Former Rwandan Army Chief, Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa has testified to a court in South Africa that the attempt on his life two years ago might have stemmed from revelations he made that Rwandan President Paul Kagame had ordered the downing of a plane in which the country’s former leader Gen Juvenal Habyalimana was killed.
Testifying under oath in South Africa Wednesday, Gen Nyamwasa described fearing he would become a political prisoner in his country and had therefore decided to flee to Johannesburg, where he was shot. Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa’s testimony brought East Africa’s fractious politics to South Africa, where he is a witness in the case against three Rwandans and three Tanzanians accused of trying to kill him in Johannesburg in 2010. Rwandan authorities have repeatedly denied involvement in the shooting, and hired South African lawyer Gerhard van der Merwe to monitor proceedings.
Since coming to South Africa in 2010, Gen Nyamwasa has accused President Kagame of crushing dissent and trampling on democracy after the two worked together to end the 1994 genocide that left more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead in Rwanda. Rwandans in exile have accused Kagame of using his agents to hunt down his external foes, and foreign governments have raised similar concerns.
In Rwanda last year, a military court convicted Gen Nyamwasa and three other dissidents in absentia and sentenced them to 20 years in prison for threatening state security, charges that they deny. Questions have also been raised about Gen Nyamwasa’s conduct when he was close to Kagame. Nyamwasa and other senior Tutsis are accused of waging an extermination campaign against Hutus in the chaotic aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide – charges Nyamwasa denies.
Soon after Gen Nyamwasa began testifying, standing in a grey suit and speaking in a soft, steady voice, prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told the court he wanted Nyamwasa to describe his background. Van der Merwe, Rwanda’s lawyer, interrupted to say that could lead to speculation about government involvement. “The consequences in doing that could be severe,” van der Merwe said. But Magistrate Stanley Mkhari overruled the objections and ordered van der Merwe to remain only a silent observer for rest of the case because “the government of Rwanda is not a party to the process.”