Rwandan Civil War

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This article is about the 1990–94 civil war. For the social revolution of 1959–62, see Rwandan Revolution. For the 1994 genocide, see Rwandan Genocide.
Rwandan Civil War
Map of Rwanda with towns and roads
Date 1 October 1990 – 4 August 1993
(first phase, ended by the Arusha Accords)
7 April − 18 July 1994
(second phase, during the genocide)
Location Rwanda
Result Rwandan Patriotic Front victory
Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Rwanda Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR)
 Zaire (1990-1991)
France France (until 1993)
Commanders and leaders
Fred Rwigyema 
Paul Kagame
Rwanda Juvénal Habyarimana 
Rwanda Théoneste Bagosora
Rwanda Augustin Bizimungu
20,000 RPF[1] 35,000 FAR[1]
Casualties and losses
5,000 killed 5,000 killed

The Rwandan Civil War was a conflict within Rwanda, between the government of President Juvénal Habyarimana and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The conflict began on 1 October 1990 when the RPF invaded and ostensibly ended on 4 August 1993 with the signing of the Arusha Accords to create a power-sharing government.[2]

However, the assassination of Habyarimana in April 1994 proved to be the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, the commonly quoted death toll for which is 800,000. The closely interrelated causes of the war and genocide led some observers to assume that the reports of mass killings were in fact some new flaring of the war, rather than a different phase. The RPF restarted its offensive, eventually taking control of the country. The Hutu government-in-exile then proceeded to use refugee camps in neighboring countries to destabilize the new RPF government. The RPF and its proxy rebel forces prosecuted the First Congo War (1996–1997), which led in turn to the Second Congo War (1998–2003), all of which involved a Hutu force with the objective of regaining control of Rwanda. Thus while the civil war officially lasted until 1993, some literature has the war ending with the RPF capture of Kigali in 1994 or with the disbanding of the refugee camps in 1996, while some consider the presence of small rebel groups along the Rwandan border to mean that the civil war is ongoing.


Pre-independence Rwanda and origins of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa[edit]

Photograph of King's palace in Nyanza, Rwanda depicting main entrance, front and conical roof
A reconstruction of the King of Rwanda's palace at Nyanza

The earliest inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were the Twa, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who settled in the area between 8000 BC and 3000 BC and remain in Rwanda today.[3][4] Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, and began to clear forest land for agriculture.[5][4] The forest-dwelling Twa lost much of their habitat and moved to the slopes of mountains.[6] Historians have several theories regarding the nature of the Bantu migrations; one theory is that the first settlers were Hutu, while the Tutsi migrated later and formed a distinct racial group, possibly of Cushitic origin.[7] An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady, with incoming groups integrating into rather than conquering the existing society.[8][4] Under this theory, the Hutu and Tutsi distinction arose later and was a class distinction rather than a racial one.[9][10]

The population coalesced, first into clans (ubwoko),[11] and then, by 1700, into around eight kingdoms.[12] The Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became the dominant kingdom from the mid-eighteenth century,[13] expanding through a process of conquest and assimilation,[14] and achieving its greatest extent under the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri in 1853–95. Rwabugiri expanded the kingdom west and north,[15][13] and initiated administrative reforms which caused a rift to grow between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.[15] The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany, which began a policy of ruling through the Rwandan monarchy, and supporting Tutsi chiefs around the country.[16] Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi during World War I,[17] and from 1926 began a policy of more direct colonial rule.[18][19] The Belgians modernised the Rwandan economy, but Tutsi supremacy remained, leaving the Hutu disenfranchised.[20] In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes.[21]

Revolution, exile of Tutsi, and the Hutu republic[edit]

Main article: Rwandan Revolution

After 1945, a Hutu counter-elite developed,[22] leading to a deterioration in relations between the groups; the Tutsi leadership agitated for speedy independence to cement their hold on power,[23] while the Hutu elite called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu,[24] a stance increasingly supported by the church and the colonial government.[25] In November 1959, the Hutu began a series of riots and arson attacks on Tutsi homes, following false rumours of the death of a Hutu sub-chief by Tutsi activists.[26] Violence quickly spread across the whole country, beginning the Rwandan Revolution.[27] The king and Tutsi politicians attempted a fightback,[28] seeking to seize power and ostracise the Hutu and Belgians,[29] but were thwarted by Belgian colonel Guy Logiest, who was brought in by the colonial governor.[28] Logiest re-established law and order, and began a programme of overt promotion and protection of the Hutu elite.[30] The Belgians then replaced many Tutsi chiefs and sub-chiefs with Hutu, and consigned the king, Kigeli V, to figurehead status;[31] Kigeli later fled the country.[32] Despite continued anti-Tutsi violence, Belgium organised local elections in mid-1960, with Hutu parties gaining control of almost all comunes, effectively ending the revolution.[33] Logiest and Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared the country an autonomous republic in 1961,[34] and it became independent in 1962.[31]

As the revolution progressed, more than 336,000 Tutsi left Rwanda to escape the Hutu purges,[35] settling primarily in the four neighbouring countries of Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire.[36] The Tutsi exiles, unlike the Banyarwanda who migrated during the pre-colonial and colonial era, were regarded as refugees in their host countries,[37] and began almost immediately to agitate for a return to Rwanda.[38] Some formed armed groups, known as inyenzi (cockroaches),[31] who from late 1960 launched attacks into Rwanda from the neighbouring countries, with mixed success.[39] The inyenzi attacks were themselves a driving force in propelling further refugees across the borders, as the government often responded to them with further attacks on Tutsi still residing in Rwanda.[31] The largest inyenzi attack was a surprise assault in late 1963, advancing to positions close to Kigali.[40] The invaders were poorly equipped and organised, however, and the government defeated them, following up with the slaughter of an estimated 10,000 Tutsi within Rwanda.[40] The international community did little in response to these killings, and the defeat was the final blow for the inyenzi, who posed no further threat to Rwanda.[41]

