Rwanda bristles over Lindiwe Sisulu’s apparent support for dissidents

Rwanda is furious with Lindiwe Sisulu for apparently backing negotiations between Kigali and Rwandan dissidents. Paul Kagame’s government has retorted that it won’t negotiate with ‘subversives’ led by a ‘convicted criminal’.

The Rwandan government is incensed with International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu for apparently endorsing attempts by dissident Rwandan expatriates in South Africa to negotiate with the Rwandan government.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame officially regards the dissidents as terrorists who must be dealt with legally and militarily rather than political opponents who deserve to be negotiated with.

Sisulu disclosed at a press conference last week that she had recently met the Rwandan émigrés under the leadership of Kagame’s former defence force chief General Faustin Nyamwasa Kayumba.

Three assassination attempts have been launched against Kayumba since he fled to South Africa in 2010. Kagame’s government is widely believed to have been behind the attempts. After the last known attempt in 2014, Pretoria expelled three Rwandan diplomats from the Rwandan High Commission in Pretoria as well as a suspected Burundian diplomatic accomplice.

Kigali retaliated by expelling six South African diplomats from the South African High Commission in Pretoria.

Relations have been strained ever since. Later that year, in September 2014, two Rwandans and two Tanzanians were convicted of attempted murder for the first attempt in June 2010 when Kayumba was shot in the stomach as he pulled up in his car to his home in a Johannesburg suburb.

The men were each sentenced to an effective eight years in jail. But magistrate Stanley Mkhari told the men: “You are not the main culprits in this matter. It is my view that you are supposed to appear before me with all the people who made money available and also the people who paid to commit the offenses.”

He suggested that someone else in Rwanda was behind the attempted murder, an apparent reference to the Rwandan government, though he did not name it.

Recently relations have begun thawing slowly. And, as Sisulu confirmed at her press conference last Monday, when President Cyril Ramaphosa met Kagame at an African Union summit in Kigali in March 2018, the two presidents decided to normalise relations.

She said she had begun discussing this with her then Rwandan counterpart Louise Mushikiwabo but Mushikiwabo had since left the job and so the talks would resume with her successor.

Sisulu was asked if she thought the inquest into the murder of another Rwandan dissident, Kagame’s former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, would undermine the efforts to normalise relations. Karegeya was murdered in a plush Sandton hotel on New Year’s Eve 2013 and many Rwandan expatriates in South Africa believe the Rwandan government was behind his killing.

Recently Chief Prosecutor Yusuf Baba of the Randburg magistrate’s court announced that the inquest into Karegeya’s death would start in that court on 16 January.

Sisulu said she did not think the inquest would undermine the efforts to normalise relations.

“No, if anything it will open up issues and it will be clear to both ourselves and Rwanda why we came to the situation we are in now. And we would like to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Sisulu was also asked how her government would respond if the Rwandan government asked Pretoria to stop Kayumba from conducting politics from South Africa, as a condition for normalising relations.

Kayumba belongs to an exiled political party, the Rwandan National Congress (RNC), which has offices in several foreign countries, including South Africa. Karegeya was also a member of the party.

Sisulu said she and the Rwandans had not yet begun discussing requirements for the normalisation of relations although she expected Kigali to ask her government to stop Kayumba from conducting politics from South Africa.

“And I expect our government would also have requests of the Rwandan government.”

Sisulu then disclosed that she had met the émigré population of Rwanda led by General Kayumba “to indicate to them that we are entering into negotiations with the government of Rwanda. And we wanted to find out from them what their views are. As persons who are refugees in our country it was important that we consulted with them.

“And I was pleasantly surprised at their response, that they would be happy if an opportunity was created for them to negotiate with the Rwandan government so that there is an end to hostilities on both sides.”

Last week Rwanda’s deputy foreign minister Olivier Nduhungirehe tweeted an angry response to this disclosure.

“If any SA official wishes to negotiate with a convicted criminal hiding in #South Africa & leading a subversive movement operating in our region, he/she is free to do so, on his/her own & for him/herself. But he/she should never think about involving #Rwanda into this ‘negotiation.’”

The “convicted criminal” slur evidently refers to Kayumba’s conviction, in absentia, by a Rwandan military court in 2011 for terrorist acts, and threats to state security and public order. He was stripped of his army rank, dishonourably discharged from the army and sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Another Rwandan official claimed that the evidence which was led in the trial of the four men for attempted murder against Kayumba and also the evidence which would be led in the inquest on Karegeya’s death, were “not full-fledged informations from Hawks or police but very much the work of RNC itself, coupled with corrupt SA police and investigators to score political points.”

This official also asked why the Karegeya inquest was only taking place five years after his death.

“It is sad that a big state like South Africa is emotionally manipulated by these dissidents…”

He said that the inquest would end the same way as the Kayumba trial “in which the culprits had no link or confessions linking them to Rwanda but to please Kayumba the judge guessed loudly that they were linked to Kigali without saying to who.”

This had given political points to Kayumba, the official said, predicting that something similar would happen in the Karegeya inquest.

This official said Sisulu’s remarks had taken the effort to normalise relations between the two countries backwards.

“Much as we need the relationship, it cannot be at any cost.” DM

Rwanda bristles over Lindiwe Sisulu’s apparent support for dissidents