|Rwandan Civil War|
Map of Rwanda with towns and roads
Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)
| Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR)
France (until 1994)
|Commanders and leaders|
| Fred Rwigyema †
| Juvénal Habyarimana †
Mobutu Sese Seko
|20,000 RPF||35,000 FAR|
|Casualties and losses|
|5,000 killed||5,000 killed|
The Rwandan Civil War was a conflict in the African republic of Rwanda, between the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The war was fought in two phases. The first phase began on 1 October 1990, with an RPF invasion of the north east of the country from Uganda. This phase ended on 4 August 1993, with the signing of the Arusha Accords. The second phase took place following the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, and the outbreak of the Rwandan genocide. The RPF resumed fighting on 7 April, and the civil war ended with an RPF victory on 18 July 1994.
The war had its origins in the long-running dispute between the Hutu and Tutsi groups within the Rwandan population. The ancient Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by Tutsi kings, began implementing increasingly anti-Hutu policies in the 19th century, a trend continued by European colonial authorities from 1895. Both Germany and Belgium ruled through the kings and favoured the Tutsi. The Hutu population revolted in 1959, with the support of Belgium, which had effected a sudden reversal of allegiance. Hutu activists burned Tutsi homes, killed those who fought back, and ultimately established an independent, Hutu-dominated state in 1962. The revolution forced more than 100,000 Tutsi to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. These refugees lived in exile for several decades, agitating for a return to Rwanda, but were not capable of mounting a serious attack. Some refugees, including future RPF leaders Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, fought in the Ugandan Bush War with Yoweri Museveni, becoming senior army officers in 1986 under Museveni's presidency. Relations between the refugees and the Ugandans soured in the late 1980s with Rwigyema and Kagame demoted, but Hutu president Habyarimana refused to allow the return of refugees. This created a strong desire among refugees to return by force, so Rwigyema and Kagame used their military expertise to turn the RPF into a battle-ready army.
The October 1990 invasion started well for the RPF, but suffered a reversal when Fred Rwigyema was killed in action on the second day. The FAR, assisted by troops sent from France, gained the upper hand and the RPF were largely defeated by the end of October. Paul Kagame took command of the demoralised RPF troops, withdrawing to the Virunga mountains for several months before restarting the war. The RPF began a classic hit-and-run style guerrilla war, which continued until mid-1992 with neither side able to gain the upper hand. The war led to a resurgence of violence against Tutsi in Rwanda, as well as the token introduction of multi-party politics. A series of escalating protests in mid-1992 forced Habyarimana to begin peace negotiations. This was a complex process involving his government, the RPF, the official opposition, and a group of Hutu hardliners. These hardliners opposed the peace process and disrupted the negotiations. They then initiated a massive wave of killings in early 1993, prompting Paul Kagame to launch a fresh offensive and bring the RPF to the verge of taking the capital, Kigali. Kagame decided not to storm the capital, however, and the two sides returned to the negotiating table with the RPF enjoying a strengthened hand.
An uneasy peace followed the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 1993. RPF troops were deployed in Kigali and a peacekeeping force, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), was sent to the country. However, the hardliners were steadily gaining influence, and began planning the "final solution" to exterminate all Tutsi. The assassination of Habyarimana, whose plane was shot down as he returned from a regional summit in Tanzania, was the catalyst which began the genocide. Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 were killed, on the orders of the interim government led by Théoneste Bagosora. The RPF resumed the civil war once more, capturing territory slowly and methodically, encircling cities and cutting off supply routes. UNAMIR tried repeatedly to stop the fighting, but Kagame refused to negotiate unless the killings stopped. By mid-June, the RPF had surrounded Kigali and began fighting for the city itself, which they captured on 4 July. They then advanced northwest, forcing the interim government into Zaire and ending the genocide and the war. The victorious RPF assumed control of the country, with Paul Kagame as de facto leader. Kagame served as vice president from 1994 and as president from 2000, winning presidential elections in 2003 and 2010. The RPF began a programme of rebuilding the infrastructure and economy of the country, bringing genocide perpetrators to trial, and promoting reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi. In 1996, the RPF-led Rwandan government launched an offensive against refugee camps in Zaire, home to exiled leaders of the FAR and millions of Hutu refugees. This action started the First Congo War, which removed long-time dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko from power. As of 2018, Kagame and the RPF remain the dominant political force in Rwanda.
