Newsmaker: ‘Kagame wants me dead’

Rwandan president’s former confidant is plotting to overthrow his nemesis

An exiled Rwandan army general broke his silence this week about how his president, Paul Kagame, is determined to have him killed.

Former army chief Lieutenant General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who was shot and wounded two years ago, allegedly by Rwandan agents, emerged from witness protection this week and spoke exclusively to City Press.

Nyamwasa (53) is at the centre of a sensational court case in Johannesburg where Rwandan agents and their hired guns are on trial for allegedly trying to kill him.

The cofounder of a new political movement admitted, however, to plotting the overthrow of Kagame from his South African hideout.

Nyamwasa, once Kagame’s closest confidant, served as Kagame’s paramilitary police commander, army chief of staff, intelligence services head and ambassador to India through the 1990s and 2000s.

He fled Rwanda in February 2010 after suspecting an assassination plot and found refuge in South Africa.

Three months later, he was wounded outside his Johannesburg home in an assassination attempt allegedly organised by his government.

Last year, City Press reported that South Africa’s state security agency was tracking Rwandan death squads dispatched to South Africa to assassinate Nyamwasa.

The incident almost caused a diplomatic breakdown between the two countries and South Africa withdrew its ambassador to Rwanda.

Full diplomatic ties have since been restored but relations remain tense.

In his first interview since the shooting, Nyamwasa spoke to City Press in a hotel, flanked by three bodyguards and executive members of his new Rwanda National Congress.

The Rwandan government found him and his three cofounders guilty in absentia of threatening state security, undermining public order and propagating ethnic division. They were sentenced to between 20 and 25 years’ imprisonment.

Kagame led the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory during the 1994 genocide, in which 800 000 Rwandans were slaughtered.

Critics say his regime has become increasingly repressive and the UN Security Council has just condemned him for arming and supporting a notorious warlord in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Nyamwasa says he was forced to implement Kagame’s decisions. “I told him in 1998 that his policy in Congo was madness. That’s when I should have left, but it was impossible.”

Nyamwasa said Kagame is a “vicious, spiteful, erratic, insensitive, greedy and murderous” man who “wants me dead because I know too much”.

Nyamwasa admitted that he was plotting against Kagame.

“At the moment I don’t envisage war. I believe we can get rid of Kagame through peaceful means.

“We are hoping for an uprising in Rwanda. In that case, he’ll be gone within three months. He’s a coward; he’ll run. Don’t be surprised if we extract him from a pipe like the Libyans did with Muammar Gaddafi,” he said.

The SA Litigation Centre and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa have launched a court challenge against the way in which Nyamwasa received refugee status, saying it violates local and international law as he is a suspected war criminal.

There are widespread rumours that South Africa is under pressure from Rwanda to send Nyamwasa to another country outside Africa. Nyamwasa, though, says South Africa is strong enough to resist bullying.

Nyamwasa and another former Kagame confidant who fled to South Africa at the same time – former external intelligence chief Colonel Patrick Kareya – are costing local taxpayers millions of rands.

Both are protected by army intelligence and hosted in state-provided safe houses. Nyamwasa says he’s a refugee and entitled to such protection.

Nyamwasa hints that Kagame is responsible for the deaths of three African heads of state. In April 1994, the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, triggering the civil war.

A debate has raged for years about who shot it down – Hutu extremists or Kagame.

All Nyamwasa will say is: “Let me answer you in this way – I was in a position to know, but I did not participate.”

But he does say Kagame ordered the killing of DRC president Laurent Kabila in 2001 because he broke agreements with him.

“At a meeting of military chiefs, Kagame said we must get rid of Kabila. I said it would be too expensive in terms of life. We cannot do it . . . It’s an open secret that Kagame went ahead and did it,” Nyamwasa said.

Since Kagame became president in 2000, there have been two presidential elections – both marred by the banning of political parties and the imprisonment and murder of their leaders. Kagame won both with more than 90% of the vote.

Nyamwasa claims he doesn’t want to be president. “I want to rest – once I’ve helped to rid the country of the dictator.”

The Rwandan embassy in Pretoria has repeatedly denied Nyamwasa’s claims that Kagame wants to get rid of him.

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