Congo Siasa

UK police: Rwandan gov threatens to assassinate opposition

The British police informed two members of the Rwandan diaspora that their government may be trying to assassinate them, according to documents seen by various newspapers. The police visited Jonathan Musonera and Rene Mugenzi on May 12, officially informing them with letters. These letters were then apparently shown to various media outlets.

This incident follows a warning to the Rwandan ambassador by the British intelligence that his embassy would have to stop harassing opposition members in England or risk losing $135 million in aid. That warning, according to news reports, referred to other diaspora members.

The British development agency DFID said yesterday that this developments would not affect their aid, which goes primarily toward helping poor people in Rwanda. Still, the incident has become politicized, with expressions of concern from all sides of the political spectrum in the UK.

Several questions arise: Providing the British intelligence service is right about this threat, why would Rwanda jeopardize its good relations with the UK – one of its closest allies and largest donors – over two minor opposition figures? Mugenzi is a UK citizen who has dabbled in opposition politics, but also is active in British politics and a community NGO in London. Musonera is a former officer in the Rwandan army.

The most plausible explanation seems to be their link to the newly formed Rwandan National Congress (RNC), which is led by President Kagame’s former chief of staff, the former head of the army and the head of the external intelligence service.  Just a week before Mugenzi received the letter, he helped organize an RNC meeting in London with the leading members of the party present via Skype link, as well as opposition leaders such as Paul Rusesabagina (of Hotel Rwanda fame). Musonera is one of the founding members of the RNC.

Rwandan High Commissioner Ernest Rwamucyo

Still, it seems bizarre. The RNC has been busy courting the Hutu diaspora opposition – with some success – but is no apparent challenge to the Rwandan government, given their inability to campaign inside the country. This activism in Europe – as well as their alleged links to some armed groups in the eastern Congo – is probably more aimed at convincing leading RPF members and officers in Rwanda that they are well-organized and popular, rather than at posing an electoral or military threat to the RPF ruling party. But an attempted assassination in London would – to my eyes at least – just signal desperation on the part of the RPF, not strength.

The Rwandan government has been associated with assassinations in the past, including of former interior minister Seth Sendashonga in Nairobi in 1998, former vice-president of the supreme court Augustin Cyiza in 2003, as well as an attempt on former army chief of staff Faustin Kayumba in South Africa last year.