The South African government on July 18 informed former Rwandan army chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa that it had secured an agreement with Haiti to provide him a safe heaven. Kayumba for his part said he would “rather be imprisoned in Johannesburg”, than go to the Caribbean nation.
Three senior officials from the SA Department of International Relations and Cooperation met Gen Nyamwasa on the evening of July 18 at Protea Hotel in Johannesburg to deliver a message. According to people familiar with case, a female government official heading the delegation said she was in possession of a “government note” for Gen Nyamwasa.
While at the Hotel, the officials delivered a handwritten document to Gen Nyamwasa who was accompanied by his Mrs Rosette Kayumba and Mr David Batenga, a nephew and confidant of the killed former Rwandan intelligence chief Col Patrick Karegeya. Sources report that the document was informing Gen Nyamwasa that Pretoria had moved forward with plans to have him and his family moved to a more secure location.
The document said that various other countries were considered but Haiti was providing the highest level of protection. The government of SA had then settled on Haiti.
Gen Nyamwasa expressed disappointment at the decision. During the brief face to face discussion, he informed the SA officials that he would prefer to be in Europe or remain within the Southern African Development Cooperation region (SADC). On the same document, Gen Nyamwasa wrote on: “Botswana is more preferable”.
Why SA chose Haiti
The choice of Haiti by the South Africans is not by accident. In March 2011, the South African government successfully secured the return to Haiti of its former embattled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after seven years in South Africa at taxpayer cost.
The former priest-turned divisive politician had left Haiti after US Special Forces stormed his palace at night and forced him into a waiting helicopter off into exile. US officials explained the move as aimed at averting a blood bath in one of the poorest nations.
Despite cases of alleged corruption and abuse of office against him, Aristide has remained safe with immunity and away from public view. The South Africans are said to have obtained assurances from the establishment in Haiti that Aristide would never be prosecuted. The Haitians have remained true to their word despite Aristide presence being a destabilizing factor.
For Rwandan Gen Nyamwasa however, Haiti is “a death sentence”. There are hundreds of Rwandan police serving on the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Gen Nyamwasa must be worried the government of Rwanda will easily find him there using readily available resources.
Gen Nyamwasa accuses Kigali of trying to kill him on several occasions, allegations denied by the Rwandan government. The former head of the Rwandan army believes Haiti is not safe. Instead he wants to remain within the SADC region. Gen Nyamwasa specifically prefers Botswana.
Staying in the region
Sources within the South African establishment say Gen Nyamwasa’s choice of Botswana is because it maintains good relations with Rwanda. Should his life come under threat there, Rwanda will be making another enemy in the same region – a direction Kigali cannot take.
The other explanation for Gen Nyamwasa wanting to stay in the region is its handling of the Rwandan FDLR rebels or democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda. SADC has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the FDLR have operated for last 20 years.
In the ongoing process to have the rebels disarm, they only agreed to hand their weapons to SADC forces – from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi. The United States and UN Security Council have dismissed the disarmament – calling for military action on the rebels.
Gen Nyamwasa knows that to maintain relevance as a political threat to the government of President Paul Kagame, he must stay around – or possibly form alliance with the rebels. However, the FDLR are accused of taking part in the genocide which killed nearly a million Tutsis in Rwanda. Nyamwasa was part of the force which fought and dislodged them – sending them across to Zaire, now DRC.