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. Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, and began to clear forest land for agriculture. The forest-dwelling Twa lost much of their habitat and moved to the slopes of mountains. 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. An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady, with incoming groups integrating into rather than conquering the existing society. Under this theory, the Hutu and Tutsi distinction arose later and was a class distinction rather than a racial one.
The population coalesced, first into clans (ubwoko), and then, by 1700, into around eight kingdoms. The Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became the dominant kingdom from the mid-eighteenth century, expanding through a process of conquest and assimilation, and achieving its greatest extent under the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri in 1853–1895. Rwabugiri expanded the kingdom west and north, and initiated administrative reforms which caused a rift to grow between the Hutu and Tutsi populations. Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi were assigned to Germany by the Berlin Conference of 1884, and Germany established a presence in the country in 1897 with the formation of an alliance with the king. German policy was to rule the country through the Rwandan monarchy; this system had the added benefit of enabling colonization with small European troop numbers. The colonists favoured the Tutsi over the Hutu when assigning administrative roles, believing them to be migrants from Ethiopia and racially superior. The Rwandan king welcomed the Germans, using their military strength to widen his rule. Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi during World War I, and from 1926 began a policy of more direct colonial rule. The Belgians modernised the Rwandan economy, but Tutsi supremacy remained, leaving the Hutu disenfranchised. 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 groups.
After 1945, a Hutu counter-elite developed, leading to a deterioration in relations between the groups. The Tutsi leadership agitated for speedy independence to cement their hold on power, while the Hutu elite called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu, a stance increasingly supported by the church and the colonial government. 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. Violence quickly spread across the whole country, beginning the Rwandan Revolution. The king and Tutsi politicians attempted a fightback, seeking to seize power and ostracise the Hutu and Belgians. This plan was thwarted by Belgian colonel Guy Logiest, who was brought in by the colonial governor. Logiest re-established law and order, and began a programme of overt promotion and protection of the Hutu elite, replacing many Tutsi chiefs with Hutu, and forcing King Kigeli V into exile. Logiest and Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared the country an autonomous republic in 1961, and it became independent in 1962. More than 336,000 Tutsi left Rwanda to escape the Hutu purges, settling primarily in the four neighbouring countries of Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire. The Tutsi exiles were regarded as refugees in their host countries, and sought a quick return to Rwanda. They formed armed groups and launched attacks on Rwanda, the largest of which advanced close to Kigali in 1963. These groups were known as the inyenzi (cockroaches). Historians do not know the origin of this term – it is possible the rebels coined it themselves, the name reflecting the fact that they generally attacked at night. The inyenzi label resurfaced in the 1990s, as a highly derogatory term used by Hutu hardliners to refer to all Tutsi, dehumanising them. The inyenzi attacks of the 1960s were poorly equipped and organised and the government defeated them, following up with the slaughter of an estimated 10,000 Tutsi within Rwanda.
Kayibanda presided over a Hutu republic for the next decade, ruling in a top down manner similar to the pre-revolution feudal monarchy. In 1973, Hutu army officer Juvénal Habyarimana toppled Kayibanda in a coup. Anti-Tutsi discrimination continued under Habyarimana, but the country enjoyed greater economic prosperity and reduced anti-Tutsi violence. A coffee price collapse in the late 1980s caused a loss of income for Rwanda's wealthy elite, precipitating a political fight for power and access to foreign aid receipts. The family of first lady Agathe Habyarimana, known as the akazu, were the principal winners in this fight. The family had a more respected lineage than that of the president, having ruled one of the independent states near Gisenyi in the nineteenth century. Habyarimana therefore relied on them in controlling the population of the north-west. The akazu exploited this to their advantage, with Habyarimana increasingly unable to rule without them. The economic crisis forced Habyarimana to heavily reduce the national budget; to quell civil unrest, he declared a commitment to multi-party politics, but did not take any action to bring this about. Student protests followed, and by late 1990 the country was in crisis.