Following the 1963–64 massacre of Tutsi and defeat of the inyenzi, Kayibanda and PARMEHUTU ruled Rwanda unchecked for the next decade, overseeing a Hutu hegemony on power and influence, justified through the mantra of "demographic majority and democracy".[42] The regime did not tolerate dissent, ruled in a top down manner similar to the pre-revolution feudal monarchy,[41] and promoted a deeply catholic and virtuous ethos.[43] By the early 1970s, this policy had made Rwanda very isolated from the rest of the world, and a rebellion began within the ranks of the Hutu elite.[44] In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana, a senior army commander, organised a coup, killing Kayibanda and assuming the presidency,[45] ruling Rwanda as a one-party state under his National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) party. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued under Habyarimana, but there was greater economic prosperity and a reduced amount of violence against Tutsi.[45] In the late 1980s, there was a global coffee price collapse;[46] this meant a loss of revenue of many of Rwanda's wealthy elite, leading them to seek greater political power, to gain access to foreign aid receipts.[46] The most powerful of these were the family of the first lady Agathe Habyarimana, who were known as the akazu or clan de Madame.[47] In April 1988, the akazu murdered Stanislas Muyuya, a close ally of the president, and possible successor,[46] and Habyarimana became increasingly reliant on them for his rule.[48] The reduction in coffee income also forced the government into a large reduction in the national budget, which increased the tension as the impoverished population struggled to survive.[48] In 1990, following the advice of President Mitterrand of France,[49] Habyarimana declared a commitment to multi-party politics, but did not take any action to bring it about.[50] Student protests followed, and by late 1990 the country was in crisis.[50]

Formation of the RPF and preparation for war[edit]

In 1979, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was defeated by an alliance of the Tanzanian army and Ugandan rebels;[51] among the rebel fighters were Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, Rwandan Tutsi refugees who had joined Yoweri Museveni's Front for National Salvation (FRONASA).[52] Milton Obote assumed the Ugandan presidency, and began persecution and discrimination against the Tutsi refugees.[53] In response, the refugees formed the Rwandan Refugees Welfare Association, which became the Rwandan Alliance for National Unity (RANU) the following year.[53] Museveni was a cabinet member in the transition government, and Rwigyema, Kagame and some other Rwandan refugees remained allegiant to him.[54] Obote won the 1980 general election, but Museveni disputed the result, and he, Rwigyema and Kagame withdrew from the new government in protest, forming the rebel National Resistance Army (NRA).[55][56] The army's goal was to overthrow Obote's government, in what became known as the Ugandan Bush War.[56][57] President Obote remained hostile to the Rwandan refugees; RANU was forced into exile in 1981, relocating to Nairobi, Kenya,[58] and in 1982 Ankole youths attacked the Rwandans, with the authority of Obote,[59] causing many more to join Museveni's NRA.[60]

In 1986, the NRA captured Kampala with a force of 14,000 soldiers, including 500 Rwandans, and formed a new government.[61] After Museveni was inaugurated as president, he appointed Kagame and Rwigyema as senior officers in the new Ugandan army.[62][63] The experience of the Bush War gave Rwigyema and Kagame inspiration to consider an attack against Rwanda, and as well as fulfilling their army duties, they began building a covert network of Rwandan Tutsi refugees within the army's ranks, intended as the nucleus for such an attack.[64] With the pro-refugee Museveni in power, RANU was able to move back to Kampala. At its 1987 convention, it renamed itself to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and it too committed to returning the refugees to Rwanda by any means possible.[65] In 1988, a leadership crisis within the RPF prompted Fred Rwigyema to intervene in the organisation and take control, replacing Peter Bayingana as RPF president.[66] Kagame and other senior members of Rwigyema's Rwandan entourage within the NRA also joined, with Kagame assuming the vice-presidency.[66] Bayingana remained as the other vice-president, but resented the loss of the leadership.[66]

Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was aware of the increasing number of Tutsi exiles in the Ugandan army, and made representations to President Museveni on the matter.[67] At the same time, many native Ugandans began criticising Museveni over his appointment of Rwandan refugees to senior positions.[68] He therefore demoted Kagame and Rwigyema.[67] They remained de facto senior officers, but the change caused them to accelerate their plans to invade Rwanda.[69] In 1990, a dispute in south western Uganda between Ugandan ranch owners and squatters on their land, many of whom were Rwandans,[70] led to a wider debate on indigeneity and eventually to the explicit labelling of all Rwandan refugees as non-citizens.[71] Realising the precariousness of their own positions, and the opportunity afforded by both the renewed drive of refugees to leave Uganda, and the precarious Rwandan domestic scene, Rwigyema and Kagame decided to effect their invasion plans immediately.[72] It is likely that President Museveni knew of the RPF and its planned invasion, but did not explicitly support it.[73] Museveni claimed ignorance, announcing years later that the RPF had launched the invasion "without prior consultation".[74]

Course of the war[edit]

1990 invasion and death of Rwigyema[edit]

