September 16, 2021

Michela Wrong’s Love Affair With Patrick Karegeya Is All Over Her Book’s Pages


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A graphic photo of Col Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former head of external intelligence. He was found dead in a South African luxury hotel room in early January 2014.

Virginia Ironside’s book ‘You’ll Get Over It’ has an interesting subtitle – The Rage of Bereavement. That description may resonate with many of us, but even if you’ve not felt actual ‘rage’ at the loss of your loved one, ‘anger’ may be a more familiar emotion. It’s a common thread running through the experiences of people who have been widowed while young at some stage of their grief journey.

It’s important to realise that feeling angry following bereavement is normal and there are a number of reasons for it.

We can get angry with a whole range of people – doctors or medical staff, relatives, just anyone alleged to be involved in the death, church ministers. Those with a faith can feel angry at God for letting it happen, and we may even be angry with ourselves or with our loved one for leaving us. Indeed, we may be angry with just about anyone who crosses our path! It brings comfort to have someone or something to blame.

There, is a typical case of British journalist Michela Wrong. It has been several month with her book on the shelves called, “Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad”.

Very few people can be able to read such a voluminous 576-page title. The media has made it easy. Many reviews have been published. However, what all have left out is evidence provided by Wrong herself about the cozy relationship she enjoyed with the subject of the book; Col Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former head of external intelligence.

He was found dead in a South African luxury hotel room in early January 2014.

From the introduction, to chapter one, throughout, the choice of words that Wrong deploys to describe Karegeya’s body, his speech, the locations they met – all leave no doubt. There is no one I’ve met who has read the book who didn’t see that written in black and white.  

Wrong calls Karegeya a “ladies’ man”. She found he was “Gap-toothed and medium in height” when they met in Kigali during the early 2000s.

You need to have had an unusually close contact with Karegeya to notice what she saw of him. “His heavy-lidded eyes were disconcertingly light, the amber irises flecked with brown, while his skin was a smooth honey,” she writes. “….his face was alive with a questing intelligence.”

ALSO READ: In Congo Wars: While Rwandans Drunk Milk, Ugandans Guzzled Whisky – Claims New Book

Karegeya was married with young children when they met in Kigali, while Wrong regularly returned, sometimes with other writers or journalists. Wrong had covered the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Karegeya is the person who received and kept her company, as she narrates in the book. Within twenty minutes of her first encounter, they headed straight to share “a beer with Patrick on a terrace downtown.”

She writes of the moment: “His strike rate was surprisingly high. Beautiful men are rarely charming: they don’t need to be. Men with Patrick’s hopelessly goofy looks and modest build, in contrast, learn early how to be liked, a vital survival skill.”

“Patrick couldn’t stand a second’s silence—and he loved laughing. He would laugh until the tears ran down his face.”

Years went by, and suddenly Karegeya was no longer among the the top of Rwanda’s power structure. It was after he had been dismissed, arrested, convicted and had no job, but his salary kept flowing.

Wrong returned to Kigali yet again around April 2006. She writes that during their outing, Karegeya confided in her that he had been blocked from leaving the country.

She was acting as a guide for the writer David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré, who was putting the final touches to a novel set in DRC. In her email, Wrong told Patrick she’d be traveling with a well-known author, without identifying him. Until the pair met Patrick on the terrace of the Hotel Mille Collines, no one in officialdom had registered that the “David Cornwell” whose hand they were shaking was a literary celebrity.

From her account, Wrong sounds amazed at how Karegeya identified the acclaimed writer Cornwell. “Patrick clocked him immediately—he’d read many of his books—and was delighted,” she writes of the moment.

They retreated to a spot in Kigali.

She narrates: “We ate in an Indian restaurant, and throughout our meal, a man—presumably Rwandan intelligence—sat silently at a nearby table, carefully keeping us in view. Patrick was in casuals and looked flabby and not particularly healthy.”

What had been the hardest thing about his detention? she asked. “They took away my books,” he told her. “My books. That was the worst.”

Karegeya was suddenly a nobody in Kigali, but Wrong stayed around. She really didn’t care about his status and the fact that, from her own notes, “Rwandan intelligence” operatives were there watching them.

Such meetings between them are numerous in the book.

Karegeya fled the Rwanda through different countries, settling permanently in South Africa. Karegeya’s wife and children were in the United States and Canada. Wrong was a regular guest in South Africa.

She remembers his chat lines whenever they had met as “seasoned with the kind of gynecological jokes that are a Ugandan specialty”.

Karegeya revealed to her plans and activities which his Rwanda national congress (RNC) colleagues were engaged. By that point, Wrong had spoken to Cyriaque Nikuze, the widow of Seth Sendashonga, ex-Rwandan minister who died in Kenya years earlier. The widow had accused the Rwandan government of killing her husband.

During a dinner in Johannesburg, Wrong tells of how she raised the subject with Karegeya: “I didn’t pursue the matter. I didn’t know how to. How does anyone lightly broach the issue of someone’s role in a murder over dinner?”

Apparently, to her surprise, Karegeya was enthusiastic about discussing the subject. He revealed to her how RNC had tried to woo Sendashonga’s widow to their cause and were also shocked that they were received with “not entirely hostile reaction”.

In another part of the book, Wrong writes later: “At one of my last encounters with him, the topic cropped up unexpectedly.”

It is the clearest of indications Wrong was in South Africa multiple times while Karegeya’s wife was away.

Early January 2014, Karegeya is found dead in a hotel room. Distraught, Wrong heads back to Johannesburg. She took the trip on her own to the site of his burial.

She narrates; “The Fourways cemetery in Johannesburg was full of birdsong the day I visited Patrick’s grave, one of the last duties I’d set myself. Consulting a map that detailed the occupants of the cemetery, a woman at reception helped me locate the general sector where Patrick’s plot was likely to be. Gardeners who trimmed the neat pathways pointed me to the individual grave.”

“—-Patrick’s tomb is marked with a gray marble slab adorned with a photo of him in the military uniform he preferred never to wear. It bears one quote from Maya Angelou—“A great soul serves everyone all the time, a great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again”—and another from Malcolm X—“I am for truth no matter who tells it. I am for justice no matter who it’s for or against.”—.”

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