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Johannesburg - By the time the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, Leah Karegeya knew something was wrong. There was no message from her husband to welcome in 2014 and her increasingly frantic calls to him remained unanswered.
“We skyped and talked every single day,” said the US-based Leah of her relationship with her husband, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former spy chief, who had been living in exile in South Africa since 2007.
“We skyped that morning. I told him I was going to have a meal with our boys and he told me to drive safely and SMS him when we arrived.”
He never replied. “It was unlike him. We started thinking something was wrong. Then when there was no message from him on New Year’s Eve, I knew something bad had happened to him.”
Hours later she would hear of the painful details of his murder in a hotel room at the luxury Michelangelo Towers hotel in Sandton.
His killers reportedly spiked his drink with poison and, when that failed, strangled him with a rope from a curtain in the hotel room. But in some ways, Leah said, she had always braced herself for this moment.
“It’s a big shock but I always worried about his safety, that something bad was going to happen.
“They tried several times… to end his life. They had been trying for quite some time.
“But we always managed to escape. It’s shocking but at the same time it’s expected… I’m just so sad at the way they killed him. I wish they would have just shot him, not killed him so brutally,” she said, her voice quivering.
Karegeya was a key figure in the Rwandan opposition, and Leah believes he was murdered by agents of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, his former ally. Her turning point came when former Rwandan army chief and friend, Lieutenant-General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, another Rwandan dissident, survived two assassination attempts in Joburg in June 2010. “After that we were taken to safe houses… I had to leave my husband alone in South Africa and take my children away from there.”
She fled with the couple’s three children to a small town in Tennessee.
“This is how the president (Kagame) works. He always has people monitoring you. But I feel safe here. I didn’t in South Africa. I can’t go anywhere else… I know it is him. This is what he does to anyone who opposes his government. It is a terrible life we have to live.”
She and other Rwandan dissidents believe a man named Appollo Kiririsi Gafaranga, a Rwandan businessman, is linked to the murder. Karegeya was meeting Gafaranga at the hotel. “I saw him once. He was a friend of my husband, a businessman from Rwanda. We knew him from working with the government.
“He had known my husband for a long time. I think Rwanda was using him, for my husband to think he was fine, but he was monitoring my husband’s movements and waiting for the right opportunity to murder him,” she said.
She wants to bury her husband in Uganda, his birthplace.
The couple were married for 25 years and she said she would miss his laugh the most.
“He was a man of integrity. He fought for justice, he wanted people to live in harmony, to have rights. They have taken his life but I am grateful that he died for what he fought for. I’m glad people know that about him,” she said. - Saturday Star