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Africa

Top cop killed after Rwanda police purge

media Rwandan President Paul Kagame during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, 21 May 2018. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Concerns are being raised in Rwanda following the purge of more than 200 police officers for gross misconduct. Critics see the move as an attempt by authorities to get rid of their opponents. In a separate incident, a former Chief Superintendent was found murdered Tuesday, under similar circumstances as former opponents.

“Recently, we’ve seen a growing number of police officers being purged," Jean-Marie Micombero, a former official from Rwanda’s defence ministry turned opponent, told RFI.

"Whether it’s on the side of the police or the army, the same thing is happening," he says.

Rwanda on Monday dismissed 230 non-commissioned and low-ranking police officers from its national police force for gross misconduct.

Purges are not uncommon, but what is unusual is the scale, reckons Micombero."Before it was just a dozen, rarely we would see this number reach a hundred," he adds.

For the Rwandan police, the dismissal had been pending a cabinet approval and did not happen in one fell swoop.

"It is a cabinet decision (...)," Theos Badege, spokesman for the Rwandan police told RFI. "That was the last decision by the cabinet, and there are cabinet minutes out, yeah that's enough I think."

Disloyal officers

If Badege was terse in his comments, it's because he feels his sentiments have sufficiently been recorded down in these famous cabinet minutes. So what exactly did he say? That the officers who were sacked, were sacked for breaching their internal code of conduct, serving more than four months suspension, and committing criminal offenses that resulted in prison sentences.

Micombero has a different view. He reckons the officers were sacked because they were disloyal.

"Today, there are a growing number of critical voices within the police force. The bigger the number, the more people there are being kicked out," he says.

What exactly are these police officers said to have been criticizing?

On a professional level: their salary, pension, and work load, but from an ideological point of view, some are suspected of not being in total alignment with the government of Paul Kagame.

That’s not necessarily new. Other police officers have also spoken out against the regime in the past, notably retired Chief Superintendent of police Hubert Gashagaza.

Suspicious murder

However, Gashagaza has now been killed. He was found strangled Tuesday night in his car, with his body lying next to computer cables.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), which wasn't available for comment, has launched an investigation to determine the circumstances of his death.

For lawyer Didas Gasana, who knew Gashagaza, his death raises alarm bells.

"The way he was strangled using ropes, sort of TV Cables, the modus operandi fits in the pattern of the way the government of Rwanda has been assassinating his critics," he told RFI.

Gasana reckons that Gashagaza may have been a target because of his proximity to the Rwandan opposition in exile, led by former general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, President Kagame's former ally and now fiercest critic.

"His death wasn't a shock to most us," he says, adding that it mirrors the killing of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda's former chief of external intelligence.

Absolute loyalty

Rwandan officials seemed reluctant to comment on either the purge or the murder.

A source from the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party, who asked to remain anonymous, dismissed claims that the government was behind Gashagaza's death, and insisted the Rwanda Investigation Bureau must be left to do its work.

As for the purge, the inside source says it's perfectly normal for any government around the world to want to discipline its staff, and anything less would be suspect.

Still, for Rwanda's critics, this purge and latest killing, will further fuel accusations of Rwanda being an authoritarian regime.

"Whoever the President of Rwanda dismisses there's always a connotation of loyalty," comments Gasana. "Because what the president needs is absolute loyalty in the face of both internal and presumed external attacks that are looming."

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