At 2:30 pm on 1 October 1990, fifty RPF rebels deserted their Ugandan army posts and crossed the border from Uganda into Rwanda, killing a customs guard at the Kagitumba border post.[75] They were followed by hundreds more rebels, dressed in the uniforms of the Ugandan national army and carrying stolen Ugandan weaponry, including machine guns, autocannons, mortars, and Soviet BM-21 multiple rocket launchers.[75] Around 2,500 of the Ugandan army's 4,000 Rwandan soldiers took part in the invasion,[75] accompanied by 800 civilians, including medical staff and messengers.[76] Both President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Habyarimana of Rwanda were in New York City attending the United Nations World Summit for Children.[77] In the first few days of fighting, the RPF made significant progress, advancing 60 km (37 mi) south to the town of Gabiro.[78] Their Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) opponents, fighting for Habyarimana's government, were numerically superior, with 5,200 soldiers, and possessed armoured cars and helicopters supplied by France, but the RPF benefitted from the element of surprise.[78] The Ugandan government set up road blocks across the west of Uganda, to prevent further desertions and to block the rebels from returning to Uganda.[78]

On 2 October, the RPF suffered a significant reversal, when its leader, Fred Rwigyema was shot in the head and killed. There is a dispute about the exact circumstances of Rwigyema's death; the official line of Kagame's government,[79] and the version mentioned by historian Gérard Prunier in his 1995 book on the subject, was that Rwigyema was killed by a stray bullet.[80] In his 2009 book Africa's World War, however, Prunier states that it is likely Rwigyema was killed by his subcommander Peter Bayingana, following an argument over tactics.[81] According to this account, Rwigyema was conscious of the need to move slowly, and attempt to win over the Hutu in Rwanda before assaulting Kigali, whereas Bayingana and fellow subcommander Chris Bunyenyezi, wished to strike hard and fast, to achieve power as soon as possible;[81] the argument boiled over, causing Bayingana to shoot Rwigyema dead.[81] Another senior RPF officer, Stephen Nduguta, witnessed this shooting and informed President Museveni; Museveni sent his brother Salim Saleh to investigate, and Saleh ordered Bayingana and Bunyenyezi's arrest and eventual execution.[82]

When news of the RPF offensive broke, France and Belgium sent troops to Kigali to assist the Rwandan military in fighting the invasion.[83] The Belgian presence was short lived, because its laws prevented the army from intervening in a civil war.[84] France, in contrast, supported the regime and gave significant military and financial support. In a military operation code-named Noroît, France deployed 125 soldiers, who had been based in the Central African Republic, to support the FAR.[85][86] France insisted that its forces had been deployed strictly to protect its nationals, but the parachute companies set up positions blocking the RPF advance to the capital and Kigali International Airport.[84] Zairian President Mobutu also assisted Habyarimana, sending several hundred troops of the elite Special Presidential Division (DSP)[83] Unlike the French, the Zairian troops went straight to the front line and began fighting the RPF rather than occupying defensive positions.[83]

On the night of 4 October, the Rwandan government staged a fake attack on Kigali with gunfire and explosions around the city.[87] The French were deceived, believing that the RPF were responsible for the attack, and immediately increased their troop numbers to 600.[87] The government followed the fake attack with anti-Tutsi rhetoric, enouraging Hutu citizens to arrest Tutsi suspected of supporting the RPF.[88] With French and Zairian assistance, and benefiting from the loss of RPF morale after Rwigyema's death, the FAR enjoyed a major advantage; gradually they regained all the ground the RPF had taken. The rebels were eventually pushed back to the Ugandan border on 30 October.[89] Many soldiers deserted, some crossed back into Uganda, while others went into hiding in the Akagera National Park.[89] The Rwandan government announced that they had won the war.[89]

Kagame's reorganization of the RPF[edit]

Photograph of a lake with one of the Virunga Mountains behind, partially in cloud
The Virunga Mountains, the RPF base from 1990 to 1991.

Paul Kagame was still in the United States at the time of the October invasion, but had already informed the commanders at Fort Leavenworth of his intention to leave the course and return to Africa.[90] When Kagame learned of Rwigyema's death, he departed immediately.[91] He flew through London and Addis Ababa, eventually arriving at Entebbe Airport where he was given safe passage by a friend in the Ugandan secret service;[92] the police considered arresting him, but with Museveni out of the country, and no specific orders, they allowed him to pass.[93] Kagame was then driven to the border and crossed into Rwanda early on 15 October, to take command of the RPF troops.[93]

After spending a few days with the senior officers gathering intelligence, Kagame decided his soldiers were too demoralised to continue fighting, and withdrew most of the army from north eastern Rwanda, moving them to the Virunga mountains.[94] Some soldiers remained behind as a decoy, carrying out small scale attacks on Rwandan forces, which meant the Rwandan army did not realise that the majority of forces had departed.[95] The rugged high altitude terrain of the Virungas offered considerable protection from attacks if the RPF were to be discovered there.[96] The trek west took almost a week, and the soldiers crossed the border into Uganda several times, with the permission of President Museveni, taking advantage of personal friendships between the RPF soldiers and their ex-colleagues in the Ugandan army.[95]

