Archive:  Rwanda

Pre-colonial history | Colonisation | Rwanda’s Social Revolution, 1959-1962 | Early Independence | Rwanda and regional armed conflicts | The Rwandan Civil War | The Rwandan Genocide | The refugee crisis | Recovering from war | Legal controversies | France and the 1994 plane crash | Modern Rwanda | Relations with DRC | Resources

A map showing Rwanda's position in Africa

Rwanda is a small landlocked country in central and east Africa. It borders Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Explore the timeline below to understand Rwanda’s history, or read more detail below:


Pre-colonial history

Of the three main ethnic groups in Rwanda, the Twa are commonly considered the first settlers; today this group represents less than 1% of the population. The more recognisable and populous Hutus and Tutsis came later. Over time, they spoke the same language, followed the same religion, and coexisted peaceably. As Rwanda settled, a trade route running from Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika transported ivory and slaves from the surrounding area – including Rwanda – to the eastern coast for export and trade. This made the interior an unlikely centre of economic activity, fostering conditions for a well organised empire.

mwami (king, believed to be of divine origin) ruled dozens of administrative districts, which were each in turn run by two independent chiefs who oversaw the lower- and upper-status groups, agriculturalists and pastoralists respectively. As these occupations were traditionally divided along ethnic lines, the names ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’ became engrained in the societal structure. The Tutsi herdsmen had more time for political office, affording them more governance opportunity, and the Rwandan mwami was almost invariably Tutsi. In a feudal or client-based system of chiefdoms, the minority Tutsis thus had far greater authority than their Hutu neighbours – a fact not overlooked by European explorers to the region, including Henry Morton Stanley, Oscar Baumann, and Count Von Götzen, nor by the region’s eventual colonisers.

Rwanda’s geographic boundaries expanded in the 17th century when Mwami Ruganzu Ndori acquired authority over central Rwanda and outlying Hutu areas. The territory expanded again in the latter half of the 19th century to roughly the size of the present Rwandan state. The reigning mwami at the time, Kigeri Rwabugiri, established a unified state with a centralised military structure, consolidating power to the monarchy.


At the Berlin Conference of 1884, Germany gained control over the region that included Ruanda (Rwanda), Urundi (Burundi), and Tanganyika (Tanzania) as part of its African ‘sphere of interest’. However, badly drawn borders and renegotiations with England and Belgium delayed solidification of German authority until 1910, after which Germany did little to change the social structure. The death of Mwami Rwabugiri in 1895 had left the Ruandan Tutsi royal clans in disarray and German administrators gained influence by default as the weakened rival factions vied for power, often collaborating with the new colonisers. 

Germany’s greatest impact may have been its formation and training of a regional military they called Schutztruppe, or protection force. Throughout World War I, these few dozen companies resisted Belgian and British advances on and around Lake Tanganyika, finally surrendering in late November 1918. Belgian troops had occupied German East Africa since 1916 and through a permanent League of Nations mandate gained official administrative power over Ruanda and its southern neighbour Urundi as the territory of ‘Ruanda-Urundi,’ now separate from Tanganyika.

Belgium, like Germany, relied on the existing power structure and deepening ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis. Hutus were assigned manual labour roles to be supervised by Tutsis, with Belgium reaping much of the financial benefit. Tutsi overseers employed harsh methods of control, eventually driving hundreds of thousands of Ruandans, both Hutu and Tutsi, to flee the country. Between 1926 and 1933, Belgium institutionalised the ethnic differences with the introduction of identity cards, categorising people as Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, or ‘naturalised’ citizens.

Following World War II, the United Nations replaced the League of Nations and ‘Ruanda-Urundi’ became a UN Trust Territory, with Belgium as its administrative authority. Belgium governed Ruanda-Urundi as an extension of nearby Belgian Congo. A Lieutenant Governor oversaw the territory from its capital city, Bujumbura. Under UN trusteeship Ruanda-Urundi would gradually transition to political and economic independence. The Belgians therefore encouraged the growth of democratic political institutions. They retained the popular and ethnically unifying Charles Mutara III Rudahigwa as mwami, but allowed the formation of political parties.

