Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa had only been in South Africa for a few months when, returning home from a shopping trip with his wife and children, a gunman tried to kill him.
The Rwandan general, exiled after falling out with President Paul Kagame, survived after being rushed to intensive care. Yesterday he saw four men convicted of trying to assassinate him.
“The magistrate has correctly observed that the conspiracy to kill me was politically motivated,” said Mr Nyamwasa, after the verdict in Kagiso, near Johannesburg.
The resolution of this 2010 case is a landmark moment. It is the first time a Rwandan hit squad has been caught and convicted after leaving a trail of blood and terror around the world.
Army chief of staff Mr Nyamwasa fled to South Africa after joining in opposition with three other former close allies of Kagame. Another was Patrick Karegeya, an ex-spy chief found strangled in a Johannesburg hotel this year.
Stanley Mkhair, the magistrate, said it was clear the four convicted men – one Rwandan and three Tanzanians – met several times to plan the Nyamwasa assassination attempt and were paid 80,000 Rand (£4,540) in cash by “people in Rwanda”. A 33-year-old Rwandan businessman named Pascal Kanyandekwe was cleared of offering big bribes to South African police after they arrested him. Items found in his possession proved his links to the plot but there was insufficient evidence to convict him, said Mr Mkhair.
The general’s driver was also cleared after prosecutors failed to prove beyond doubt he was involved.
Significantly, Mr Mkhair concluded the plot to kill Mr Nyamwasa came “from a certain group of people from Rwanda”. Clearly he was pointing at the regime of Kagame, who holds his nation in a vice-like grip.
Yet still this repressive ruler remains the darling of many Western admirers, despite never hiding his lethal contempt for critics.
Days after Karegeya’s killing, the Rwandan Defence Minister – referring to the strangling – said: “When you choose to be a dog, you die like a dog, and the cleaners will wipe away the trash so that it does not stink for them.”
The following day President Kagame himself came close to condoning the murder. “Whoever betrays the country will pay the price, I assure you,” he told a rally. “Whoever it is, it is a matter of time.”
The tragedy of Rwanda is how this deluded despot sees himself as the embodiment of his nation – and how he is egged on by fawning Western advisers such as Tony Blair and aid donors who prop up his murderous regime by providing 40 per cent of its budget.
“This is a significant case because the victim was such a high-profile opponent,” said Carina Tertsakian, senior researcher on Rwanda at Human Rights Watch. “It fits a well-documented pattern against opponents and critics that has gone on as long as this government has been in power.”
Of course Rwanda denied involvement in the attempt on Mr Nyamwasa’s life, just as it always does when dissidents die in mysterious circumstances. “The Rwandan government does not go around shooting innocent citizens,” said Louise Mushikiwabo, the Foreign Minister.
But such claims look absurd when a steady succession of critics, judges and journalists have been threatened, harassed and murdered after crossing Kagame. Victims have been beaten, beheaded, shot, stabbed and strangled both at home and abroad.
Even Paul Rusesabagina, whose brave stance during the 1994 genocide saved so many lives and led to the film Hotel Rwanda, was intimidated after speaking out against Kagame’s misrule.
Human Rights Watch has documented arbitrary arrests, detentions, killings, torture and enforced disappearances since Kagame took power. Many cases are similar in style.
In 1998 a former Minister of Interior who criticised human rights abuses was shot dead in Kenya, having survived a previous murder attempt. A high court judge in Nairobi found the killing was political – but Rwanda frustrated investigations by refusing to waive diplomatic immunity for a suspect working at its embassy.
Latest victims include Kagame’s former bodyguard Joel Mutabazi, who survived both assassination and abduction attempts before being snatched from Uganda and put on trial for “terrorism” in Kigali. Prosecutors are demanding a life sentence.
South Africa has refused a French request to extradite Mr Nyamwasa to answer questions over Kagame’s alleged order to shoot down a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, which sparked the 1994 genocide.
After another attempt on Mr Nyamwasa’s life in March, South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe warned Rwanda that his nation “will not be used as a springboard to do illegal activities”. This led to a spate of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.
Even the US, for so long turning a blind eye to Kagame’s atrocities and his pillaging of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has hit out at “politically motivated murders of prominent Rwandan exiles”.
Yet Britain welcomed this war criminal into the Commonwealth and continues to pump huge sums of aid into his country – nearly £400m over the course of the coalition – while hypocritically talking of promoting democracy and human rights.
Even a warning from Scotland Yard in 2011 that a Rwandan hit squad had been sent to murder two exiles living in Britain failed to stop the torrent of aid into this regime’s pocket.
“This is a very important verdict,” said Rene Mugenzi, a Liberal Democrat activist who was one of the targets. “Anyone opposed to Kagame and doing anything to raise awareness about what is happening in Rwanda has a death sentence put on them.”