Conditions in the Virungas were very harsh for the RPF. At an altitude of 5,000 metres (16,000 ft),[97] there was no easy supply of food or supplies and, lacking warm clothing, several soldiers froze to death in the altitude-induced cold temperatures led to the death or loss of limbs of several soldiers.[95][97] Kagame spent the next two months reorganising the army, without carrying out any military operations.[97] Alexis Kanyarengwe, a Hutu Colonel who had previously worked with Habyarimana but had fallen out with him and gone into exile, joined the RPF and was appointed chairman of the organisation;[97] the appointment of Kanyarengwe was motivated by a desire to appear inclusive, although most of the other senior recruits at the time were Ugandan based Tutsi similar to Kagame.[97] Rank and file numbers grew steadily, with volunteers coming from the exile communities in Burundi, Zaire and other countries.[98] Kagame maintained tight discipline in his army, with a regimented training routine, and a large set of rules for soldiers' conduct.[99] Soldiers were expected to pay for goods they purchased in the community, not indulge in alcohol or drugs, and uphold standards to establish a good reputation for the RPF amongst the local population.[100] Certain offences, such as murder, rape, and desertion, were punishable by death.[99]

The RPF carried out a big fund raising programme, spearheaded by financial commissioner Aloisia Inyumba from an office in Kampala.[97] They received donations from Tutsi exiles around the world,[100] including North America, Europe and Africa, as well as from some businessmen within Rwanda who had fallen out with the government.[101] The sums involved were not enormous, but with tight financial discipline and a leadership willing to lead frugal lives, the Front was able to grow its operational capability.[102] The RPF sourced its weapons and ammunition from a variety of sources, including the open market, taking advantage of an excess of redundant weaponry at the end of the Cold War.[102] It is likely they also received weaponry from officers in the Ugandan army; according to Gérard Prunier, Ugandans who had fought with Kagame in the Bush War remained loyal to him and passed weaponry in a clandestine manner.[103] Museveni likely knew of this, but was able to claim ignorance when dealing with the international community.[103] Museveni later said that "faced with [a] fait accompli situation by our Rwandan brothers," Uganda went "to help the RPF, materially, so that they are not defeated because that would have been detrimental to the Tutsi people of Rwanda and would not have been good for Uganda's stability."[74]

Attack on Ruhengeri, January 1991[edit]

The town of Ruhengeri, with the Virunga Mountains in the background

After three months of inactivity and regrouping, Kagame decided in January 1991 that the RPF was ready to begin fighting again.[104] The target chosen for the attack was the northern city of Ruhengeri,[104] which lies immediately south of the Virunga mountain chain.[105] The city was the best choice from a practical point of view, being the only provincial capital that could be attacked quickly from the Virungas, maintaining an element of surprise.[103] Kagame also favoured an attack on Ruhengeri for cultural reasons. President Habyarimana, as well as his wife and her powerful family, came from the north west of Rwanda and most Rwandans regarded the region was as the heartland of the regime.[103] An attack there guaranteed that the population would become aware of the RPF's presence, and Kagame hoped the attack would destabilise the government.[106]

During the night of 22 January, seven hundred RPF fighters moved down from the mountains and waited in hidden locations around the city; they were assisted by RPF sympathisers residing in the area.[106] On the morning of the 23rd they attacked.[107] The Rwandan forces in the area were taken by surprise and were mostly unable to defend against the invasion.[106] The Rwandan police and army did succeed for a while in repelling the invasion in some areas, killing a number of rebel fighters in the process.[106] It is likely the government's FAR forces were assisted by French troops, as the French government later rewarded around fifteen French paratroopers for having taken part in the rearguard.[106] By noon, however, the defending forces were defeated, and the RPF held the whole of the city.[108]

One of the principal RPF targets in Ruhengeri was the prison, which was Rwanda's largest.[103] When he learned of the invasion the warden, Charles Uwihoreye, telephoned the government in Kigali, to request instructions.[107] He spoke to Colonel Elie Sagatwa, one of the akazu, who ordered him to kill every inmate in the prison, to avoid escape and defections during the fighting,[106] and to prevent high-profile political prisoners and former insiders from sharing secret information with the RPF.[103] Uwihoreye refused to obey, even after Sagatwa called him to repeat the order, having confirmed it with the president.[106] Eventually, the RPF stormed the buildings, and the prisoners were saved.[108] Several prisoners were recruited into the RPF, including Theoneste Lizinde, a former close ally of President Habyarimana, who had been arrested following a failed coup attempt in 1980.[108][103]

The RPF forces held Ruhengeri through the afternoon of 23 January, before withdrawing back into the mountains for the night.[108] The Rwandan government sent troops to the city the following day, and a state of emergency was declared, with strict curfews in Ruhengeri and the surrounding area.[108] The RPF raided the city every night, fighting with the Rwandan army forces, and the country was back at war for the first time since the October invasion.[108]

Guerrilla war, 1991–92[edit]

Following the action in Ruhengeri, the RPF began to carry out a classic hit-and-run style guerrilla war.[109] The Rwandan army massed troops across the north of the country, occupying key positions and shelling RPF hideouts in the Virunga mountains.[110] However, the mountainous terrain prevented them from launching an all out assault.[110] Paul Kagame's troops also attacked the FAR forces repeatedly and frequently, keen to ensure that the diplomatic and psychological effect of the RPF's resurgence was not lost.[111] Kagame employed tactics such as attacking simultaneously in up to ten different locations across the north of the country, to prevent his opponents concentrating their force in any one place.[111] This low intensity war continued for many months, both sides launching successful attacks on the other, and neither able to gain the upper hand in the war.[111] The RPF made some territorial gains; this included capturing the border town of Gatuna, blocking Rwanda's access to the port of Mombasa via the Northern Corridor, and forcing all trade to go through the longer and costlier Central Corridor route through Tanzania.[109] By late 1991, the RPF controlled 5% of Rwanda, setting up its new headquarters in an abandoned tea factory close to Mulindi, in Byumba province.[112] Many Hutu civilians residing in areas captured by the RPF fled back to government held areas, creating a large population of internally displaced persons in the country.[113]

