The politics of the Genocide

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was a result of politics based on discrimination and hatred propagated in Rwanda at that time. Among the victims of the Genocide were politicians with progressive views who strived for democracy and fundamental rights of all Rwandans.
Dr. Jean-Damascène Bizimana.
Dr. Jean-Damascène Bizimana.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was a result of politics based on discrimination and hatred propagated in Rwanda at that time.

Among the victims of the Genocide were politicians with progressive views who strived for democracy and fundamental rights of all Rwandans.

According to judicial interpretation, the killing of politicians was not an act of genocide but a crime against humanity. Even though they were killed during the Genocide, they died for their political ideologies. They were not killed for who they were but what they stood for; that is the difference between genocide and crimes against humanity.

Both genocide and crimes against humanity are serious crimes. Genocide is the most serious because it involves preparation and conspiracy to eliminate people on the basis of their tribe, nationality, skin colour or religion, during peace or war.

Both these crimes occurred in 1994 and were committed in tandem. But one aspect of the crimes that hardly gets any mention is that they were committed as part of an attempted coup d’etat by an extremist group under the Hutu Power clique led by Col. Theoneste Bagosora.

On the night of April 6-7, there was a coup d’etat that also signaled the beginning of the Genocide that had been long in planning.

That is why, after successfully shooting down President Habyarimana’s plane, they immediately began to kill prominent personalities such as Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was Habyarimana’s rightful successor and Joseph Kavaruganda, president of the Constitutional Court, who was supposed to administer the oath of office to the successor.

Prior to carrying out their assassination plot, Bagosora and his clique had posted soldiers at the residents of all those targeted to be killed and beefed up security for prominent members of the Hutu Power.

Bagosora carried out the plan knowing well he was the highest ranking military officer. The Minister of Defence (Gen. Augustine Bizimana) was on an official mission to Cameroon while the Chief of Staff, Gen. Deogratias Nsabimana, had died on the plane. Bagosora had sent Nsabimana that very morning to Dar es Salaam on an ‘urgent mission’.

The coup d’etat was, therefore, part of the genocidal agenda meant to derail the Arusha Peace Accords that the extremists were against. They mostly objected to power sharing between the sitting government and opposition parties led by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi).

I will highlight two examples to show that Genocide was an intricate part of the coup d’etat:

The first was a July 27, 1992 confidential correspondence from Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva, the head of military intelligence, addressed to the Chief of Staff, Gen Nsabimana.

In the letter, Nsengiyumva justifies his opposition to the planned merger of government forces and the RPF-Inkotanyi forces as stipulated in the Arusha Accords. 

He wrote that if they were implemented, government soldiers were “ready to annihilate the Tutsi...and some of our leaders responsible for the current state of affairs... They will take revenge against senior military officers who will easily give in to the demands of civilian politicians”.

In that same letter, Nsengiyumva gave President Habyarimana a veiled warning of what could befall him. “If that president does not defend his people, he will find himself alone. If the Head of State does not want to uphold his duties of defending the nation, let him resign”.

The tone of the letter was very harsh.  

Another sign that points to Bagosora and his clique’s intentions to carry out a coup d’etat and Genocide simultaneously are words he uttered in Arusha on January 8, 1993 when he said he was abandoning the talks: “I am going back home to prepare an apocalypse”.

Two weeks after the Arusha Accords regarding the merger of the belligerent forces were signed, Bagosora and a group of senior military officers created, on January 20, 1993, a secret organisation known as Amasasu, with Bagosora as its defacto head.

On that same date, the group wrote to President Habyarimana informing him of the new organisation. They said their aim was to continue the war with the RPF, to sideline the Tutsi and to prepare ethnic massacres.

They also said if they found it necessary, they would “kill hypocritical politicians who use the pretext of war to do whatever they want in order to remain in their positions or use other underhand methods in order to be appointed in leadership positions”.

Therefore, it is obvious that Bagosora, and other extremist military officers and politicians under the Hutu Power flag, had all the intentions to bring down the plane, kill opposition politicians and carry out the Genocide.

Some people, therefore, were killed in a premeditated manner because of their ethnicity, others because of their political beliefs. All these fall in the category of genocidal politics.

The genocidal politics evolved in three phases. Before the macabre plans were executed, the public had to be prepared by propagating the genocidal ideology.

The next phase was that at the height of the killings, there was a continuous mobilisation to execute the Genocide.

Then comes the post-Genocide phase, where denial and revisionist politics that include supporting perpetrators of the Genocide become the order of the day.

Rwanda has passed through all the three phases of genocidal politics, leftovers of which exist even today.

I will give two examples: Let us go back to the year 1982. I deliberately chose that year because Rwanda was celebrating 20 years of independence and, in normal circumstances, should have been able to show that it was truly independent.

Major events of the year  

On July 1, 1982, the country organised a major event where several important personalities were invited to mark independence. 

That is when Habyarimana stressed that the country’s political ideology was based on the majority. He said: “Twenty years have passed since independence. The Tutsi had monopolised power, economic benefit and general wellbeing. They monopolised education which led to all kinds of injustices that the population always complains about.

“Their demands were not met. The common man continued to be exploited; arrogance and all kinds of abuse led to the people’s uprising in 1959 that threw out the outdated feudal regime and installed a democratic government that set up policies beneficial to the majority. It was then followed by independence, and 20 years have now passed”.

No where in Habyarimana’s speech was there an indication that he strived for liberty and unity for all Rwandans nor their social wellbeing. Habyarimana simply said his politics was  based on the interests of those he referred to as the majority, as if those who did not fall into that category were not Rwandans. That is the kind of ideology that sets the ground for genocidal politics.

