Self Styled Human Rights Activist, Convicted Thief, Will The Real Mugenzi Stand Up?

Those who know Mugenzi describe him as a quack, an imposter and manipulator

Like that of Paul Rusesabagina, the conviction of Rene Mugenzi for the theft of Church funds, may begin a tortuously slow end of a pantomime, fuelled by a perverse need for so many in the West, to perpetuate a view of Africa where they must come to the rescue of Africans.

Against all evidence to the contrary, so ubiquitous, so obvious, that it is difficult to mention Rwanda without tripping over it, perfectly intelligent people seem desperate to cling on to an imagined, nightmare scenario of a country, whose citizens are in desperate for “Western intervention.” 

The villain of the piece is of course the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led government. 

Too much of the history of the twentieth Century, has been characterised by harrowing examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Next to the Nazis’ murder of an estimated six million men, women and children, the Rwanda genocide against the Tutsi, stands as a reminder to the unfathomable depths of depravity that human beings can sink.

But there are also few instances, where the response to such horrors, has risen to restore faith in humanity, as can be witnessed day to today in Rwanda. 

Reaching such heights, in response to such depths of depravity, does not come by happenstance. It has taken twenty-six years of moment by moment determination to rise above the worst of humanity, and towards its best. It is a process that continues apace.

And yet, almost any individual, can land at almost any airport in the West, mouth the words, “there is no political space” “Rwanda is an autocracy” “Kagame runs a dictatorial regime” and they are guaranteed an arm around the shoulder, a sympathetic  audience before whom their “courage” to oppose the dastardly “regime” is applauded, and a promise to trumpet their “activism” to the four corners of the world. 

Mugenzi’s moment came in December of 2010 with the launch of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition group led by former Rwanda General, Kayumba Nyamwasa. The RNC has now been censured by the UN for involvement in acts of terror against Rwanda.  

On that same day, a communique arrived from France to the Metropolitan Police in London, warning that a handful of individuals, hitherto unknown to anyone beyond their own households, were targeted for assassination by the “Rwandan regime.” Rene Mugenzi was among these individuals. 

He is now to spend more than two years, at her Majesty’s pleasure, as the British wryly term a stretch in prison, for abusing the trust put in him by his local Church in Norwich.

Mugenzi had been employed by Norwich Cathedral as treasurer, but instead, he steadily syphoned off over 200,000 pounds sterling, into his own account. 

Norwich Catedral and the picture in the corner, Claudel Mugenzi

For obvious reasons, the position of treasurer in any organisation, is one of trust. The Cathedral authorities are understandably deeply pained by this particular betrayal of trust, and it is difficult not to sympathise with them. 

But few in Britain’s small Rwandan community, and those in Rwanda itself who know Mugenzi, will be surprised by the revelations. Some may be tempted to remind the Cathedral that they were told, and if only they had chosen to listen, might have been forewarned. 

The Norwich Cathedral of St John The Baptist was not the first to fall victim to Mugenzi’s petty venality. Several members of the Rwanda community allege that he had stolen money from community’s modest accounts. 

And they point to other instances, including directorships he set up, and bogus Non governmental Organisations (NGOs), which he is alleged to have set up, for the simple purpose of defrauding funds from various bodies, including local government councils. 

As the judge noted, Mugenzi is highly intelligent. What the judge may not have known is that he is also a duplicitous opportunist, who carefully constructed a persona that got him to occupy positions he would almost inevitably, go on to abuse. 

We know very little about the other individuals mentioned with Mugenzi, in the police warning, other than that they are members, or sympathisers of the RNC. After the initial spotlight, they receded back into their normal quiet lives. 

Not Mugenzi however. He saw an opportunity and grabbed it with everything he had. 

There are a number of things to bear in mind about the supposed threat to life, about which these individuals were warned. Firstly, its veracity was never properly investigated. It wouldn’t have been. Security cooperation within the European Union (EU) means that any such threats, if from an EU member state, would be taken at face value. 

It is also important to bear in mind that since the now clearly established moral and material support given by France to Rwanda’s genocidal establishment, before, and during the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, there are figures within the French establishment, especially French intelligence, who wish Rwanda, under the leadership of the RPF ill. 

Unusually for an African country, the RPF leadership greatest sin, in the eyes of some in France, is that Rwanda has insisted on recognition of the truth. 

In response, the French have, for twenty-six years, blathered on about the “honour of France” and used their standing in the world, especially as a permanent of the UN Security Council, to harass Rwanda on the international scene, at every turn. 

It is to say the least somewhat suspicious, that the day on which the RNC is launched, is the moment allegations against the RPF leadership helpfully materialise. 

It must be stated that there is of course, no proof that the claims of attempted assassinations came from French intelligence. But it is nevertheless instructive that after the initial reports, many similar claims kept surfacing, and it is noteworthy that the Metropolitan Police appears to have grown more sceptical with each one of them. 

It is also worth noting that up until they were said to be planning the assassination of these individuals, the Rwandan authorities were too engaged elsewhere, to have any knowledge of the individuals they were supposed to be planning to murder, Mugenzi included. It would seem the first they knew of their own plots to assassinate this group of people, was when they read about it in the news. 

They would soon get to know Mugenzi very well, whether or not they wished to. He would not be ignored. 