The renewed warfare had two effects on the domestic situation in Rwanda itself. The first was a resurgence of violence against Tutsi still residing in the country. Beginning with the slaughter of 30–60 Bagogwe Tutsi pastoralists near Kinigi, and then spreading south and west to Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, Hutu activists killed up to 1,000 Tutsi in attacks authorised by local officials.[114] These attacks continued until June 1991, when a deal was reached to allow potential victims to move to safer areas.[114] The akazu also began a major propaganda campaign, broadcasting and publishing material designed to persuade the Hutu population that the Tutsi were a completely separate and alien people.[115] This included the Hutu Ten Commandments, a set of "rules" published in Kangura magazine mandating Hutu supremacy in all aspects of Rwandan life.[115] In response, the RPF started broadcasting from Uganda into Rwanda on its own propaganda radio station, called Radio Muhabura; this was never hugely popular, but gained listenership through 1992 and 1993.[116]

The second development was that President Habyarimana announced that he was implementing multi-party politics into the country, under intense pressure from the international community, including his most loyal ally France.[115] Habyarimana had originally announced their introduction in mid-1990, and a number of opposition groups had formed in the months since, including the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR), Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Party (PL),[117] but the one-party state law had remained in place.[118] In mid-1991, Habyarimana officially allowed multi-party politics to begin, a change which saw a plethora of additional new parties come into existence.[118] Many of these had manifestos which favoured full democracy and rapprochement with the RPF,[115] but in reality were quite innefective and had no actual political influence.[118] The older opposition groups registered themselves as official parties, and the country was notionally moving towards a multi-party inclusive cabinet with proper representation, but progress was continually hampered by the regime. The last opposition party to form was the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), which was more hardline Hutu than Habyarimana's own party and had close links to the akazu, the family of the first lady.[119] Progress towards multi-partyism was slow. A cabinet set up in October 1991 contained almost no opposition at all, and the administrative hierarchy across the country recognised the authority only of Habyarimana's MRND party.[120] The regime frequently used violence as a tool to hamper reform, justifying its actions as anti-RPF security measures.[120]

Another one-party cabinet was announced in January 1992, which prompted large scale protests in Kigali, and finally forced Habyarimana to make real concessions.[121] He promised for the first time to negotiate with the RPF;[121] a multiparty cabinet formed in April, still dominated by the MRND, but with opposition figures in some key positions.[122] The opposition members of this cabinet met with the RPF, and were successful in negotiating a ceasefire. In July 1992 the rebels agreed to stop fighting, and the parties began a peace negotiation process headquartered in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.[123]

Peace process, 1992–93[edit]

The peace process was a complex one, with four distinct groups involved, each with its own agenda. The Hutu hardliners, centred around the family of Agathe Habyarimana, were represented by the CDR, as well as extremists within the president's own MRND party.[124] This group opposed the entire peace process, being unwilling to cede any ground to the RPF or the Tutsi, whom they continued to brand as enemies.[125] The official opposition, outside of the CDR, were generally had much more democratic and conciliatory aims, but they also remained deeply suspicious of the RPF, whom they saw as trying to upset the "democratic" Hutu leadership began in the 1959 revolution.[126] Paul Kagame and the RPF engaged with the peace process, against the advice of some of his senior offices and in the knowledge that many on the otherside were hardliners, because he feared that shunning it would weaken the RPF politically and lose them considerable goodwill internationally.[115] Finally, President Habyarimana himself sought primarily to hold on to his power in whatever form he could, which publicly striving for a middle ground compromise solution, but privately obstructing the process and trying to delay change to the status quo for as long as possible.[124] Habyarimana recognised the danger posed to him by the radical Hutu faction, and attempted in mid-1992 to remove them from senior army positions; this effort was only partially successful; akazu affiliates Augustin Ndindiliyimana and Théoneste Bagosora remained in powerful posts, providing them with a link to power.[127]

The delegates at the negotiations in Arusha made some progress through the latter half of 1992, despite wrangling at home between Habyarimana and the hardliners that compromised the government officials' negotiating power in the talks.[128] In August, the parties agreed a "pluralistic transitional government" which would include the RPF.[128] The CDR and hardline faction of the MRND reacted violently to this; feeling sidelined by the developing Arusha process,[129] they began killing Tutsi civilians in the Kibuye area; 85 were killed in total, with 500 homes burned.[128] Historian Gérard Prunier names late 1992 as the time when the idea of a "final solution" to kill every Tutsi in Rwanda was first mooted;[130] Hardliners were busy setting up parallel institutions within the official organs of state, including the army, from which they hoped to effect a move away from the more conciliatory tone adopted by Habyarimana and the moderate opposition.[130] Their goal was to supplant the official government as the perceived source of power in the country amongst the Hutu masses, to maintain the line that the RPF and Tutsi more generally were a threat to Hutu freedoms, and to find a way to thwart any agreement negotiated in Arusha.[131]

The situation deteriorated in early 1993, when the teams in Arusha signed a full power sharing agreement, dividing government positions between the MRND, RPF and the other opposition parties but not the CDR;[132] this government was supposed to rule the country with a transitional government until the country was peaceful enough for free and fair elections to be held.[132] The agreement was reasonably equitable given the balance of power at the time, and Habyarimana, the mainstream opposition and the RPF accepted it, but the CDR and hardline MRND officers were violently opposed;[132] MRND national secretary Mathieu Ngirumpatse announced that the party would not respect the agreement, contradicting both the president and the party's negotiators in Arusha.[132] The hardliners organised demonstrations across the country, and mobilised their supporters within the army and populace to begin a much larger scale killing spree than those that had previously occurred.[133] The violence engulfed the whole north west of Rwanda and lasted for six days, with numerous houses burned and hundreds of Tutsi killed.[133][134] Paul Kagame reacted to the escalating violence, reacting to stories brought to him first hand by survivors seeking refuge in rebel territory,[134] by temporarily pulling out of the Arusha process and declaring an resumption of war, ending the six month cease-fire.[133]

RPF offensive, February 1993[edit]

The partition of Rwanda following the RPF offensive in February 1993. For the first time, the Rwandan government acknowledged that it had lost part of the country.

