By Adrian Blomfield
French police have seized the man accused of masterminding the Rwandan genocide, ending a transcontinental 26-year manhunt for “the Eichmann of Africa”.
Félicien Kabuga was arrested in the northern outskirts of Paris after a dawn raid on his flat. Officers said the 84-year-old had been living there under an assumed identity.
French authorities released few details about the operation, beyond hailing the capture of “one of the world’s most wanted fugitives”. It is believed a series of simultaneous raids were carried out at addresses across France, some linked to Kabuga’s children, to ensure he did not escape. The British security services played an “essential” role in Saturday’s move that led to Kabuga’s capture, said UN prosecutors. So, too, did investigators in the US — which has long had a $5m bounty on his head — and Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Kabuga will eventually be handed to a UN tribunal to answer long-standing charges of crimes against humanity.
There will be considerable relief in Rwanda where 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered over 100 days in 1994 — a massacre carried out by a cabal of Hutu extremists with Kabuga, one of the country’s richest men, allegedly at its core. Police believe that without his financial backing from the fortune he acquired through tea and coffee estates, the genocide might not have happened.
In 1992 Kabuga ploughed money into Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), a radio station that steadily dripped hatred towards the country’s Tutsi minority. The following year, he allegedly began to import into the country hundreds of thousands of machetes, which were doled out to the Interahamwe, an extremist Hutu militia accused of overseeing much of the slaughter. As the genocide began, the militia, wearing uniforms reportedly provided by Kabuga, was transported from killing site to killing site in his organisation’s vehicles, investigators say.
Meanwhile, RTLM provided the soundtrack of the genocide, urging Hutus to hunt down and kill the Tutsi inyenzi, or “cockroaches”.
“The graves are only half full,” the station’s presenters would warn. “We must complete the task.”
After the genocide, which ended when Tutsi rebels led by Paul Kagame, now Rwanda’s president, swept into the capital, Kigali, Kabuga vanished. After a quarter of a century of leads that grew ever colder, many had given up hope of bringing him to justice. Amid the relief in Rwanda there will also be anger that it has taken so long to hunt Kabuga down.
According to UN officials, he had lived in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya during his years on the run. His move to France is thought to have happened in the past three years. How one of the world’s most wanted men managed to cross borders with such ease remains a big question. But money and connections almost certainly had something to do with it.
The bulk of Kabuga’s years as a fugitive are thought to have been spent in Kenya. There he is said to have enjoyed the protection of officials close to Daniel arap Moi, the former Kenyan president, who died in February 2020. Moi was a close friend of Juvenal Habyarimana, the Hutu president whose killing in 1994 triggered the genocide. According to a Kenyan government source, the FBI came close to arresting Kabuga shortly after Moi retired in 2002 when a journalist, William Munuhe Gichuki, walked into the US embassy in Nairobi and said he knew where Kabuga was hiding. Gichuki was murdered before the FBI could act.
“Anyone who looked too closely [into Kabuga’s whereabouts], anyone who got a tip and tried to act on it tended not to live too long,” a Kenyan senator said on Saturday night. “He had powerful connections and deep pockets.”
Kenya’s apparent refusal to hand over Kabuga strained relations with the US. In 2009, Barack Obama sent Stephen Rapp, his adviser on war crimes, to Kenya to deliver a public and pointed message to Moi’s successor, Mwai Kibaki.
Critics have said Kabuga draws comparisons with Adolf Eichmann, one of the orchestrators of the Holocaust, who fled to Argentina after the war but was captured by Israeli agents and transported to Israel where he was tried, found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged in 1962.