The organisation which was to become the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was founded in 1979. It was initially known as the Rwandan Refugees Welfare Association, and then from 1980 as the Rwandan Alliance for National Unity (RANU). It formed in response to persecution and discrimination against the Tutsi refugees by the regime of Ugandan president Milton Obote. Obote accused the Rwandans of collaboration with his predecessor, Idi Amin, including occupying the homes and stealing the cattle of Ugandans who had fled from Amin. Meanwhile, Tutsi refugees Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame had joined Yoweri Museveni's rebel Front for National Salvation (FRONASA). FRONASA fought alongside Obote to defeat Amin in 1979, but withdrew from the government following Obote's disputed victory in the 1980 general election. Museveni, along with Rwigyema and Kagame, formed a new rebel army, the National Resistance Army (NRA). The NRA's goal was to overthrow Obote's government, in what became known as the Ugandan Bush War. President Obote remained hostile to the Rwandan refugees throughout his presidency, and RANU was forced into exile in 1981, relocating to Nairobi, Kenya. In 1982 Ankole youths attacked the Rwandans, with the authority of Obote, causing many more to join Museveni's NRA.
In 1986, the NRA captured Kampala with a force of 14,000 soldiers, including 500 Rwandans, and formed a new government. After Museveni was inaugurated as president, he appointed Kagame and Rwigyema as senior officers in the new Ugandan army. The experience of the Bush War inspired Rwigyema and Kagame to consider an attack against Rwanda, with the goal of allowing the refugees to return home. In addition to fulfilling their army duties, the pair began building a covert network of Rwandan Tutsi refugees within the army's ranks, intended as the nucleus for such an attack. 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, and it too committed to returning the refugees to Rwanda by any means possible. 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. Kagame and other senior members of Rwigyema's Rwandan entourage within the NRA also joined, with Kagame assuming the vice-presidency. Bayingana remained as the other vice-president, but resented the loss of the leadership.
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. At the same time, many native Ugandans began criticising Museveni over his appointment of Rwandan refugees to senior positions. He therefore demoted Kagame and Rwigyema in 1989. They remained de facto senior officers, but the change caused them to accelerate their plans to invade Rwanda. In 1990, a dispute in southwestern Uganda between Ugandan ranch owners and squatters on their land, many of whom were Rwandans, led to a wider debate on indigeneity and eventually to the explicit labelling of all Rwandan refugees as non-citizens. Realising the precariousness of their own positions, the opportunity afforded by both the renewed drive of refugees to leave Uganda, and the precarious Rwandan domestic scene, Rwigyema and Kagame decided in mid-1990 to effect their invasion plans immediately. It is likely that President Museveni knew of the planned invasion, but did not explicitly support it. In mid-1990, Museveni ordered Rwigyema to attend an officer training course at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, United States and was also planning overseas deployments for other senior Rwandans in the army. This may have been a tactic to reduce the threat of an RPF invasion of Rwanda. After two days of discussion, Rwigyema successfully persuaded Museveni that he needed a break following the years fighting, and was allowed to remain in Uganda. Museveni then ordered Kagame to attend instead, and the RPF leadership felt that in order to avoid suspicion, they had no choice but to allow him to attend, even though it meant his missing the beginning of the war.
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. 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. Around 2,500 of the Ugandan army's 4,000 Rwandan soldiers took part in the invasion, accompanied by 800 civilians, including medical staff and messengers. Both President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Habyarimana of Rwanda were in New York City attending the United Nations World Summit for Children. In the first few days of fighting, the RPF made significant progress, advancing 60 km (37 mi) south to the town of Gabiro. 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. 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.
On 2 October the RPF suffered a significant reversal, when 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, and the version mentioned by historian Gérard Prunier in his 1995 book on the subject, was that Rwigyema was killed by a stray bullet. In his 2009 book Africa's World War, however, Prunier states that Rwigyema was killed by his subcommander Peter Bayingana, following an argument over tactics. 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; the argument boiled over, causing Bayingana to shoot Rwigyema dead. 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.