Rwanda’s first political party began as a social movement among the Hutu majority, vying for increased authority and political representation. Grégoire Kayibanda, a Hutu moderate, and several fellow Hutu intellectuals published a Hutu Manifesto in 1957 that promoted ethnically based mobilisation to identify democracy with Hutu rule. This document prompted the formation of four major political parties organised along ethnic lines:

  • Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation Hutu (PARMEHUTU), 1957 – led by Grégoire Kayibanda, this Hutu party had the support of Belgian colonialists and the Catholic Church and members from populous areas such as Gitarama and Ruhengeri
  • Association pour la Promotion Sociale de la Masse (APROSOMA), 1957 – led by Joseph Habyarimana Gitera, this Hutu party rallied supporters from southern Rwanda
  • Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR), 1959 – led by traditionally powerful Tutsis who called for immediate Ruanda-Urundi independence as a constitutional monarchy
  • Le Rassemblement Democratique Rwandais (RADER), 1959 – Belgium encouraged Tutsi Chief Prosper Bwanakeri to form a party to attract moderates of both ethnicities, but its liberal platform was never fully trusted by members from either group

In this context of intensifying ethnic tension, Mwami Mutara III died without a successor on 25 July 1959. His younger brother Kigeli V Ndahidurwa assumed the throne under much controversy and effectively catalysed a period of fierce Hutu-Tutsi conflict that has been termed Rwanda’s ‘social revolution.’

Rwanda’s social revolution, 1959-1962

The tumultuous period between 1959 and 1962 is known as ‘the Social Revolution‘ (sometimes called the ‘Wind of Destruction’ or the ‘Hutu Peasant Revolution’) because of the shift from the declining Tutsi monarchy to an emerging democracy. The three years of transition resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 100,000 people and as many as 300,000 refugees had fled to neighbouring countries such as Burundi, Tanganyika, Uganda, and present-day eastern DRC.

 La Jacquerie

Violence first broke on 1st November, All Saint’s Day or La Toussaint in French. A group of Tutsi UNAR members had attacked the popular Dominique Mbonyumutwa, one of the few Hutu subchiefs in Rwanda. Although he survived the attack, rumour of his death spread rapidly and PARMEHUTU supporters (predominantly Hutus) rallied against UNAR leadership. When Tutsis threatened PARMEHUTU leaders, the angered Hutus reacted violently and killed several Tutsi UNAR leaders. Formal direction of the violence was sparse, but violence quickly spread across the country the as independent bands of Hutus attacked Tutsis, burning huts and killing several hundred.

During the same period, UNAR responded by organising its own violent attacks against Hutu party leaders. Several were grotesquely assassinated, including the secretary-general of APROSOMA. When UNAR attempted to eliminate Joseph Habyarimana Gitera, Belgian intervention ensured their failure and many UNAR members fled to present-day DRC. The events in early November 1959 are sometimes referred to collectively as the jacquerie, or peasant revolt, due to their largely sporadic but nevertheless bloody nature.

Following the conflict of November 1959, Rwandan local government reorganised by official decree. In all, 21 Tutsi chiefs and 332 subchiefs had been either killed or forced to resign; under the new commune system, local leaders would be elected. Belgium sanctioned and supported the move toward democracy and oversaw the subsequent municipal elections in which PARMEHUTU was decidedly victorious. This new majority rule necessarily meant Hutu rule, however, and many Tutsis were unhappy with the change in order.

Hutu leaders, with Belgian approval, arranged a council for 28 January 1961 attended by over 2,000 local Rwandan leaders while Mwami Kigeli V was abroad. In this meeting, the Tutsi monarchy was overthrown and Rwanda was declared a republic. The council affirmed Dominique Mbonymutwa as President and Grégoire Kayibanda as Prime Minister of the provisional government. The ‘Gitarama coup’ had directly violated the terms of UN Resolution 1579, so in April the UN called for re-elections and a true referendum on the monarchy. The UN-sanctioned parliamentary elections took place on 25 September 1961, and again PARMEHUTU was overwhelmingly represented. The monarchy remained overturned. One month later, the legislative assembly elected Grégoire Kayibanda President of the Republic.

By February 1962, the country of Rwanda had begun to settle some of the final questions leading to independence. A UN Commission determined that political separation of Ruanda and Urundi was inevitable. In a conference in Addis Ababa, the commissioners set a final date to terminate the trusteeship and remove Belgian troops. By late June, the UN adopted another resolution – this one to finally grant Rwanda and Burundi their separate independences – and on 1 July 1962 the Republic of Rwanda and the Kingdom of Burundi were officially granted their independence from Belgium.

