by Georges Budagu Makoko
On May 16, while the world’s attention was fixed on the coronavirus, the French Justice Ministry broke the shocking news that after 26 years on the run, 84-year-old Kabuga Felicien of Rwanda, one of Africa’s most wanted men, had been captured. He is accused of having played an outsized and murderous role during the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. While in hiding, he is known to have masqueraded under diverse identities, moved from country to country in Africa and Europe, and continued lucrative business dealings, protected by his family and his money. He has been subject to a “Red Notice,” an international arrest warrant, since 1997, but at last international efforts cornered him in France.
Felicien is one of 95 people known to have planned the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that devasted Rwanda and killed close to one million people over the span of three months, for an average of 10,000 murdered people each day. Felicien financed the infamous Interahamwe Militia, including their training, and is alleged to have purchased 500,000 machetes from China, which were used to murder Tutsis. He was chair of the board of Radio RTLM – “Free Radio and Television of the Thousand Hills” – which disseminated propaganda directed at inciting Hutus to kill Tutsis.
Conspiracy theories have circulated for decades to try and explain why Felicien was never captured, despite a $5 million (USD) bounty on his head. Theories ranged from the fanciful, such as a magical ability to disguise himself as a cat or other animal and elude captors, to more sinister accusations of complicity for his protection by the Kenyan and Congolese governments. When a number of genocide planners were arrested during Operation Naki in Kenya in 1997, Felicien escaped. It was widely believed that the Kenyan government had sent a private plane and whisked him to safety in the Seychelles Islands, and that he was then returned to Kenya after the danger had passed.
Felicien’s arrest has sent shockwaves around the world and raised hopes in the entire Great Lakes Region of Central Africa that justice will finally be served. Just one month after the 26th commemoration of genocide in Rwanda, millions of survivors, who still suffer trauma because of what they endured, are finding some solace in the thought that one of the key figures in the planning of the genocide is finally being brought to justice. The genocide fomented by Felicien and his allies is known to have spilled over into other conflicts that have culminated in the loss of more than seven million people in the region over the past decades. The capture of Felicien fuels hope that political will has finally coalesced to overcome the culture of impunity in Africa.
The saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” speaks to the hope that the serial killers and warlords in Central Africa who have devasted families and gone unpunished for so long can, in fact, finally be brought to justice. What this would take is the kind of collaborative effort and coordination of resources that led to the capture of Kabuga Felicien.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all victims of genocide anywhere in the world. Their sorrow and the trauma they have suffered will live with them forever. We must never give up fighting for justice.