This is a second installment of my three-part review of Michela Wrong’s book, `Do Not Disturb’, about the murder of Patrick Karegyeya. Many readers of Part One missed the core of my argument. I did not seek to argue that the government of Rwanda under the leadership of President Paul Kagame does not hunt to kill its enemies abroad. I only meant to illustrate that Wrong did not do basic investigative journalistic work of trying to look at different hypotheses and then showing why she believed the one she went with. The core of my argument was that if Kigali has assassinated anyone abroad, that is because of a rational foreign policy, not because of some violent psychopathy of Kagame as a person the way Wrong presented it.
Karegyeya was head of external intelligence in Rwanda from 1994 to 2004. In that capacity, he oversaw the evolution and articulation of that nation’s policy towards the security threats it faces. According to Wrong, Karegyeya once met a friend in Nairobi who asked him why the government of Rwanda indulges in targeted assassinations of its enemies especially in foreign lands. Karegyaya’s answer is reproduced here for clarity.
“You have to understand,” Wrong quotes Karegyeya speaking to someone in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi in 2002, “we are a small and densely populated country. We have a higher population density than any other country in Africa. So we have no space for another war. We just don’t have the strategic geographical depth. Because of that, every threat will be dealt with preemptively and extra territorially, because we do not have room for it to take place on our sovereign territory. So what you call murder is not a crime but an act of war by other means and if it took place in any other circumstances, we would be congratulated and praised for it. We have chosen to externalise the battlefield and preempt the threat. Externalising the war zone is part of that policy and so is buffering.”
This was the real Karegyeya: articulate and genuine, making a rational argument every student of international relations and strategy would understand.
The Karegyeya Wrong interviewed in exile was an opportunist, strategically forsaking things he deeply believed in and did in order to win Western sympathy and support for his anti-Rwanda activities. Karegyeya knew what Western liberals and their cheerleaders in Africa want to hear. To them, leaders in Africa are psychopaths. So Africans need Western governments and their diplomats, backed by their journalists, human rights organisations etc. to save us. Was Wrong easy prey to such manipulation because she carries the baggage of prejudice?
At any rate, Wrong knows that liberal democracies like the USA, UK, France and Israel rely on this policy of preemption and extra territoriality in dealing with threats to their security. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have used assassination of key leaders to degrade Al Qaeda and ISIS. Every day American drones hover over the Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. targeting and killing those suspected of threatening U.S. security. When Rwanda implements the same policy, Wrong claims it is because Kagame is a violent psychopath. What is the source of these biases? The reader can judge.
Wrong can argue that Israel or America target non-citizens while Rwanda targets her own citizens. This argument has the following weaknesses. First, the issue here is human rights, not citizen rights. Someone does not need to be a citizen for his or her life to be respected.
Second, after 9/11, legal experts, including Obama, argued that the U.S. president has power to target and assassinate U.S. citizens suspected of being top Al Qaeda leaders – wherever they might be. Third is context: the nature of the threats determines the nature of the response and the target of such a response. America and Israel are well consolidated states and nations; their security threats are largely external. The state and nation in Rwanda are still young and fragile and a significant part of their threat is internal.
For instance, no American president or UK prime minister goes to bed worried about a military coup, a civil war or mass insurrection. In our part of the world, states and nations are in the early process of development and consolidation. To make matters worse, elites lack a common agreement on basic national goals.
Consequently, small disagreements among the top leadership can lead some, as Karegyeya, Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, Col. Alex Rizinde and Seth Sendashonga did in the case of Rwanda, to attempt coups, insurrections and civil wars. Hence fears of these risks loom in the minds of leaders in poor countries.
This danger is particularly alive in the minds of leaders in a country like Rwanda which, 27 years ago, witnessed horrors on a scale unseen in human history – one million people hacked to death in 100 days using ordinary tools like machetes and hoes. How does one ensure that such a disaster does not befall the country again? Therefore, the weight of responsibility that hangs on the heads of the leaders of Rwanda; especially Kagame is very, very heavy – any slight misstep can take that country back to the abyss.
To understand Rwanda’s hypersensitivity when it comes to security, one has to appreciate what in geopolitics is called the “margin of error”. This refers to the space a country has to make mistakes. When a small mistake can have catastrophic consequences, a system becomes hypersensitive.
The margin of error has two elements: the type and magnitude of danger that a country faces and the power it possesses to neutralise that danger. In Rwanda’s case, the danger is always an attempt at a violent power grab via a civil war or coup. All too often, this danger tends to find allies in neighboring regional powers who are larger and richer than Rwanda – DRC, Tanzania and Uganda. I will illustrate this later when dealing with the assassination of Sendashonga in 1998.
The involvement of neighboring powers in Rwanda’s internal affairs militates around two major vulnerabilities. One is “strategic geographical depth,” a point Karegyeya expounded very well. But this is compounded by limited “strategic political depth”.