When news of the RPF offensive broke, Habyarimana requested assistance from France in fighting the invasion. The French president's son, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, was head of the government's Africa Cell, and promised to send troops. On the night of 4 October, the Rwandan government staged a fake RPF attack on Kigali with gunfire and explosions around the city, seeking to convince the French that the regime was in imminent danger. The deception worked, and 600 French soldiers arrived in Rwanda the following day, double the number initially pledged. The French operation was code-named Noroît, and its official purpose was to protect French nationals. In reality, the mission was to support Habyarimana's regime, and the French parachute companies immediately set up positions blocking the RPF advance to the capital and Kigali International Airport. In addition to the French, Belgium and Zaire sent troops to Kigali in early October. The Belgian presence was short-lived, its troops withdrawing within two weeks because of laws preventing the army from intervening in a civil war. Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko's contribution was to send several hundred troops of the elite Special Presidential Division (DSP). Unlike the French, the Zairian troops went straight to the front line and began fighting the RPF, but their discipline was poor. The Zairian soldiers raped Rwandan civilians in the north of the country and looted their homes, prompting Habyarimana to expel them back to Zaire within a week of their arrival.
In addition to deceiving the French, the Rwandan government used the fake attack on Kigali on 4 October as the pretext for launching a wave of anti-Tutsi propaganda. They encouraged Hutu citizens to arrest Tutsi suspected of supporting the RPF. With French assistance, and benefiting from the loss of RPF morale after Rwigyema's death, the FAR enjoyed a major tactical advantage. By the end of October they had regained all the ground taken by the RPF, and pushed the rebels all the way back to the Ugandan border. Many soldiers deserted; some crossed back into Uganda, while others went into hiding in the Akagera National Park. The Rwandan government announced on 30 October that the war was over.
Paul Kagame was still in the United States at the time of the outbreak of war, attending the military training course in Fort Leavenworth. He and Rwigyema had been in frequent contact by telephone throughout his stay in Kansas, planning the final details for the October invasion. At the end of September, Kagame informed the college that he was leaving the course, and was settling his affairs ready to return to Africa as the invasion began. The college allowed him to leave with several textbooks, which he later used in planning tactics for the war. When Kagame learned of Rwigyema's death on 5 October, he departed immediately to take command of the RPF troops. 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; the police considered arresting him, but with Museveni out of the country, and no specific orders, they allowed him to pass. Ugandan associates drove Kagame to the border, and he crossed into Rwanda early on 15 October.
The RPF were in disarray by the time Kagame arrived, with troop morale very low. He later described the experience of meeting and taking charge of this demoralised and wounded group as one of the worst experiences of his life. He spent the following weeks with the senior officers gathering intelligence. By the end of October, with the RPF forced back to the Ugandan border, Kagame decided it was futile to continue fighting. He therefore withdrew most of the army from northeastern Rwanda, moving them to the Virunga mountains. Some soldiers remained behind as a decoy to carry out small-scale attacks on the FAR, who remained unaware of the RPF's relocation. Kagame knew that the rugged high altitude terrain of the Virungas offered considerable protection from attacks, even if the RPF were discovered there. 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.
Conditions in the Virungas were very harsh for the RPF. At an altitude of 5,000 metres (16,000 ft), there was no ready availability of food or supplies and, lacking warm clothing, several soldiers froze to death or lost limbs in the high-altitude cold climate. Kagame spent the next two months reorganising the army, without carrying out any military operations. 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; the appointment of Kanyarengwe was motivated by a desire to appear inclusive, but most of the other senior recruits at the time were Ugandan-based Tutsi. Rank and file numbers grew steadily, with volunteers coming from the exile communities in Burundi, Zaire and other countries. Kagame maintained tight discipline in his army, enforcing a regimented training routine, as well as a large set of rules for soldiers' conduct. Soldiers were expected to pay for goods purchased in the community, refrain from alcohol and drugs, and to establish a good reputation for the RPF amongst the local population. Certain offences, such as murder, rape, and desertion, were punishable by death.
The RPF carried out a major fundraising programme, spearheaded by financial commissioner Aloisia Inyumba from an office in Kampala. They received donations from Tutsi exiles around the world, as well as from some businessmen within Rwanda who had fallen out with the government. The sums involved were not enormous, but with tight financial discipline and a leadership willing to lead frugal lives, the RPF was able to grow its operational capability. It obtained 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. 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 to the RPF in a clandestine manner. Museveni likely knew of this, but was able to claim ignorance when dealing with the international community. 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."