Early Independence

Newly-elected President Kayibanda and his UPRONA government promoted a Hutu supremacist ideology. At the time of independence some 120,000 Rwandans, primarily Tutsis, were living in nearby states to escape the growing violence. Anti-Tutsi violence gravely affected security and provoked the further flight of Tutsis abroad. The term inyenzi, Kinyarwandan for ‘cockroaches,’ had become the slang name for Tutsis and exterminating cockroaches was soon a familiar government call at any time of crisis – particularly whenever Rwandan exiles staged raids from across the borders. In time, these exiles used the word inyenzi to cultivate the image that they were stealthy and un-crushable.

Shortly before Christmas in 1963, several hundred Rwandan Tutsis in Burundi marched on Kigali but were wiped out by Rwandan troops in a dramatic show of force. The government declared a state of emergency and initiated a state-sponsored massacre of Tutsi people lasting several weeks. By the mid-1960s, estimates suggest that half of the Rwandan Tutsi population was living outside Rwandan borders. Still the violence continued over the next several years. Tutsis were specifically targeted in 1967 and 1973 – the last of which ended with the downfall of the Kayibanda government.

On 5 July 1973, Major General Juvénal Habyarimana led the Rwandan army in a military coup in which Kayibanda was slaughtered. Habyarimana claimed power, dissolved the National Assembly and the PARMEHUTU Party and abolished all political activity. He promised that under his leadership Tutsis would live freely, but oppressive measures against Tutsis and the flight of refugees both continued.

President Habyarimana retained a firm grip on the presidency and was largely unchallenged for over 20 years. In 1975, he established Rwanda’s only legal political party, the Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Dévelopement (MRND), ‘to promote peace, unity and national development’. By law every Rwandan citizen became a member for life, though primarily only Hutus were active. In December 1978, Rwandans voted to endorse a new constitution and confirm Habyarimana as president.

The new presidency ushered in a period of economic prosperity. While Habyarimana did little to bridge ethnic differences between Hutus and Tutsis, his presidency was also markedly calm. The brutal violence of the previous decades was a thing of the past. He was re-elected in 1983 and again in 1988 as the sole candidate. Responding to international as well as public pressure for political reform, in 1990 President Habyarimana announced Rwanda’s transition from a one-party state into a multi-party democracy. At the time, only the Front Patriotique Rwandaise (FPR, or RPF in English) based in southern Uganda and created by Tutsi refugees could be considered a viable opposition party. The FPR was also an organised armed group aiming to increase Tutsi representation in the Rwandan government.

Rwanda and regional armed conflicts

Since Rwanda’s social revolution, the diaspora of exiled Rwandan Tutsis and their offspring had grown to between five hundred thousand and one million people, nearly half of whom lived in Uganda. In the early 1980s, many Uganda-based Rwandans had joined the young leader Yoweri Museveni in the fight against Milton Obote. By January 1986 when Museveni was sworn in as President of Uganda, his National Resistance Army included several thousand Rwandan refugees. Habyarimana had long pretended to negotiate with refugee groups, but cited ‘overpopulation’ as his reason not to allow refugees to return home. Museveni’s ascension to power threatened these exclusionist policies. Habyarimana declared that Rwanda was full and outlawed contact with exiles.

Burundi faced violent conflict in the late 1980s that resulted in 60,000 Burundian Hutu refugees fleeing north to Rwanda. At the same time, among the Rwandan Tutsi exiles in Burundi were FPR members, who had been recruiting before an eventual return to Rwanda in 1990. President Haybarimana resented this threat to his regime and in turn supported the PALIPEHUTU armed group.

Burundian Hutu refugees in Tanzania had formed the PALIPEHUTU group in 1972 that also operated bases in Rwanda. From these satellite bases, and aided by local Hutus, the group attacked Tutsis in the Ntega-Marangara communes of Burundi in 1988.

Democratic Republic of Congo
Since as early as the 1920s, Rwandans have crossed into Congolese territory seeking refuge. By the late 1980s the number of Banyarwanda, or people from Rwanda, in DRC numbered at least 450,000. Some estimates raise that figure to over a million Rwandan refugees. The Rwandan presence in the former Zaire had only limited affiliation with armed groups prior to the Rwandan civil war, but has subsequently created a complex situation regarding local security and citizenship.

Rwanda’s economy since German rule had been built upon the mass exportation of coffee and tea. When the world price of coffee dropped in the late 1980s, the prosperity enjoyed during the Habyarimana regime began to decline rapidly.

