Relations between South Africa and Rwanda have suffered a sharp downturn in the first three months of 2014 with the murder in South Africa on New Year’s Eve of Patrick Karegeya, the former head of Rwandan external intelligence, and the attempted murder in Johannesburg in early March of the former head of the Rwandan army, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. Both men were once close confidants of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, but since fleeing Rwanda for South Africa, in 2007 and 2010 respectively, both have been viewed by Kigali as traitors, terrorists and legitimate targets for elimination. Indeed this was the third attempt on Nyamwasa’s life, following two failed attempts in South Africa in June 2010.
While the Rwandan regime formally denied responsibility, the operations fit an established pattern of Rwandan attacks on exiled opponents. Predictably, they have poisoned South African-Rwandan relations, which had been close until South Africa began providing safe haven for Rwandan exiles, even as differences between the two states emerged over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
On March 7, Pretoria expelled three Rwandan diplomats and one from Burundi for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status; the South African security services directly linked the individuals to the murder of Karegeya and attempted murder of Nyamwasa. Rwanda responded immediately by expelling six South African diplomats from Kigali, “in reciprocity” but also as a protest at South Africa’s harboring of dissidents allegedly sponsoring terrorist attacks in Rwanda. The expulsions have left the two states just one step away from a formal termination of diplomatic relations, with only the respective high commissioners—both are Commonwealth states—remaining in place in each capital.