Goodbye to ‘old order’: Of Kabuga and the friends who loved him

Sunday May 31 2020


French Gendarmes stand guard next to a prison van transporting Felicien Kabuga, one of the last key fugitives wanted over the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, at the Paris court on May 19, 2020. PHOTO | AFP 

By The EastAfrican

Rwandan fugitive Felicien Kabuga, one of the masterminds of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, appeared in a Paris court on Wednesday, and denied he killed anyone.

The elusive Kabuga, who has been on the run for 26 years and was finally arrested on the outskirts of Paris in a March 16 morning raid, said all the charges against him were lies. He loved Tutsis, he worked with them, he said.

Kabuga founded and funded two of the deadliest weapons of the genocide; the propaganda radio RTLM and its cousin magazine “Kangura”, and machetes. Rwanda imported so many machetes in 1994, some accounts suggest it broke a record.

Kabuga, whose daughters had married in then-president Juvenal Habyarimana’s house, put his immense riches to good use, reportedly living in Kenya, then making his way through Europe, staying in Germany and, in recent years, France.

Many horrid stories of the Rwanda genocide, in which nearly one million people were killed, have been told and dramatised. Kabuga illustrates a few of the more complex and still mysterious ones. For starters, how did many big and small leaders of the genocide get away and scatter to all corners of the world?

The easy answer is money and corruption. They bought their way, and in both Rwanda’s neighbourhood and around the world, there is no shortage of corrupt officials and law enforcement happy to take a few thousand dollars to help.


In Rwanda’s case, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire at the time) dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was a buddy of Habyarimana and hated the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front, and its key ally then, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. DRC became (and parts of it still remain) a safe haven for Rwandan genocidaires. From there, the rest of the world was theirs.

Upon the arrest of the 84-year-old Kabuga, Kenyan comic strip artist and caricaturist Paul Kelemba (Maddo), tweeted that the French had waited for him to grow old and frail, and begin losing his memory, before they nabbed him. Indeed, reports say Kabuga used to take walks in his Paris neighbourhood, and he was considered a nice quiet old man.

Maddo’s idea, though, was that perhaps the French, who have been accused of complicity in the genocide, believe than an amnestic Kabuga can no longer remember where some of the bodies are still buried, and is unlikely to embarrass them.

We don’t know if Kabuga has amnesia, but his ability to move around Europe, indicates he has benefited from a still entrenched anti-RPF sentiment in sections of the western political establishment, and an even deeper antipathy in general toward governments in Africa (and the “Third World”) that come to power as liberation or rebel movements.

People from the old order that they overthrew, therefore, will always find support and sanctuary from powerful forces. That has provided a shield for Kabuga, and many other criminals like him from other scenes of past mass murders on the continent.

The tide has been turning, though, as the politicians, parties, and moneyed interests of the Cold War era die or wither away.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3