Case reveals Kigali's murky feuds

18 May 2014 - 02:02 By Stephan Hofstatter
Exiled Rwandan General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. File photo
Exiled Rwandan General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. File photo
Image: REUTERS

General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa stared straight ahead as the six men accused of trying to kill him shuffled into the Johannesburg Regional Court this week.

As former head of Rwanda's army and later intelligence chief, Nyamwasa was once one of the most powerful men in that country. Now he is the target of assassination attempts in South Africa. The most recent was in March. He claims they were all orchestrated by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame.

Nyamwasa's former driver, Richard Bachisa, who once helped the general to escape from Kagame, is one of the accused. He is said to have been the inside man in one of the attempted assassinations.

From 1998 to 2001, when Rwanda was at war with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nyamwasa was head of the armed forces and later became intelligence chief.

After falling out with Kagame, he fled to South Africa in February 2010, claiming Kagame wanted to kill him. Bachisa took him to the Ugandan border, where Nyamwasa swam a river to reach safety.

In court papers, the state alleges that Bachisa - who followed Nyamwasa to South Africa - set up an attempted hit in June 2010 at the behest of a Rwandan military intelligence official, Captain Francis Gakwerere.

According to the papers, that attempt was made as Bachisa was driving the general into the Sandton complex where he lived. Bachisa had arranged for the alleged hit man, Hemedi Sefu, to get onto the property.

Sefu shot Nyamwasa in the stomach, then chased him with a knife until the general escaped behind a basement security gate. During the attack, Bachisa did not try to help Nyamwasa, the state alleged.

Another plot to strangle Nyamwasa in his hospital bed was foiled.

In March, gunmen overpowered the general's guards at a safe house in Observatory, Johannesburg. Nyamwasa and his wife had been warned of the attack by the police and had left the house.

Coming soon after the murder in Sandton of Rwanda's former intelligence director, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, the attack in Observatory sparked a diplomatic rift between Rwanda and South Africa.

Four Rwandan officials were expelled, including diplomats Didier Rutembesa and Claude Nikobisanzwe. In retaliation, Rwanda expelled six South African diplomats.

Nyamwasa, in an interview, blamed Kagame for ordering the attacks on him. "Who else would want to kill me? For what reason?"

Nyamwasa was convicted in absentia of terrorism in Rwanda. The country claims he was behind several grenade attacks in Kigali. He said he was the victim of a show trial.

Nyamwasa, a founding member with Karegeya of the Rwandan National Congress (RNC) opposition movement, said: "If I wanted to fight Paul Kagame, I would go for open war.

"But, having been part of an armed struggle, I know that this is not the method I would use now.

"Yes, I would support a popular insurrection, like in Tunisia, but not an armed struggle."

France and Spain have issued arrest warrants for Nyamwasa, accusing him of war crimes. France also wants him to testify in its investigation into the shooting down of an aircraft carrying former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana that sparked the 1994 genocide.

Frank Ntwali, the RNC's chairman in Africa, said that, as the ruling party's intelligence chief in 1994, Nyamwasa was briefed about Kagame's plot to shoot down the aircraft.

"Kagame shot down that plane and knew what it would unleash," said Ntwali.

Nyamwasa said he would only talk about the attack before a judge.

A senior diplomatic source said that the Rwandan government had sent an envoy to Pretoria pleading that Nyamwasa and Ntwali not be sent to Spain or France because Kagame was afraid they would "spill the beans".

President Jacob Zuma held talks with Kagame at a summit in Luanda, Angola, on March 25. Rwanda pledged to provide evidence of Nyamwasa's terror plots and South Africa agreed to provide evidence of Rwandan officials' involvement in the assassination plots.

Rwanda's high commissioner to South Africa, Vincent Karega, said claims that Kagame was assassinating his opponents were "all lies and propaganda", part of the RNC's campaign to topple a democratically elected government. "Nyamwasa mismanaged the army and planned to overthrow the state. When he was called to account, he ran away," said Karega.