The RPF went back on the offensive on 8 February, fighting south from the positions it already held on Rwanda's northern border.[133] In contrast to the October 1990 and the 1991–92 campaigns, the RPF advance in 1993 was met with only weak resistance from the Rwandan government's FAR forces.[133] The likely reason for this is a significant deterioration in morale and military experience in those forces.[133] The impact of the long running war on the economy, and a heavy devaluation of the Rwandan franc compared to the United States dollar,[135] had left the government unable to pay its soldiers in a timely manner.[133] The armed forces had also expanded rapidly, at one point growing from less than 10,000 troops to almost 30,000 in one year.[136] The new recruits were often poorly disciplined and not battle ready,[136] with a tendency to get drunk and carry out abuse and rapes of civilians.[133]

The RPF advance was unchecked, moving steadily south and gaining territory without opposition.[137] They took Ruhengeri on the first day of fighting,[137] and later the city of Byumba. As with the previous RPF advances, the Hutu civilians in the area fled en masse from the areas the RPF were claiming, back into the government controlled territory.[137] These exoduses were likely driven primarily by the fear of the RPF established by years of propaganda,[137] although the RPF soldiers were guilty in some areas of small scale killing of Hutu civilians; this was partly in retribution for the massacre of Tutsi perpetrated in these areas in late January, but there was some indiscriminate killing also.[137] These killings increased the fear felt by the Hutu population, but also served to further alienate the RPF from its potential allies in the democratic Rwandan opposition parties.[138]

The RPF advance caused panic in France, a long term supporter of the Habyarimana regime, which immediately sent several hundred French troops to the country along with arms and ammunition to bolster the FAR forces.[138] The arrival of these French troops in Kigali seriously changed the military situation on the ground. The RPF now found themselves under attack, with French shells bombarding them as they advanced southwards.[139]

By 20 February the RPF had advanced to within 30 km (19 mi) of the capital, Kigali,[140] and many observers believed an assault on the city to be imminent.[137] The assault did not happen, however, and the RPF instead declared a ceasefire.[140] Whether or not the RPF actually intended to advance on the capital is unknown. Kagame later stated that his aim at this point, despite a desire in his senior officers to go for outright victory,[139] was to inflict as much damage as possible on FAR forces, capture their weapons, and gain ground slowly, but not to attack the capital itself, and possibly end the war with outright RPF victory, since that would end international goodwill towards the RPF and lead to charges that the intention of the war was simply to replace a Hutu state with a Tutsi one.[134] However, the increased presence of French troops on the ground, and the fierce loyalty of the Hutu population to the government, meant that despite the ease with which the RPF conquered the north, fighting for the capital could prove a much more difficult and potentially dangerous operation.[141] By the end of the February war, over one million civilians, mostly Hutu, had left their homes, in the country's largest exodus to date.[139]

Arusha Accords and rise of Hutu Power, 1993–94[edit]

The Arusha International Conference Centre, venue for peace talks to end the war.
Main article: Arusha accords

The RPF ceasefire was followed by two days of negotiations in the Ugandan capital Kampala, attended by RPF leader Paul Kagame, and involving President Museveni and representatives of European nations.[142] The Europeans insisted that the RPF forces withdraw to the zone they had held before the February offensive, while Kagame insisted that he would only agree to this if the Rwandan army were forbidden from re-entering the newly conquered territory.[142] Following a threat by Kagame to resume fighting and potentially take even more territory, the two sides reached a compromise deal whereby the RPF would withdraw to its pre-February territory, but a de-militarised zone would be set up between the RPF area and the rest of the country.[142] The deal was significant, because it marked a formal concession by Habyarimana's regime of the northern zone to the rebels.[142] However, there were many within the RPF senior command who felt that Kagame had ceded too much, because the deal meant not only withdrawal to the pre-February boundaries, but also a promise not to encroach on the de-militarised zone, and therefore an end to RPF ambitions of capturing more territory.[142] Kagame used the authority he'd accumulated through his successful leadership of the RPF to override these concerns, and the parties returned once more to the negotiating table in Arusha.[143]

Despite the agreement and ongoing negotiations, President Habyarimana, supported by the French government,[141] spent the subsequent months forging a "common front" against the RPF.[144] This included members of his own party and the CDR, and also factions from each of the other opposition parties in the power sharing coalition.[144] Simultaneously, however, other members of the same parties issued a statement in conjunction with the RPF, in which they condemned French involvement in the country and called for the Arusha process to be respected in full.[144] The hardline factions within the parties became known as Hutu Power, a movement which transcended party politics.[145] Apart from the CDR, there was no party that was exclusively part of the Power movement.[146] Instead, almost every party was split into "moderate" and "Power" wings, with members of both camps claiming to represent the legitimate leadership of that party.[146] Even the ruling party contained a Power wing, consisting of those who opposed Habyarimana's intention to sign a peace deal.[147] Several radical youth militia groups emerged, attached to the Power wings of the parties; these included the Interahamwe, which was attached to the ruling party,[148] and the CDR's Impuzamugambi.[149] The youth militia began actively carrying out massacres across the country.[150] The army trained the militias, sometimes in conjunction with the French, who were unaware of their true purpose.[149]

