Opposing the Rwandan government could cost you your life, a report by the Canada Border Services Agency confirms.
The report, which was disclosed in federal court documents and is partly based on information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, describes a “a well-documented pattern of repression of Rwandan government critics, both inside and outside Rwanda,” involving threats, attacks and killings at the hands of government agents.
Rwandan spies are most active in neighboring Uganda, which has for decades been one of the main refuges for Rwandans. The current regime formed as a rebel movement — the Rwandan Patriotic Front — in refugee camps across the Ugandan border, before invading and taking over the government in response to the genocide in 1994.
Today, thousands of Rwandan refugees and expatriates live in Uganda, where they are closely monitored by Rwanda’s security services. Plots to threaten or kill dissidents who oppose the government or its president, Paul Kagame, are common.
In October 2013, Joel Mutabazi, one of Kagame’s former bodyguards, went missing in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. He later reappeared in police custody in Rwanda. It turned out that he had been arrested and delivered to the Rwandan authorities despite being registered as a political refugee.
An Ugandan police officer was suspended for erroneously extraditing Mutabazi, but Rwandan intelligence previously tried to assassinate and abduct the former bodyguard on multiple occasions. It’s not a stretch to suspect an intelligence operation behind the extradition, especially given the notorious corruption of the Ugandan police forces.
An even more egregious example of Rwanda’s campaign against foreign-based dissidents is the murder of former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya in South Africa in 2014. Like Uganda, South Africa has seen a string of attacks against Rwandan nationals living in its borders, severely straining relations between the two countries.
The Rwandan government denies the accusations.
Yet the campaign extends beyond the African continent. In 2011, the Scotland Yard warned two Rwandan opposition politicians living in the United Kingdom of “reliable intelligence” that the Rwandan government “poses an imminent threat to your life.”
The ironic part — the U.K. spends about $100 million in development aid in Rwanda per year, much of it going directly to the government.
It is unlikely that the intimidation campaign will abate for the foreseeable future. The Rwandan regime is acting increasingly paranoid toward any challenge to its authority, both from inside the country and abroad.
The Canadian report mentioned that the regime tried to conduct “indoctrination training” of Rwandan expatriates living in Canada. A Canadian investigation halted the scheme, but controlling the Rwandan diaspora remains one of the Rwandan government’s main priorities.
Activities aimed at suppressing political dissent inside and outside the country have to be seen in the context of Kagame’s increasingly obvious attempt to run for a third term. This project requires changing the Rwandan constitution, which stipulates that the president can serve a maximum of two seven-year terms.
But it’s not easy for Kagame or his supporters to make a compelling case for why he must stay for another seven years.
Apart from having already spent almost 15 years in office, he served as vice president and minister of defense in the years between the civil war and his first term as president — plenty of time for him to leave a political mark on the country.
To justify a third term, Kagame’s allies have begun a spectacular public relations campaign designed to paint his prolonged tenure as the will of the people. A petition calling for the revision of the constitution to allow Kagame to run again garnered more than 2.5 million signatures, translating to about two-fifths of Rwanda’s population.
The parliament then embarked on a nation-wide consultation process to prepare the reform project. The result? Of “millions” of people attending these consultations, only 10 voiced opposition to the constitutional amendment.
Clearly, the government is not a huge fan of dissenting voices. And with political opponents of Kagame and his entourage regularly getting killed or disappeared, the regime is willing to enforce its political control at home and abroad.