Why South Africa should suspend diplomatic relations with Rwanda – David Himbara

South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on March 12 South Africa had evidence linking the three expelled Rwandan diplomats to “illegal activities.”

The activities in question included yet another attack on the exiled former Rwandan army chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa.

There is nothing new about Rwanda’s illegal activities in foreign countries, including South Africa.

The initial and widely known case was that of Seth Sendashonga, who survived an assassination attempt in 1996 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Sendashonga was Rwanda’s minister of interior who went into exile in protest against human rights abuses.

He was later assassinated in 1998 in Nairobi.

With irrefutable evidence in hand, the Kenyan government expelled the entire Rwandan embassy diplomatic and support staff from its soil, and closed its own embassy in Rwanda.

In more recent times, Sweden sent a stern warning to Rwanda regarding “refugee espionage” by expelling a Rwandan diplomat in February 2012.

A year earlier Scotland Yard had warned two members of the Rwandan diaspora in London that they faced imminent danger from Rwanda.

Shortly afterwards a Rwandan agent was apprehended and denied entry into Britain.

For countries bordering Rwanda, especially Uganda, kidnapping, mysterious deaths, and disappearances of Rwandans who are critical of their government is now a “normal” and routine occurrence.

The multiple attempted assassinations in South Africa of exiled Kayumba Nyamwasa since 2010, and the murder in January of former Rwandan intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya, should be understood in this broader context.

Rwanda’s rampage in South Africa is akin to biting the hand that feeds you.

Of the countries that assisted Rwanda to rebuild since the genocide in 1994, I would place South Africa among the most practical and generous for several reasons.

Firstly, South Africa became a vocal and active supporter for Rwanda in global, regional and sub-regional forums.

Thabo Mbeki’s government went out of its way to support Rwanda by defusing regional conflicts, particularly in the Great Lakes Region in which Rwanda was regarded as the main trouble maker.

Mbeki personally intervened to mediate between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Secondly, South Africa played vital roles in Rwanda’s reconstruction processes, especially in the health and higher education sectors.

For example, South Africa allowed Rwandan students and professionals to train in its universities on the same fee rates as nationals.

This generous action by South Africa enabled Rwanda to build its human resources base faster and cost effectively.

The University of the Witwatersrand alone played a key role in training Rwandan doctors who helped revive the country’s health sector.

Rwanda’s benefit from South Africa’s higher education system would amount to millions, if not billions, if calculated in monetary terms.

Thirdly, most strategic foreign investment in Rwanda has come from South Africa. Take MTN’s subsidiary in Rwanda, for example. Established in 1998, MTN Rwanda was recognised as Rwanda’s best taxpayer last year when its tax bill amounted to R370 million.

MTN Rwanda is easily the leading economic actor in the country with a subscriber base of 3.6 million people.

Its closest rival in the telecom market is Tigo Rwanda, with two million subscribers.

In 2012, cement producer PPC bought majority shares of Cimerwa, Rwanda’s only and struggling cement company. PPC is in the process of raising Cemerwa’s productive capacity from 100 000 to 600 000 tons a year.

Fourthly, Rwanda’s national carrier, RwandAir, runs daily flights to Joburg. Further, SAA and RwandAir have a bilateral code-sharing agreement for operations between Joburg and Kigali. The servicing of RwandAir aircraft is also done in Joburg.

The question then is this: why does Rwanda consistently abuse South Africa’s generosity?

Rwanda knows full well that South Africa does not discriminate against high-profile individuals who, for one reason or another, go into exile there and seek protection in accordance with international laws and norms.

Ugandan opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye went into exile in South Africa and returned in 2005 to contest the 2006 presidential elections. Haiti’s former head of state Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile in South Africa until he returned to his country after seven years in 2011.

Madagascar’s former president Marc Ravalomanana has been living in exile in South Africa since 2009. None of these countries ever sent agents to South Africa to harm these exiled prominent personalities.

When South Africa recently expelled three Rwandan diplomats for attempting to murder Nyamwasa for the fourth time, Rwanda arrogantly expelled six South African diplomats.

Rwanda’s action effectively closed the South African embassy, because that left only the ambassador at his post.

By its despicable acts in South Africa, Rwanda has shown that it is a pariah state – a country whose conduct is out of step with international norms and behaviour.

The pariah state of Rwanda ought therefore to face international isolation. South Africa has not only helped Rwanda to rebuild, but even tolerated its criminal behaviour since 2010.

South Africa should now say “enough is enough” and end diplomatic relations with the Rwandan state until the latter adopts the norms expected of law-abiding nation-states.

– Himbara was the head of the Strategy and Policy Unit, Office of the President of Rwanda, from 2006-2009. A permanent resident of South Africa, he opted to leave this country due to constant threats.

SOURCE: The Sunday Independent