By June, President Habyarimana had come to view Hutu Power as a bigger threat to his leadership than the mainstream opposition.[151] This led him to engage fully once more with the Arusha peace process, giving it the impetus it needed to draw to a completion.[151] According to historian Gérard Prunier, this support was more symbolic than truly meant, with Habyarimana believing himself capable of staying in power through a combination of limited concessions through peace, along with strategic small scale violence where necessary, and that this would be much harder to achieve if the peace process broke down and Hutu Power rose to supremacy.[151] The RPF enjoyed much greater leverage following their successful February campaign, and their power-sharing demands, including up to 40% of the troops in the proposed unified national armed forces, and 50% of the officer corps, were eventually agreed to in full by the government.[152] With all details the agreed, the Arusha Accords were finally signed on 4 August 1993 at a formal ceremony attended by President Habyarimana as well as heads of state from neighbouring countries.[153]

An uneasy peace was once again entered into, which would last until 7 April of the following year. The agreement called for a United Nations peacekeeping force, and Canadian general Roméo Dallaire was selected to head this.[154] Dallaire made a preliminary visit in late August,[155] and the force, titled the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), was in place in Rwanda by October 1993.[156] Another stipulation of the agreement was that the RPF would station a number of diplomats in Kigali at the Conseil national de développement (CND), now known as the Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda's parliament building.[157] These men were protected by between 600-1000 RPF soldiers, who arrived in Kigali in Operation Clean Corridor in December 1993.[157] Meanwhile, the Hutu Power wings of the various parties were actively beginning plans for what would be come the 1994 Rwandan genocide.[158] The President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, who had been elected in June as the country's first ever Hutu president, was assassinated by extremist Tutsi army officers in October 1993.[159] The assassination caused shockwaves, reinforcing the notion among Hutus that the Tutsi were their enemy and could not be trusted.[158] The CDR and the Power wings of the other parties realised they could use this situation to their advantage.[158] The idea of a "final solution," which had first been suggested in 1992 but had remained a fringe viewpoint, was now top of their agenda.[158]

Military operations during the 1994 genocide[edit]

Main article: Rwandan genocide
Map showing the advance of the RPF during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994

The cease-fire ended abruptly on 6 April 1994, when Rwandan President Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing both Habyarimana and the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira.[160][161] The attackers remain unknown. Gérard Prunier, in his book written shortly after the incident, concluded that it was most likely a coup d'État carried out by extreme Hutu members of Habyarimana's government.[162] This theory was disputed in 2006 by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, and in 2008 by Spanish judge Fernando Andreu.[163] Both alleged that Kagame and the RPF were responsible.[164] At the end of 2010 the French government ordered a more thorough judicial inquiry, which employed ballistics experts. This report reaffirmed the initial theory that Hutu extremists assassinated Habyarimana.[165] The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, which began within a few hours. An interim government took over, headed by de facto leader Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, which began ordering the systematic killing of huge numbers of Tutsi, as well as some politically moderate Hutu, through well-planned attacks.[166] Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000[167] were killed.[166]

On 7 April, as the genocide started, RPF commander Paul Kagame warned the crisis committee and UNAMIR that he would resume the civil war if the killing did not stop.[168] The next day, Rwandan government FAR forces attacked the national parliament building from several directions, but RPF troops stationed there successfully fought back.[169] The RPF then began an attack from the north on three fronts, seeking to link up quickly with the isolated troops in Kigali.[170] Kagame refused to talk to the interim government, believing that it was just a cover for Bagosora's rule and not committed to ending the genocide.[171] Over the next few days, the RPF advanced steadily south, capturing Gabiro and large areas of the countryside to the north and east of Kigali.[172] They avoided attacking Kigali or Byumba, but conducted manoeuvres designed to encircle the cities and cut off supply routes.[173] The RPF also allowed Tutsi refugees from Uganda to settle behind the front line in the RPF controlled areas.[173]

Throughout April, there were numerous attempts by UNAMIR to establish a ceasefire, but Kagame insisted each time that the RPF would not stop fighting unless the killings stopped.[174] In late April, the RPF secured the whole of the Tanzanian border area and began to move west from Kibungo, to the south of Kigali.[175] They encountered little resistance, except around Kigali and Ruhengeri.[171] By 16 May, they had cut the road between Kigali and Gitarama, the temporary home of the interim government, and by 13 June, had taken Gitarama itself, following an unsuccessful attempt by the FAR forces to reopen the road; the interim government was forced to relocate to Gisenyi in the far north west.[176] As well as fighting the war, Kagame was recruiting heavily to expand the army. The new recruits included Tutsi survivors of the genocide and refugees from Burundi, but were less well trained and disciplined than the earlier recruits.[177]

Having completed the encirclement of Kigali, the RPF spent the latter half of June fighting for the city itself.[178] The FAR forces had superior manpower and weapons, but the RPF steadily gained territory as well as conducting raids to rescue civilians from behind enemy lines.[178] According to Dallaire, this success was due to Kagame's being a "master of psychological warfare";[178] he exploited the fact that the FAR were concentrating on the genocide rather than the fight for Kigali, and capitalised on the government's loss of morale as it lost territory.[178] The RPF finally defeated the FAR in Kigali on 4 July,[179] and on 18 July took Gisenyi and the rest of the northwest, forcing the interim government into Zaire and ending the genocide.[180] At the end of July 1994, Kagame's forces held the whole of Rwanda except for the zone in the south west which had been occupied by a French-led United Nations force as part of Opération Turquoise.[181]