After three months of inactivity and regrouping, Kagame decided in January 1991 that the RPF was ready to begin fighting again. The target chosen for the first attack was the northern city of Ruhengeri, which lies immediately south of the Virunga mountains. 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 while maintaining an element of surprise. 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. An attack there guaranteed that the population would become aware of the RPF's presence, and Kagame hoped the attack would destabilise the government.
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. On the morning of the 23rd they attacked. The Rwandan forces in the area were taken by surprise and were mostly unable to defend against the invasion, although 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. It is likely the FAR forces were assisted by French troops, as the French government later rewarded around fifteen French paratroopers for having taken part in the rearguard. By noon, however, the defending forces were defeated, and the RPF held the whole of the city.
One of the principal RPF targets in Ruhengeri was the prison, which was Rwanda's largest. When he learned of the invasion the warden, Charles Uwihoreye, telephoned the government in Kigali, to request instructions. 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, and to prevent high-profile political prisoners and former insiders from sharing secret information with the RPF. Uwihoreye refused to obey, even after Sagatwa called him to repeat the order, having confirmed it with the president. Eventually the RPF stormed the buildings, and the prisoners were saved. Several prisoners were recruited into the RPF, including Théoneste Lizinde, a former close ally of President Habyarimana, who had been arrested following a failed coup attempt in 1980.
The RPF forces held Ruhengeri through the afternoon of 23 January, before withdrawing back into the mountains for the night. 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. 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.
Following the action in Ruhengeri, the RPF began to carry out a classic hit-and-run style guerrilla war. The FAR massed troops across the north of the country, occupying key positions and shelling RPF hideouts in the Virunga mountains. However, the mountainous terrain prevented them from launching an all out assault. Paul Kagame's troops attacked the FAR forces repeatedly and frequently, keen to ensure that the diplomatic and psychological effect of the RPF's resurgence was not lost. Kagame employed tactics such as attacking simultaneously in up to ten locations across the north of the country, to prevent his opponents from concentrating their force in any one place. 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. The RPF made some territorial gains, including capturing the border town of Gatuna. This was significant, as it blocked Rwanda's access to the port of Mombasa via the Northern Corridor, forcing all trade to go through Tanzania via the longer and costlier Central Corridor. 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. Many Hutu civilians residing in areas captured by the RPF fled to government-held areas, creating a large population of internally displaced persons in the country.
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. Hutu activists killed up to 1,000 Tutsi in attacks authorised by local officials, starting with the slaughter of 30–60 Bagogwe Tutsi pastoralists near Kinigi, and then moving south and west to Ruhengeri and Gisenyi. These attacks continued until June 1991, when a deal was reached to allow potential victims to move to safer areas. The akazu also began a major propaganda campaign, broadcasting and publishing material designed to persuade the Hutu population that the Tutsi were a separate and alien people, non-Christians seeking to re-establish the old Rwandan feudal monarchy with the final goal of enslaving the Hutu. This included the Hutu Ten Commandments, a set of "rules", published in the Kangura magazine, mandating Hutu supremacy in all aspects of Rwandan life. In response, the RPF opened its own propaganda radio station, Radio Muhabura, which broadcast from Uganda into Rwanda; this was never hugely popular, but gained listenership through 1992 and 1993.
The second development was that President Habyarimana announced that he was introducing multi-party politics into the country, following intense pressure from the international community, including his most loyal ally France. Habyarimana had originally promised this 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), but the one-party state law had remained in place. In mid-1991, Habyarimana officially allowed multi-party politics to begin, a change which saw a plethora of additional new parties come into existence. Many had manifestos which favoured full democracy and rapprochement with the RPF, but in reality were quite ineffective and had no political influence. 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.
Progress remained slow through 1991 and 1992. A cabinet set up in October 1991 contained almost no opposition at all, and the administrative hierarchy across the country only recognised the authority of Habyarimana's MRND party. The regime frequently used violence as a tool to hamper reform, justifying its actions as anti-RPF security measures.
