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Dissident’s murder casts shadow over Rwanda’s economic miracle

It seemed like the perfect crime. When the police entered the posh Michelangelo Towers in Johannesburg's business district on New Year's Day and found the lifeless body of Patrick Karegeya on a bed in the luxury hotel, his killer was long gone. The person who strangled the Rwandan dissident had enough time to disappear into the city and perhaps even to flee the country.

A week later, there have still been no arrests in the brutal murder. But a trail of circumstantial evidence is leading to suspicions of involvement by Rwanda's authoritarian government. If the link is true, it casts a new shadow over one of Africa's most successful regimes, a long-ruling government that has cultivated strong support and investment from Western politicians and business leaders for many years.

Rwanda is often praised as Africa's miracle economy – rising from the ashes of the 1994 genocide to become one of the most stable and fast-growing countries on the continent. Its enthusiasts often compare it to Switzerland or Singapore, ranking it as one of Africa's best investment climates.

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Corruption at the street level is relatively low, bureaucratic red tape is minimal, its information technology is advanced, and Rwanda is routinely ranked near the top of the World Bank's "ease of doing business" index on the continent. Visitors are wowed by the tidy streets of the capital, Kigali, where construction is booming. World leaders like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have heaped praise on Rwanda and its energetic president, Paul Kagame.

Yet the economic miracle is clouded by the growing evidence of authoritarian behavior by the Rwandan government: rigged elections; jailed opposition leaders; murdered dissidents; tightly controlled media; allegations of death squads; and United Nations reports of Rwandan military support for marauding rebel forces in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Several assassinations and attempted assassinations of Rwandan dissidents and opposition leaders across Africa have reinforced the suspicion that the government is ordering attacks on its enemies. British police have given formal warnings to Rwandan exiles in London that they could be under "imminent threat" from Rwandan government agents. Similar warnings have reportedly been issued to Rwandans in the United States and Belgium.

Mr. Karegeya, a former ally of Mr. Kagame and head of Rwanda's external intelligence agency, fled the country in 2007 after a falling-out with Mr. Kagame and became a founding leader of a Rwandan opposition group.

Another founding leader of the same opposition group, former Rwandan army chief Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was the target of two assassination attempts in 2010 in South Africa. After being shot and injured in front of his Johannesburg home, he was again targeted for murder in his hospital room, where the attackers allegedly posed as hospital visitors and planned to strangle him with a piece of string.

A wealthy Rwandan businessman, Pascal Kanyandekwe, has been charged with involvement in both of the murder attempts on Gen. Nyamwasa. His trial is continuing, but testimony at the trial has suggested that he was following instructions from the Rwandan government and its security operatives.

In a sign of its displeasure at Rwanda's suspected link to the murder plot, South Africa temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Kigali. When a Rwandan newspaper reported the alleged government involvement in the assassination attempt, one of its journalists was shot dead.

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After the murder of Mr. Karegeya last week, Rwandan opposition activists immediately blamed Kigali. They named the Rwandan businessman who was allegedly meeting Mr. Karegeya at the luxury hotel at the time of his death, saying he had gained the dissident's trust over a number of years and then killed him.

Rwanda has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder or attempted murder of Rwandan dissidents in foreign countries. But the comments of senior Rwandan officials after the murder, calling Mr. Karegeya an "enemy" who did not deserve any sympathy, did little to dispel the widespread suspicions of government involvement in the murder.

Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo, speaking on Twitter, said the government had no "pity" for Mr. Karegeya. She said he was a "self-declared enemy" of the government and was not on the government's "sympathy list."

Rwanda's prime minister, Pierre Habumuremyi, went even further. Responding on Twitter to questions about the murder, he said ominously: "Betraying citizens and the country that made you a man shall always bear consequences to you."

When a reporter asked him if he was referring specifically to the murdered dissident, he replied: "Not necessarily."

The Rwandan government's fury at the exiled dissident, even after his death, was made clear when it reportedly put pressure on the Ugandan government to discourage it from allowing Mr. Karegeya to be buried in Uganda, where he was born and where many of his family members still live.

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The family had wanted Mr. Karegeya to be buried in Uganda, but the Rwandan government made a "relentless effort" to prevent the request, according to a report in a Ugandan newspaper. He will instead be buried in South Africa.

South Africa has not yet formally responded to the murder of Mr. Karegeya – except to promise on Thursday that its police investigation will be "expedited."

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