Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former intelligence chief found dead and believed strangled in a Johannesburg hotel, was a brilliant spy who appears to have fallen foul of the assassination tactics he once reportedly practised on others.
“He was a person who paid attention to detail. He was articulate and intelligent,” a Ugandan intelligence officer told AFP, asking not to be named for fear of harming Rwanda-Uganda relations.
“He was on the watch list after fleeing to South Africa” into exile in 2007, the officer added.
Karegeya, who died aged 53, grew up in southwestern Uganda and studied law at Makerere University.
He was “a brilliant intelligence officer and very knowledgeable,” said Major James Kazoora, retired Ugandan army officer who served with Karegeya, noting that his “roots were in Uganda”.
He initially served in Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), before joining the ranks of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, then a rebel group led by Paul Kagame and now Kigali’s ruling party with Mr Kagame the country’s president.
Slightly plump and fond of casual clothes, Karegeya wore rimless spectacles and came across as an affable, rather than fearsome, spy.
Karegeya was for a long time very close to Mr Kagame and served as head of Rwanda’s external intelligence for about a decade.
“He works 24 hours a day,” said a friend when Karegeya was still spy chief. “He might look like he’s relaxing but he’s actually doing his job.” However, he fell out of favour and was demoted to army spokesman. He was later arrested and jailed for “indiscipline” and stripped of his rank of colonel in 2006.
He fled into exile the following year and became a fierce Kagame critic and prominent member of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), the opposition party in exile.
“He was a very warm person and he was very comfortable with all sorts of people — he got on with absolutely everyone,” said Theogene Rudasingwa, a senior RNC official.
He got on with Rwandan civilians and foreign diplomats alike.
Friends and colleagues remember Karegeya for his supply of jokes, many of them full of sexual innuendo.
“He was extremely funny,” said Mr Rudasingwa.
But he was also accused of having had a hand in the assassinations of Rwandan opposition figures who were killed.
Detractors question his sincerity in criticising the Rwandan authorities, pointing out that he only spoke out against alleged abuses by Kigali once he had fallen from favour.
The fancy cars his family drove were regularly the talk of Kigali.
A Western diplomat, struck by the size of the giant television in Karegeya’s living room once remarked: “I’d rather be a public servant in Rwanda than in my country….” But in the months prior to his death he had become increasingly nervous about his security.
Those close to him said he must have had no reason to mistrust the person he met at the hotel where he died.
Karegeya had three children, a daughter who lives in Canada and two sons who live with his widow in the US.