Another one-party cabinet was announced in January 1992, which prompted large scale protests in Kigali, and finally forced Habyarimana to make real concessions. He promised for the first time to negotiate with the RPF; a multiparty cabinet formed in April, still dominated by the MRND, but with opposition figures in some key positions. 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.
The peace process was a complex one, with four distinct groups involved, each with its own agenda. The first group was the Hutu hardliners, centred around the family of Agathe Habyarimana. They were represented by the CDR, as well as extremists within the president's own MRND party. 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. The second group was the official opposition, which excluded the CDR. They 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" policy of Hutu rule established in the 1959 revolution. The third group was the RPF. Paul Kagame engaged with the peace process against the advice of some of his senior officers, and in the knowledge that many of those on the other side of the table were hardliners who were not sincerely interested in negotiations; he feared that shunning the opportunity for peace would weaken the RPF politically and lose them international goodwill. Finally, there was the group representing President Habyarimana himself, who sought primarily to hold on to his power in whatever form he could. This meant 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. 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 influential posts, providing them with a link to power.
The delegates at the negotiations in Arusha made some progress through the latter half of 1992, despite wrangling between Habyarimana and hardline members of his party that compromised the government officials' negotiating power. In August, the parties agreed a "pluralistic transitional government" which would include the RPF. The CDR and hardline faction of the MRND reacted violently to this. Feeling sidelined by the developing Arusha process, they began killing Tutsi civilians in the Kibuye area; 85 were killed in total, with 500 homes burned. Historian Gérard Prunier names late 1992 as the time when the idea of a genocidal "final solution" to kill every Tutsi in Rwanda was first mooted. 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. Their goal was to take over from Habyarimana's 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.
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 other major opposition parties, but excluding the CDR. This government was supposed to rule the country under a transitional constitution until free and fair elections could be held. The agreement was reasonably equitable given the balance of power at the time and Habyarimana, the mainstream opposition and the RPF all accepted it; however, the CDR and hardline MRND officers were violently opposed. 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. The MRND 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. The violence engulfed the whole northwest of Rwanda and lasted for six days, with numerous houses burned and hundreds of Tutsi killed. Paul Kagame, reacting to stories brought to him first hand by survivors seeking refuge in rebel territory, announced that he was pulling out of the Arusha process and resuming the war, ending the six month cease-fire.
The RPF went back on the offensive on 8 February, fighting south from the territory it already held in Rwanda's northern border regions. In contrast to the October 1990 and the 1991–1992 campaigns, the RPF advance in 1993 was met with only weak resistance from the FAR forces. The likely reason for this is a significant deterioration in morale and military experience in the government forces. The impact of the long running war on the economy, and a heavy devaluation of the Rwandan franc compared to the United States dollar, had left the government unable to pay its soldiers in a timely manner. The armed forces had also expanded rapidly, at one point growing from less than 10,000 troops to almost 30,000 in one year. The new recruits were often poorly disciplined and not battle ready, with a tendency to get drunk and carry out abuse and rapes of civilians.
The RPF advance continued unchecked through February, its forces moving steadily south and gaining territory without opposition. They took Ruhengeri on the first day of fighting, 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 taking, travelling back into the government-controlled territory. These exoduses were likely driven primarily by the fear of the RPF established by years of propaganda, although the RPF soldiers were guilty in some areas of small scale killing of Hutu civilians. Prunier attributes this to a combination of retribution for the massacre of Tutsi perpetrated in these areas in late January, as well as some indiscriminate killing. This RPF violence increased the fear felt by the Hutu population, but also served to further alienate the rebels from their potential allies in the democratic Rwandan opposition parties.
The RPF advance caused panic in France, which had long supported the Habyarimana regime. Several hundred French troops were immediately dispatched to Rwanda, along with arms and ammunition, to bolster the FAR forces. The arrival of these French troops in Kigali significantly changed the military situation on the ground. The RPF now found themselves under attack, with French shells bombarding them as they advanced southwards.