The Rwandan Civil War

On 1 October 1990, Tutsi RPF members invaded Rwanda led by Fred Rwigyema (a man today honoured as a hero). These exiles blamed the Habyarimana government for failing to democratise and resolve the problems of Rwandan refugees living abroad. From their days fighting in Uganda’s National Resistance Army (NRA), the RPF had the full backing of Ugandan President Museveni and even the US, according to some sources. The next day, Rwigyema was shot in the head and killed. He was replaced by a young commander named Paul Kagame.

The Rwandan army (Forces Armées Rwandaises, or FAR), supported by troops from France, Belgium, and Zaire, fended off the RPF advances. It was during this time that ‘Hutu Power’ became a prominent ideology. Despite a 1975 military agreement that forbade the involvement of French troops in Rwandan combat, French President Mitterand supplied Habyarimana with French officers, troops, and arms throughout the early 1990s. The civil war dragged on for almost 2 years until a ceasefire was signed on 12 July 1992 in Arusha, Tanzania, allowing for political talks. The final Arusha Accord, signed 4 August 1993, outlined power-sharing terms between Habyarimana and the RPF. A UN mission called UNAMIR, led by Gen. Roméo Dallaire, was sent to monitor the peace process, but the agreement terms were never fully implemented.

The Rwandan Genocide

On 6 April 1994, an airplane carrying the Hutu Presidents Habyarimana of Rwanda and Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. Both presidents were killed and responsibility for the attack has never been legitimately determined. The following day, the FAR and the Interahamwe, a Hutu paramilitary organisation backed by the government, began implementing a carefully planned operation, orchestrated largely through radio announcements, to exterminate all Tutsis and political moderates. On 8 April, the Tutsi RPF launched an offensive to reinforce its combatants near Kigali.

By 17 May, the United Nations (UN) finally agreed to send 6,800 troops to Rwanda with power to defend civilians, but deployment of the mainly-African UN forces was delayed as the United States argued with the UN over the costs. In late June, with still no sign of UN deployment, the Security Council authorised the deployment of French forces in an area of southwestern Rwanda known as Zone Turquoise. Inside this ‘safe area,’ some people were protected but many more were killed as they emerged from hiding.

Despite the overwhelming agreement upon a 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide following the horrific events of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe, this three-month period of mass killing (contained within the larger context of ongoing Rwandan civil war) has often been regarded as one of international reluctance to act, incompetence to acknowledge obvious events, and even blatant prejudice against Africa and African conflict. The Rwandan prime minister and ten Belgian UN peacekeepers were among the first victims of a cumulative 800,000 deaths. The many accounts and testimonies reveal countries pursuing their own interests at the expense of Rwandan victims. Even humanitarian operations (like the French Operation Turquoise) and UN peacekeeping outfits inadequately addressed the issues at hand.

Today people still grapple with the after-effects of what has now officially been termed the Rwandan genocide and have memorialised their grief in numerous ways: Hollywood films, independent moviespersonal memoirs, national museums, poetry, painting, music, drama, and annual vigils among others. Multinational organisations have conducted investigations into the conflict origins and means of future preventions. Twenty years later, debates continue over numerous issues connected with the 1994 killings. The shortage of timely international response, the questionable involvement of French troops, even the term genocide itself, are just some of the issues under dispute. Dialogue that includes a range of perspectives and opinions would facilitate understanding of this highly sensitive and complex matter.


The RPF took Kigali on 4 July 1994, the war ended on July 16, and three days later Pasteur Bizimungu was declared President with RPF leader Paul Kagame as Prime Minister. Seth Sendashonga, a moderate Hutu member of RPF, was appointed Minister of the Interior. After speaking against the new government, he went into exile in Nairobi where he was later murdered, in May 1998. The defeated Rwandan army crossed into Zaire along with some two million Rwandans civilians, mostly Hutus, who also fled to Tanzania and Burundi. The country had been ravaged by war: over 800,000 Rwandans had been murdered, millions had fled, and another one million people were displaced internally.

The Bizimungu-Kagame government quickly organised a coalition government called The Broad Based Government of National Unity. Its fundamental law combined tenets of the 1991 constitution, the Arusha Accords, and political declarations by various parties. The MRND Party, implicated in leading many aspects of the genocide, was outlawed. The UN peacekeeping operation UNAMIR had been drawn down during the fighting but brought back up to strength and remained in Rwanda until 8 March 1996.

