscious he no longer regards. He is the kind of soldier who Kagame slaps whenever he feels like it and he has accepted that as his way to live and survive. If he were bold, he would ask his master how much it cost him to fly four people who spent a couple of nights in a five star hotel waiting to pounce on his prey (Reference to my husband’s murder.) I can bet it must have cost more than the famous $20,000 per night room in the New York’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel where his master slept.
How do you kill a dog in a five star hotel? Dogs are killed on the street and they do not require a head of state to plan, prepare and pay to kill. Kabarebe knew who Patrick was and how he helped him when he was sick and Kagame ignored him and left to him to die. He was not only a colleague but he was a friend and an in-law whose nephew married our niece. Clearly, he knew Patrick as a man of principal who stood on the truth and would not be shaken by anything.
I remember in 2005 when Patrick was release from a six-month confinement without trial, it was Kabarebe and Kagame who met him and tried to intimidate him once again to make him apologize and get back on board with them as the the way forward. When Patrick challenged Kagame over the allegations and opinions, Kabarebe was asked to give his opinion and all that he said was “ Afande if I were the one released I would just kneel down here before you and ask for forgiveness and we move on.” Patrick told them both, that unfortunately he is not Kabarebe, and does not think the same way, which resulted into continuous trials and tribulations that led to his fleeing Rwanda in the end.
JF: President Kagame also made some vicious remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast regarding the death of Patrick. How would you respond to Kagame in regards to these remarks?
LK: The speech was awful, disgusting and embarrassing to those that still have human hearts. It has to be indeed a strange human being to murder another human being and at the same time be proud of it. Moreover, standing on holy ground, where people are gathered to worship their creator and make such evil remarks.
How can one preach about killing in a place of worship? Kagame is not God; he does not get to go on determining who should live and who should die. To me, this is far from human sanity. Besides, it is one thing to sin but entirely a different thing to be proud of it and expose it yourself before the entire world! It is human nature to hide one’s sins but it is sociopathic to boast about ones sins in a prayer breakfast. I believe, like the blood of Abel in the bible that haunted his murderous brother Cain, so is the blood of my husband to Kagame. This I believe is what triggered him into confession and surely, it still does considering what he has done since the death of my husband.
I simply sympathize with the listeners that day who were forced to clap their hands for such remarks and I wonder if he believes he received genuine praise or a mere wish to have another day to live.
JF: You are a woman of faith and God commands those to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Do you think you will ever be able to forgive President Kagame?
LK: Yes, I can because the scripture demands me to do it and clearly If I do not I will keep myself in captivity. Another reason is that when I think deeply I realize that Kagame did not know what he was doing, as Jesus said. Kagame believed that killing my husband would deliver some peace and consolidation of his power, he lied to himself. What I know is that my husband is at peace where he is while Kagame is more at war with himself and many others as never before. I guess it is worse to fight with the dead considering what he is doing today to those who are so called “loyal” to him. That makes me consider again leaving the matter to the Lord.
Having said that, I cannot lie to you and say that it is easy, more especially because the death of my husband remains fresh in us as if it happened yesterday and Kagame is a constant reminder which keeps it fresh in our minds. The bible states clearly that what is impossible to man is possible with God, this includes forgiveness. It will take time and it will be a long process but where there is a will there is always away and i know that it is in the will of God that I forgive.
JF: Do you think your husband had some regrets about the time he served under President Kagame?
LK: I would say he had no regrets because he was always prepared to die for what he believed was just and truthful. This includes his time in the RPF as well as his time in the RNC. Maybe what I think he would regret today if he was still alive, that I too share with him, is that we met o Kagame along our journey in this life. He believed in the RPA fight of the early 1990’s but President Kagame soon shifted his focus from the plan of returning refugees to their homeland to seizing total power and control of a nation. President Kagame’s thirst for power and money are what rule him today.
JF: What qualities of your husband give you strength to face each day?
LK: Jenn, there are a number of things about him that make me proud and will keep us missing him as a family.
1. He never suffocated his life like those that continue to serve Kagame who do not breathe their own air but serve while disgruntled. He was always ready for any consequences in order to attain his freedom and that of others.
2. He lived well with everyone no matter where they came from or who they were across the globe. This makes us proud and gives us strength to move on because there are many people out there who feel for us, pray for us and stand with us. We will never lack as the bible states no matter what the devil has stolen from us.
3. He loved and cared for so many people and was very generous, so we do not miss him alone but we have many people behind us who miss him as well. He was and will continue to be a symbol of genuine reconciliation in our Rwandese society (Hutu/Tutsi/Twa} something I intend to advocate for, God willing, in order to keep his legacy alive.
JF: How would you describe your husband?
LK: My husband was an extraordinary man who led an extra ordinary life that he chose. He died a brutal death at the hands of an evil man.
In the time since this interview was conducted, President Kagame has been arresting numerous members of society, his government as well as his military personnel. When Patrick was murdered, his cellphones were taken back to Rwanda, which has been documented in police records by The Hawks in South Africa. Each and every person who has been arrested was a contact person in these phones. A source, which requested to remain unnamed, confirmed this information and stated unequivocally that the arrests in the last few weeks were in direct relation to the murder of Patrick Karegeya.
President Paul Kagame’s actions since the murder of Patrick Karegeya show his increased paranoia and the slow but consistent dismantling of the Rwanda Patriotic Front.