By 20 February the RPF had advanced to within 30 km (19 mi) of the capital, Kigali, and many observers believed an assault on the city to be imminent. The assault did not happen, however, and the RPF instead declared a ceasefire. Whether or not the RPF actually intended to advance on the capital is unknown. Kagame later stated that his aim at this point was to inflict as much damage as possible on FAR forces, capture their weapons, and gain ground slowly, but not to attack the capital or seek to end the war with an outright RPF victory. Kagame told Stephen Kinzer that such a victory would end international goodwill towards the RPF and lead to charges that the war had simply been a bid to replace the Hutu state with a Tutsi one. However, the increased presence of French troops on the ground and the fierce loyalty of the Hutu population to the government meant that an invasion of Kigali would not have been achieved with the same ease that the RPF had conquered the north. Fighting for the capital would have been a much more difficult and dangerous operation. Several of Kagame's senior officers urged him to go for outright victory, but he overruled them. 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.
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. The Europeans insisted that RPF forces withdraw to the zone they had held before the February offensive. Kagame responded that he would only agree to this if the Rwandan army were forbidden from re-entering the newly conquered territory. Following a threat by Kagame to resume fighting and potentially take even more territory, the two sides reached a compromise deal. This entailed the RPF withdrawing to its pre-February territory, but also mandated the setting up of a de-militarised zone between the RPF area and the rest of the country. The deal was significant, because it marked a formal concession by Habyarimana's regime of the northern zone to the rebels, recognising the RPF hold on that territory. 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. This therefore ended RPF ambitions of capturing more territory. 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.
Despite the agreement and ongoing negotiations, President Habyarimana, supported by the French government, spent the subsequent months forging a "common front" against the RPF. 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. At the same time, 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. The hardline factions within the parties became known as Hutu Power, a movement which transcended party politics. Apart from the CDR, there was no party that was exclusively part of the Power movement. 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. Even the ruling party contained a Power wing, consisting of those who opposed Habyarimana's intention to sign a peace deal. 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, and the CDR's Impuzamugambi. The youth militia began actively carrying out massacres across the country. The army trained the militias, sometimes in conjunction with the French, who were unaware of the fact that the training they provided was being used to perpetrate the mass killings.
By June President Habyarimana had come to view Hutu Power, rather than the mainstream opposition, as the biggest threat to his leadership. This led him to change tactics and engage fully with the Arusha peace process, giving it the impetus it needed to draw to a completion. According to Prunier, this support was more symbolic than genuine. Habyarimana believed that he could maintain power more easily through a combination of limited concessions to the opposition and RPF, than he could if Hutu Power were allowed to disrupt the peace process. The RPF enjoyed much greater leverage following their successful February campaign, and the government eventually agreed to their power-sharing demands. The RPF were allocated up to 40% of the troops in the proposed unified national armed forces, and 50% of the officer corps. With all details 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.
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; this was titled the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), and was in place in Rwanda by October 1993 under the command of Canadian general Roméo Dallaire. 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. These men were protected by 600–1,000 RPF soldiers, who arrived in Kigali through UNAMIR's Operation Clean Corridor in December 1993. Meanwhile, the Hutu Power wings of the various parties were actively beginning plans for what would become the 1994 Rwandan genocide. 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. The assassination caused shockwaves, reinforcing the notion among Hutus that the Tutsi were their enemy and could not be trusted. The CDR and the Power wings of the other parties realised they could use this situation to their advantage. 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.
The cease-fire ended abruptly on 6 April 1994, when President Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing both Habyarimana and the new President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. The pair were returning home from a regional summit in Dar es Salaam, at which the leaders of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania had urged Habyarimana to stop delaying the implementation of the Arusha accords. The attackers remain unknown. 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. This theory was disputed in 2006 by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, and in 2008 by Spanish judge Fernando Andreu. Both alleged that Kagame and the RPF were responsible. 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.
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. Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 were killed.
On 7 April, as the genocide started, RPF commander Paul Kagame warned the interim government and UNAMIR that he would resume the civil war if the killing did not stop. The next day FAR forces attacked the national parliament building from several directions, but RPF troops stationed there successfully fought back. The RPF then began an attack from the north on three fronts, seeking to link up quickly with the isolated troops in Kigali. 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. 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. They avoided attacking Kigali or Byumba, but conducted manoeuvres designed to encircle the cities and cut off supply routes. The RPF also allowed Tutsi refugees from Uganda to settle behind the front line in the RPF controlled areas.