The United Nations also commissioned Ambassador Robert Gersony to investigate Hutu abuses in August and September 1994. His findings condemned the Hutus who carried out the spring violence, but also the RPF (now the RPA) who ‘…between early April and mid-September 1994… had killed between 25,000 and 45,000 people, including Tutsis’. The UNHCR never released Gersony’s report publicly, but the information compelled a change of policy and the UN began preventing Hutu refugees from returning to Rwanda out of concern for their safety.

Finally, the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the first of its kind since the Nuremberg Trials, ‘to contribute to the process of national reconciliation in Rwanda and to the maintenance of peace in the region.’ ICTR jurisdiction extended to acts carried out by Rwandan citizens in neighbouring states, as well as those in Rwanda, throughout the entirety of the year 1994. From its base in Arusha, Tanzania, the ICTR began charging and sentencing a number of people responsible for the atrocities. The process was slow, however, and the court never fully delivered the level of justice sought by many of the survivors of those 100 days of killing in 1994.

The refugee crisis

With the exception of the large Benaco camp in Tanzania, the vast majority of Rwandan Hutu politicians and military leaders had relocated to Zaire and with them, practically all of the Rwandan government’s financial resources. President Juvénal Habyarima had been a close personal friend of Zairean leader Mobutu Sese Seko. After the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) defeated the Hutu militia and claimed the government, Mobutu allowed an estimated two million fleeing Rwandans into eastern Zaire. This influx of refugees into the Kivu provinces inflamed existing Hutu-Tutsi tensions within Zaire, particularly as Hutus began using the refugee camps as de facto military bases.

By 1995, with the support of Zairean government forces, these groups began attacking local Zairean Banyamulenge Tutsis. When the Banyamulenge responded by taking up arms against the Hutus, the First Congo War erupted. An ex-paramilitary named Laurent Désiré Kabila joined the Banyamulenge, strongly supported by the presidents of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi; and the international community launched ‘one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted’. Relief efforts were complicated by the politicisation of the refugee camps – Hutu militia and civilians lived together in the camps and both groups received aid, which arguably prolonged the camp-based violence. A UN-financed Zairean Camp Security Contingent brought a level of order to the camps, but never successfully separated militants from civilians.

“What Rwanda needs is a mini Marshall Plan and the UN is in no position to provide one.”
– Special Envoy Shaharyar Khan, The Economist, March 1996

Rwandan and Ugandan troops invaded eastern Zaire in late 1996 to force the refugees out of the camps. Both countries seem to have been motivated by Tutsi alliances and the prospect of obtaining valuable natural resources in the Kivu provinces. This invasion triggered the return of more than 800,000 exiles back to Rwanda in November, followed by the return of another 500,000 people from Tanzania at the end of December 1996.

In 1997 Laurent Kabila led his AFDL in the deposition of President Mobutu, appointing himself president of the renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). His early political decisions sent contradictory public messages regarding his willingness to cooperate with regional allies. He vowed to free the DRC of foreign influences and summarily rejected all foreign assistance by the UN and US, and even economic collaboration with his former allies Uganda and Rwanda. Furthermore, Kabila tolerated armed groups planning against these allies from within DRC. His regional diplomatic relationships quickly deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila insisted that all foreign troops leave the country, a term they met reluctantly. By August, Rwanda and Uganda backed armed groups rising against Kabila in the eastern provinces. This effectively began the Second Congo War.

Rwanda remained active in the conflict until Kagame met with Joseph Kabila, Laurent Kabila’s son and the new Congolese president, in Washington, D.C., to discuss the Lusaka Agreement terms and outline a pull-out plan for Rwandan troops. By this point, an estimated 2.5 million people had died in the conflict that engulfed the full eastern half of DRC.

Recovering from war

In March 2000, Pasteur Bizimungu resigned the presidency over differences regarding the composition of a new cabinet and after accusing parliament of targeting Hutu politicians in anti-corruption investigations. Ministers and members of parliament then elected Vice-President Paul Kagame as Rwanda’s new president. Bizimungu was subsequently arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in jail, charged with partaking in illegal political activity and posing a threat to state security. He would be released in 2007 on a presidential pardon.