The Liberation Day for Rwanda would come to be marked as July 4 and is commemorated as a public holiday.[182]


Domestic situation[edit]

Graph showing the population of Rwanda from 1961 to 2003. (Data from U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

The victorious RPF assumed control of the country following the genocide, and as of 2017 remain the dominant political force in the country.[183] The infrastructure and economy of the country had suffered greatly during the genocide. Many buildings were uninhabitable, and the former regime had carried with them all currency and moveable assets when they fled the country.[184] Human resources were also severely depleted, with over 40% of the population having been killed or fled.[184] Many of the remainder were traumatised: most had lost relatives, witnessed killings or participated in the genocide.[185] The long-term effects of war rape in Rwanda for the victims include social isolation, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and babies, with some women resorted to self-induced abortions.[186] The army, led by Paul Kagame, maintained law and order while the government began the work of rebuilding the country's structures.[187][188]

Non-governmental organisations began to move back into the country, but the international community did not provide significant assistance to the new regime, and most international aid was routed to the refugee camps which had formed in Zaire following the exodus of Hutu from Rwanda.[189] Kagame strove to portray the government as inclusive and not Tutsi dominated. He directed removal of ethnicity from citizens' national identity cards, and the government began a policy of downplaying the distinctions among Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.[187]

During the genocide and in the months following the RPF victory, RPF soldiers killed many people they accused of participating in or supporting the genocide.[190] Many of these soldiers were recent Tutsi recruits from within Rwanda, who had lost family or friends and sought revenge.[190] The scale, scope, and source of ultimate responsibility of these killings is disputed. Human Rights Watch, as well as scholars such as Prunier, allege that the death toll might be as high as 100,000,[191] and that Kagame and the RPF elite either tolerated or organised the killings.[192] In an interview with journalist Stephen Kinzer, Kagame acknowledged that killings had occurred but stated that they were carried out by rogue soldiers and had been impossible to control.[193] The RPF killings gained international attention with the 1995 Kibeho massacre, in which soldiers opened fire on a camp for internally displaced persons in Butare Province.[194] Australian soldiers serving as part of UNAMIR estimated at least 4,000 people were killed,[195] while the Rwandan government claimed that the death toll was 338.[196]

Paul Kagame took over the presidency from Pasteur Bizimungu in 2000,[197] and began a large-scale national development drive, launching a programme to develop Rwanda as a middle income country by 2020.[198] The country began developing strongly on key indicators, including human development index, health care and education; annual growth between 2004 and 2010 averaged 8% per year,[199] the poverty rate reduced from 57% to 45% between 2006 and 2011,[200] and life expectancy rose from 46.6 years in 2000[201] to 59.7 years in 2015.[202] A period of reconciliation and justice began, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the reintroduction of Gacaca, a traditional village court system.

Refugee crisis, insurgency, and Congo wars[edit]

View of refugee camp on foggy day, showing tents of various colours and the refugees

Following the RPF victory, approximately two million Hutu fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries, particularly Zaire, fearing RPF reprisals for the Rwandan Genocide.[203] The camps were crowded and squalid, and thousands of refugees died in disease epidemics, including cholera and dysentery.[204] The camps were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but were effectively controlled by the army and government of the former Hutu regime, including many leaders of the genocide,[205] who began rearming in a bid to return to power in Rwanda.[206][207]

By late 1996, Hutu militants from the camps were launching regular cross-border incursions, and the RPF-led Rwandan government launched a counteroffensive.[208] Rwanda provided troops and military training[207] to the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi group in the Zairian South Kivu province,[209] helping them to defeat Zairian security forces. Rwandan forces, the Banyamulenge, and other Zairian Tutsi, then attacked the refugee camps, targeting the Hutu militia.[209][207] These attacks caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee;[210] many returned to Rwanda despite the presence of the RPF, while others ventured further west into Zaire.[211] The defeated forces of the former regime continued a cross-border insurgency campaign,[212] supported initially by the predominantly Hutu population of Rwanda's north western provinces.[213] By 1999,[214] a programme of propaganda and Hutu integration into the national army, succeeded in bringing the Hutu to the government side and the insurgency was defeated.[215]

In addition to dismantling the refugee camps, Kagame began planning a war to remove long-time dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko from power.[207] Mobutu had supported the genocidaires based in the camps, and was also accused of allowing attacks on Tutsi people within Zaire.[216] Together with Uganda, the Rwandan government supported an alliance of four rebel groups headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, which began waging the First Congo War.[217] The rebels quickly took control of North and South Kivu provinces and then advanced west, gaining territory from the poorly organised and demotivated Zairian army with little fighting,[218] and controlling the whole country by May 1997.[219] Mobutu fled into exile, and the country was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).[220] Rwanda fell out with the new Congolese regime in 1998, and Kagame supported a fresh rebellion, leading to the Second Congo War.[221] This war lasted until 2003 and caused millions of deaths and massive damage.[220] A 2010 United Nations report accused the Rwandan army of committing wide scale human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the two Congo wars, charges denied by the Rwandan government.[222]


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  218. ^ Prunier 2009, pp. 128–133.
  219. ^ Prunier 2009, p. 136.
  220. ^ a b BBC News (II).
  221. ^ Prunier 2009, pp. 182–183.
  222. ^ McGreal 2010.


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