Rwanda: US Congress asks whether President Kagame hires assassins

by Ann Garrison

KPFA Weekend News broadcast May 24, 2015

Southern California Congressmember Karen Bass and New Jersey Congressmember Chris Smith queried Rwanda’s representative Willis Shalita about evidence that Rwandan President Paul Kagame hired assassins to eliminate his enemies abroad.

Transcript

KPFA Weekend News Anchor David Landau: And now, in news from Africa, earlier this week, California Congresswoman Karen Bass and New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith heard testimony and queried witnesses in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. relations with Rwanda. The central question under consideration was whether or not the U.S. should be supporting the Rwandan government with foreign aid and military assistance despite allegations of egregious human rights violations.

California’s 37th District Congressional Representative Karen Bass
California’s 37th District Congressional Representative Karen Bass

Congressmember Smith expressed concern that Rwanda is on the Tier 2 Watch List for its failure to address the country’s human trafficking problem in accordance with legislation that he authored. The most contested issue during the hearing, however, was the allegation, made by both the BBC and the Toronto Globe and Mail, that Rwandan President Paul Kagame hires assassins to eliminate enemies abroad. KPFA’s Ann Garrison has more.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Former Rwandan military officer Robert Higiro told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he had recorded conversations in which Rwandan Col. Dan Munyuza attempted to hire and reward him well for assassinating Rwandan President Kagame’s worst enemies, former Rwandan Intelligence Chief Patrick Karegeya and former Rwandan Army Chief Kayumba Nyamwasa. Karegeya was ultimately assassinated on New Year’s Day 2014, in South Africa, where Nyamwasa has now survived four assassination attempts.

Higiro shared the recordings with Toronto Mail and Guardian writers, who then published an exposé titled “Assassination in Africa: Inside the plots to kill Rwanda’s dissidents” in May 2014. BBC producers spoke to Higiro and played clips of the recordings in the documentary, “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” which aired in October 2014. Congressmembers Smith and Bass argued with Rwanda’s representative, Willis Shalita, about the credibility of the recordings.

Former Rwandan military officer Robert Higiro told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he had recorded conversations in which Rwandan Col. Dan Munyuza attempted to hire and reward him well for assassinating Rwandan President Kagame’s worst enemies.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. (to Willis Shalita): Everything that you’ve said here today is that, I guess, that there’s no proof of anything. Everything is just allegations.

Rwanda’s representative Willis Shalita: What we’ve heard today, and you know having been an investigator for 28 years, investigating the best lawyers in this country, I hear nothing but allegations. If there are facts, why not share them with you?

Bass: Well, I think that Mr. … [interrupted by Mr.Shalita]

Shalita: I resent the fact that my fellow witnesses here … they are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

Bass: Well, I think that … [interrupted by Mr. Shalita].

Rwanda’s designated representative Willis Shallta responding to Rep. Karen Bass
Rwanda’s designated representative Willis Shallta responding to Rep. Karen Bass

Shalita: Let me say something, Ms. … ah, Mr. Chairman … the allegations … [interrupted by Rep. Smith]

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.: We have a witness here who has recorded the request that he assassinate two individuals, that the Toronto newspaper and the BBC found credible. To my chagrin and I’m sure the ranking member’s, our own State Department has not even listened to those tapes.

That is evidence. That’s evidence. Of course there’s a due process stream that needs to be followed, but when you get multiple allegations with streams of evidence, it begs the question, “Why are we looking the other way and acting as if none of it’s credible?”

Shalita: With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, what the newspaper in Canada says is not evidence. It is not a legal instrument.

Bass: Let me just ask you this. As an investigator, if there are tapes, would you then want to have a tape of the voice of the person whom the allegation is made about, because there’s enough science to prove whether or not it’s the same person. It doesn’t seem …

Shalita: I have not listened to the tapes. I have read the transcript in its entirety.

Bass: I know. I’m just saying as an investigator, wouldn’t that conclude …

Shalita: I would want the real voice of Col. Dan Munyuza to compare with what’s alleged by this gentleman.

Bass: Right, if that was done, wouldn’t we be able to know?

Of course there’s a due process stream that needs to be followed, but when you get multiple allegations with streams of evidence, it begs the question, “Why are we looking the other way and acting as if none of it’s credible?”

Shalita: If it was done, yes. I would absolutely agree with you.

Bass: It’s just hard to believe that there’s just allegations and nothing’s ever been proven.

Shalita: Well, for instance, Mr. Higiro has made an accusation that Rwandans are being flown to Texas. I live in Austin, Texas. I want to go on the record and challenge him: Tell me where are these Rwandans.

KPFA: At the end of that exchange with Congressmembers Smith and Bass, Rwanda’s representative, Willis Shalita, was attempting to deflect their convictions regarding the verifiability of the recordings by disputing an earlier witness’s claim that President Kagame was paying the airlines and hotel bills of Rwandans being flown to Dallas, Texas, to cheer for him at Rwanda Day, an annual promotional event which rotates from one major city to another in the Western world.

For Pacifica, KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch, Colored Opinions and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at anniegarrison@gmail.com. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.