Legal trials began to address the enormous backlog of genocide cases. Over 120,000 Rwandans were in prison on charges of genocide and most who went to court stood before the traditional gacaca courts, which until this time had jurisdiction over only minor offenses such as property disputes. Many of the convicted were sentenced to public service, but still Rwanda periodically had to arrange additional prisoner releases to handle the overcrowded jails. Since 2003, approximately 60,000 suspects have been released. The gacaca courts officially closed in 2012, having tried approximately two million people, roughly 65% of whom were found guilty. Human rights observers claimed that the gacaca system fell far short of meeting acceptable international justice standards, especially since members of the RPF never faced trial.

Legal controversies

Rwanda passed the ‘Organic Law on the Organization of Prosecutions for Offenses Constituting the Crime of Genocide or Crimes Against Humanity Committed Since October 1, 1990’ in September 1996 as a supplementary effort to try genocide suspects on Rwandan soil. Immediately the government elected members to special genocide chambers, part of the revised gacaca court system, that would try prisoners holding charges of the gravest offenses. In community-based gacaca trials, life imprisonment was the highest sentence; however, in the special genocide courts capital punishment was also possible. The first public execution of those convicted of genocide took place on 24 April 1998 – twenty-one men and one woman were shot individually. Here, too, international human rights organisations criticised the process – particularly the lack of legal representation and insufficient preparation time for the defense.

As the national accountability systems handled the genocide trials, the international accountability systems were getting set up. The Rome Statute of 1999 called for the creation of an International Criminal Court (ICC), ‘ established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.’ Many countries have elected to sign the Rome Statute and become members of the ICC, but several have opted not to join, including Rwanda and the US.

By October 2002, Rwandan officials declared that they had pulled the last of their troops out of the DRC. Meanwhile, a UN report investigating the 1993-2003 DRC conflict claimed that Rwandan forces took part in attacks on Congolese Hutu civilians which, if proven in court, could amount to genocide. Rwanda rejected the claims and threatened to remove its peacekeeping troops from Darfur if the UN pursued the accusation.

IMG_6449In the aftermath of civil war, Rwanda took measured steps to embrace its new policy of national unity and reconciliation. A new flag and a national anthem were unveiled in December 2001 and in May 2003 voters backed a new draft constitution, which banned the incitement of ethnic hatred and prohibited any reference to ubwoko, or ethnicity. Construction on the Kigali Memorial Centre began in 2000.  It was inaugurated and opened to the public in April 2004, the tenth anniversary of the genocide.

The genocide itself prompted an international doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect, which outlined the terms of humanitarian intervention. Rwanda’s twelve provinces were replaced in January 2006 by a smaller number of regions with an aim to create ethnically-diverse administrative areas. In recent years, though, some people feel that these efforts may not be enough.

 France and the 1994 plane crash

The controversy over responsibility for the 1994 shooting-down of President Habyarimana’s plane has had impacts on international relations. Multiple investigations into the evidence surrounding the crash have produced various results, if anything conclusive at all.

In 2006, French Judge Jean-Louis Brugière claimed that Kagame had ordered the shooting-down and recommended an international warrant for his arrest. President Kagame denied the accusation and in November 2006 broke off diplomatic ties with France. Rwanda then launched its own inquiry into the 1994 presidential plane crash. In August 2008, Rwanda accused France of having played an active role in the ‘genocide’ and issued its own report naming more than thirty senior French officials. France declared that the claims were unacceptable based on its internal investigative report published in 1998.

In November 2008, Rwanda expelled the German ambassador and recalled its ambassador from Berlin after presidential aide Rose Kabuye was detained in Germany in connection with the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane. Her warrant was one of the nine issued in 2006 by France, which Germany was legally bound to uphold. The African Union refused to acknowledge such warrants.

Eventually, France and Rwanda restored diplomatic relations. In February 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid an official visit to Rwanda to mark reconciliation between the two countries and a 2012 French report cleared Kagame and the RPF of charges.

In August 2003, incumbent president Kagame won the first presidential elections since the violence of 1994; in October his party the RPF won an absolute majority in Rwanda’s first multi-party parliamentary elections. However, EU observers claimed the poll was marred by irregularities and fraud. In September 2008, the Rwandan Patriotic Front again won a large majority in parliamentary elections, and in 2010 Kagame won a new term in the presidential elections. The next presidential elections are due in 2017, at which point President Kagame must stand down, according to Rwanda’s current constitutional term limits.