He became adept at riding every wave that would break with a stereotype about Africa. He became a “Human Rights Activist” against the “autocratic regime of Paul Kagame.” He echoed all that he was required to echo. He was an “expert witness” for the defence, in the case against suspected genocide perpetrators, who fled to London, a case that is still ongoing. 

He broadened his “activism” beyond Rwanda, using his newly acquired profile to speak out against Myanmar. 

Wasn’t it dreadful that “the regime” in Rwanda didn’t respect human rights, allowed no “political space”? Would he come and speak about it? Of course, he would, again, and again, and again, and again. 

The Eastern Daily Press, which broke the story about Mugenzi’s theft, had to go to court to be allowed to publish its story. His lawyers had argued that the mere mention of his name in a newspaper article would expose him to the ever lurking danger of assassins from his country of origin. 

But the more the paper looked into Mugenzi’s life, the more they realised that this was not a man in hiding. In fact, he used the supposed danger to his life, to court publicity. 

Eventually, the judge Katharine Moore, accepted the paper’s argument. Dismissing the argument from Mugenzi’s lawyers, she ruled that fears about Mugenzi’s life being under threat, “were not well founded.” 

No doubt, Mugenzi who constantly declared the Rwandan media under the thumb of the government, and claimed to campaign for its freedom, will have approved of the judge’s decision, albeit grudgingly, perhaps. 

His own lawyers’ argument will have been undermined by his own behaviour, which suggested that he himself did not believe his life to be in any danger. And in retrospect, he may have avoided as too outlandish, the argument that a priest who gave evidence against him, was a spy for the Rwandan government.   

The Eastern Daily Press is a local paper. Traditionally, local papers have been training grounds for young journalists, who would learn their craft at the feet of grizzled old hands. 

Here cub reporters would learn that a seemingly banal story about the rescue of a cat from a tree, could turn out to be a special human interest story, about importance of pets to the wellbeing of the elderly in the community. 

These institutions are threatened by new media, but they are not going down without a struggle. 

The paper might however be disappointed that like its national, and international counterparts, it seems to have taken every one of Mugenzi’s claims against the Rwandan government, at face value. 

They might for instance have saved themselves some legal fees, if they had alerted the judge to the fact that, given the size of the Rwandan community in the United Kingdom, Mugenzi’s own regular appearances in the media, and hunger for publicity, it was more than a little risible to suggest that his whereabouts were a secret to anyone, let alone any would be assassins. 

And like their national and international counterparts, they might have served their readership better, had they looked a little more closely at Mugenzi, and at the Rwandan government he so demonised. 

In passing, the paper casually, informs us that Mugenzi “fled the genocide of 90s…” This, of course, being 1994 genocide against Tutsi, one of the worst mass murders in human history. Understandably for a local paper, this was deemed the least interesting part of the story to their leaders. 

In fact, had they given it greater attention, they would have realised that it was the nub of the story. 

Mugenzi had no reason to flee the Rwanda genocide against the Tutsi. On the contrary, he will have been particularly well protected. His own father is now in custody in the Netherlands, pending trial for crimes of genocide. As a member of the genocidal establishment, his son will have occupied a privileged position in the country, unaffected by the murder and carnage about him.

Joseph Mugenzi (left) and his son Rene Claudel Mugenzi.

Almost every claim heard from the mouths of Rwanda’s detractors is contradicted by the reality on the ground in the country itself. 

It is a reality that would immediately become self evident, were Western media to apply the same, dispassionate journalistic rigour with which they treat stories in their own countries. 

Were they to apply such journalism, they would discover a far more logical reason for Mugenzi’s hatred of the RPF, and Rwanda as it is today. 

For the genocide establishment, their defeat in 1994 was only a setback. A loss of a battle, but not the war. Since then they have continued to wage the war on different fronts. 

While armed groups continue to threaten the peace and stability in Rwanda from the DRC, and other neighbouring countries, the likes of Mugenzi, and his colleagues across the world, in Western capitals, especially Bruxelles, Paris and London, fight the communications war.  

Realising they could not sustain the fiction that there was no genocide, only an uprising of people in self defence, they changed tack. 

Listen closely to Mugenzi’s claims of “double genocide”, or the RPF as having been responsible for it, and what you hear is the echo from the claims of the planners and perpetrators of genocide. 

He was their star performer. The media could not get enough of him. With the BBC Kinyarwanda service, ‘Gahuzamiryango’ he virtually had his own radio station, so ubiquitous a presence was he on the show. 

It is also noteworthy that the Eastern Daily Press did not speak to a single Rwandan, a community that knew virtually all there is to know about Mugenzi. 

Rather like Paul Rusesabagina’s status as “a hero” of the genocide seems to have studiously avoided speaking to any of the survivors whose recollections tell an entirely different story.

He will almost certainly not serve his full sentence. A shrewd operator, he is likely to be the most well behaved prisoner the prison service will ever have had. 

Will this glimpse into his true character persuade the media and NGOs to do a little research, and look behind the façade? 

Or as he sits in his prison cell, contemplating the sudden twist of fate, will he be considering how best to reinvent himself once again, his favourite media outlet the first to welcome him back from what is likely to be his brief spell behind bars, an apparently chastened, reformed character, ready once more, to relate tales of “a double genocide”? 

Is it likely that if he has the brass neck to attempt it, on return from prison, he will simply pick up where he left off, and those who have given him the platform for his mendacity, will continue as before?   




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