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. 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. They encountered little resistance, except around Kigali and Ruhengeri. 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. The taking of Gitarama followed an unsuccessful attempt by the FAR forces to reopen the road. The interim government was forced to relocate to Gisenyi in the far northwest. As well as fighting the war, Kagame recruited heavily at this time to expand the RPF. The new recruits included Tutsi survivors of the genocide and refugees from Burundi, but they were less well trained and disciplined than the earlier recruits.
Having completed the encirclement of Kigali, the RPF spent the latter half of June fighting for the capital itself. 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. According to Dallaire, this success was due to Kagame's being a "master of psychological warfare"; 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. The RPF finally defeated the FAR in Kigali on 4 July, and on 18 July took Gisenyi and the rest of the northwest, forcing the interim government into Zaire. This RPF victory ended the genocide as well as the civil war. At the end of July 1994, Kagame's forces held the whole of Rwanda except for the zone in the southwest which had been occupied by a French-led United Nations force through Opération Turquoise.
The victorious RPF assumed control of Rwanda following the genocide, and as of 2017 remain the dominant political force in the country. They formed a government based loosely on the Arusha Accords, but Habyarimana's party was outlawed, and the RPF took over the positions it had been assigned. The military wing of the RPF was renamed as the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), and became the national army. Paul Kagame assumed the dual roles of Vice President of Rwanda and Minister of Defence while Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu who had been a civil servant under Habyarimana before fleeing to join the RPF, was appointed president. Bizimungu and his cabinet had some control over domestic affairs, but Kagame remained commander-in-chief of the army and was the de facto ruler of the country.
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. Human resources were also severely depleted, with over 40% of the population having fled or been killed. Many of the remainder were traumatised: most had lost relatives, witnessed killings or participated in the genocide. The long-term effects of war rape in Rwanda for the victims include social isolation, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies and babies, with some women resorting to self-induced abortions. The army, led by Paul Kagame, maintained law and order while the government began the work of rebuilding the country's institutions and infrastructure.
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. 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.
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. Many of these soldiers were recent Tutsi recruits from within Rwanda, who had lost family or friends and sought revenge. 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, and that Kagame and the RPF elite either tolerated or organised the killings. 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. 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. Australian soldiers serving as part of UNAMIR estimated at least 4,000 people were killed, while the Rwandan government claimed that the death toll was 338.
Paul Kagame took over the presidency from Pasteur Bizimungu in 2000, and began a large-scale national development drive, launching a programme to develop Rwanda as a middle income country by 2020. The country began developing strongly on key indicators, including the human development index, health care and education. Annual growth between 2004 and 2010 averaged 8% per year, the poverty rate reduced from 57% to 45% between 2006 and 2011, and life expectancy rose from 46.6 years in 2000 to 59.7 years in 2015. 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.
Following the RPF victory, approximately two million Hutu fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries, particularly Zaire, fearing RPF reprisals for the Rwandan genocide. The camps were crowded and squalid, and thousands of refugees died in disease epidemics, including cholera and dysentery. 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, who began rearming in a bid to return to power in Rwanda.
By late 1996, Hutu militants from the camps were launching regular cross-border incursions, and the RPF-led Rwandan government launched a counteroffensive. Rwanda provided troops and military training to the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi group in the Zairian South Kivu province, helping them to defeat Zairian security forces. Rwandan forces, the Banyamulenge, and other Zairian Tutsi, then attacked the refugee camps, targeting the Hutu militia. These attacks caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee; many returned to Rwanda despite the presence of the RPF, while others ventured further west into Zaire. The defeated forces of the former regime continued a cross-border insurgency campaign, supported initially by the predominantly Hutu population of Rwanda's north western provinces. By 1999, 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.
In addition to dismantling the refugee camps, Kagame began planning a war to remove long-time dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko from power. Mobutu had supported the genocidaires based in the camps, and was also accused of allowing attacks on Tutsi people within Zaire. 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. 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, and controlling the whole country by May 1997. Mobutu fled into exile, and the country was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Rwanda fell out with the new Congolese regime in 1998, and Kagame supported a fresh rebellion, leading to the Second Congo War. This war lasted until 2003 and caused millions of deaths and massive damage. 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.