Modern Rwanda

Rwanda is a notable outlier among east African states and its level of economic development following the civil war. The country belongs to several multilateral organisations for political and economic cooperation and development, including the African Union (AU), which replaced the Organisation for African Union (OAU) in July 2002, and the East African Community, which was revived in 2000 to promote free trade among member states. Rwanda and Burundi joined the EAC as full members in 2007. In October 2006, Rwandan officials declared that all education was to be taught in English instead of French, reportedly as a result of joining the English-speaking East African Community. In 2009, Rwanda applied for membership and was admitted to the Commonwealth, as only the second country after Mozambique to become a member without a British colonial past or any constitutional ties to the United Kingdom.

Rwanda’s economic growth is remarkable. According to the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index, Rwanda has risen to 63rd place of 140 countries. Since 2000, Rwanda’s GDP growth rate has averaged at a very strong 7 percent. Some have attributed the success to the leadership of Paul Kagame, but others are wary to praise a president whom they feel is guilty of grave human rights abuses and may be achieving economic prosperity at the expense of his political opponents and minority groups.

Relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana enjoyed a close personal friendship with Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire (the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1971-1997). During Rwanda’s civil war, Mobutu opened up Zaire’s eastern borders to welcome the massive influx of Rwandan refugees. Laurent-Désiré Kabila overthrew Mobutu in 1997 with the help of Uganda and Rwanda, then led by Pasteur Bizimungu, in the First Congo War. When Joseph Kabila took over for his father in 2001, he began to resolve the Second Congo War. Kabila and new Rwandan President Paul Kagame discussed the Lusaka Agreement at their meeting in Washington, DC, and a timeline for Rwandan troop pull-out from eastern DRC. Though international conflict has officially ended, relations between Rwanda and DRC have been strained – notably over the issue of Rwandan refugees in the border provinces.

Rwanda has frequently been blamed, either publicly or privately, for supporting armed groups in eastern DRC. In particular, Rwanda is often believed to be unofficially supporting efforts that counter Hutu-dominant armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Many members of the FDLR, predominantly Rwandan Hutus based in eastern DRC since 1994, are believed to have played significant roles in the Rwandan genocide. In 2005, the FDLR claimed it was ending its armed struggle. In November 2007, Rwanda signed a peace agreement with the DRC, under which the DRC was to hand over those suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide to Kigali and to the ICTR. However the FDLR has remained active, with between 6,000 and 8,000 members, and was reportedly allied with the Congolese army against the M23 in eastern DRC.

A 2012 report by a UN group of experts claims that the Rwandan government is directly providing recruits from inside Rwanda and direct military support for the M23. More recently, these statements have been supported by a 2012 report from Human Rights Watch, which asserts that the Rwandan government may be guilty of war crimes. The USA, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the African Development Bank all halted aid to Rwanda in July 2012 over these accusations (although, Britain subsequently re-instated half of the promised amount of aid). Rwanda denies the charges.

The M23 Movement formed in 2009 and was led by Bosco Ntaganda, commonly referred to by civilians and media outlets as ‘The Terminator.’ As one of many armed groups in eastern Congo with grievances against the government, the M23 stood out for the scale of its force – capturing the Congolese town of Goma in November 2012. Around that same time, the group divided into to primary factions, the larger continued to follow Ntaganda, the smaller following Sultani Makenga.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda in 2006, which was updated in 2012 to include his leadership of M23. In 2010 the ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Callixte Mbarushimana, a Rwandan and leader of the FDLR operating in eastern DRC. One year later the charges would be dropped due to lack of evidence.

In October 2012, Rwanda was elected to the United Nations Security Council, for the 2013-2014 term. Internationally this raised several concerns, considering Rwanda’s numerous breaches of the UN arms embargo as well as its involvement in the DRC. In March 2013, Ntaganda surrendered to the US embassy in Kigali. He currently awaits trial in The Hague, Netherlands, having been transferred there by the Rwandan and American governments. By December 2013, the M23 had suffered military defeat and brokered a peace agreement with the Congolese government.

By late November 2013, Rwanda has begun issuing passports for its thousands of refugees abroad, including in DRC. Supposedly, the environment in Rwanda is now safe for their repatriation. Some of these refugees have been outside their home country since as far back as 1959.

Leading up to the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, the Rwandan government launched Kwibuka, a three-month series of events and celebrations of national unity and remembrance between January and April 2014. The extensive programme welcomes the participation of all Rwandans living anywhere in the world. Furthermore, Kwibuka, which means ‘Remember’ in Kinyarwanda, invites the global community to stand up to genocide and prevent its occurrence.

This page last updated February 2014.


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