While on a visit to Belgium on November 19, 1982, Habyarimana met and addressed Rwandan students there. On the issue of the recently expelled Rwandan refugees, Habyarimana did not hide his unwillingness to address their grievances of being denied ther unalienable rights as other Rwandans.

This is what he told the students as published in Imvaho (newspaper) that year:

“You might have heard the issue of people who came from Uganda beginning October 2. There is nothing much we can do about something that is happening elsewhere by ourselves. But it happened.This is the way things are: We suddenly started seeing people coming on November 2, their influx started to increase to the extent that we were seeing up to 5,000 people coming in one day. Today their number has reached 43,000.

“No tangible solution has been found yet because in our talks with the Ugandan government, they say all those expelled were political refugees who fled Rwanda in 1959. Now that there was peace in Rwanda they wanted to return home. But from our perspective, not all are refugees. Some are refugees but others are not. I told you that they are 43,000, but when we carried out a census, we found that only six thousand were Rwandans.

“We believe that there are Rwandans among those refugees. By Rwandans we mean those who went to seek work or business and have a Rwandan identity card (Indangamuntu). We only identified 6,000 Rwandans and we are going to accommodate those who want to stay in Rwanda.

“Otherwise, our message to the Ugandan government is this: You should accept them back  because they are Ugandans. If you are unable to do so, help them find somewhere else because we have nowhere to put them. That is our position.

“As you are well aware, Rwanda has many people. That is why we can not afford to bring non-Rwandans and give them land.

“On the issue of refugees, the position of the government is that; they seek land in their host countries and farm, look for jobs or seek other professions that can sustain them where they are because Rwanda has no where to put them. I told you that Rwanda has no more land available, there is no more pasture available, even now we are looking for means to have Rwandans emigrate somewhere else. That is the position of the government of Rwanda, that is my position. Whoever has eyes and is willing to see has seen, those with ears have heard”.

These two examples are just a tip of the iceberg of Rwanda’s pre-1994 policies that show the extent of Rwandan negative politics of discrimination and genocide.

Even though some foreign governments supported Rwanda’s policies at the time, Rwandans within and without, sacrificed their lives to get rid of them. Let me give a few more examples.

You remember that in February 1993 when RPF forces fought their way to the outskirts of Kigali, at Shyorongi, France’s Minister for Cooperation, Marcel Debarge, came to Rwanda.

On February 28, 1993, he convened a meeting of all parties opposed to the MRND coalition and requested them to avoid fragmentation and instead set up a common front against the RPF.

MRND, CDR and other factions closer to the Hutu Power regarded Debarge’s support for a unified front against the RPF as a tacit approval from a powerful godfather to continue with their genocidal preparations unhindered.

But not everyone was ready to accept the propagation of the genocidal and discriminatory agenda by MRND. Many opponents, both within and outside Rwanda, openly voiced their opposition to the policies.

Among them was a Catholic priest, Silivio Sindambiwe, director of Kinyamateka newspaper. He was killed on November 7, 1987 by the regime because of articles he ran in the newspaper that condemned MRND’s discriminatory policies.

Another opponent, Felicule Nyiramutarambirwa, an  MP, was also killed in May 1989, for openly questioning the rampant corruption and non-equitable allocation of development projects.Then there was a group of 33 intellectuals – both Hutu and Tutsi –who, in their statement of September 1, 1990, denounced MRND’s dictatorship and called for the installation of democracy. To do so at that particular time called for extreme courage.

Many of the authors were later jailed in October 1990 accused of collaborating with the RPF when it launched its armed struggle and nearly all of them perished in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.



At the end of the Genocide, when many of its key proponents and perpetrators had fled to neighbouring countries, some of them continued to put their plans in motion through an organisation they created in exile: Rassemblement pour le Retour des Réfugiés et de la Démocratie au Rwanda (RDR - Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda).

RDR was the brainchild of Francois Nzabahimana, a former Minister of Commerce under Habyarimana’s regime.

Nzabahimana fled to Belgium after the Genocide, and on arrival, he was received by MRND’s Belgian allies, members of the Internationale Democrate Chretienne (IDC) political party as well as two missionaries; Fr. Serge Desouter and Fr. Guy Theunis.

In July 1994, they created what they called “Commité Rwandais d’Action pour la Démocratie” (CRAD) and published a document titled; “Quelques préalables au retour des déplacés de guerre” (Prerequisites before those displaced by war can return) which was addressed to the West and international organisations.

Nzabahimana was later sponsored by the Belgian government and the European Union to take a group of people to visit refugee camps near Goma and Bukavu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Among the delegation were members of the Belgian Parliament and Senate, as well as Fr Desouter. They put together “Charte de retour rapide et pacifique des Réfugiés Rwandais” (Charter for the speedy and peaceful return of Rwandan refugees) which was signed in Bukavu on October 24, 1994.

The document was the blueprint behind the formation of RDR which was officially launched in Mugunga refugee camp (DRC) on April 3, 1995. It then began to spread, opening branches in many African and European countries.

There is no distinct difference between the RDR and genocide ideology. Its main driving force is to deny the Genocide and smear the RPF –Inkotanyi in particular, and the Rwandan government in general.

Their goal is to convince the world that members of RDR are credible politicians who should conduct negotiations with the Rwandan government. Their position is well explained in a document they released in 2000, titled; Umurage W’amateka (the historical legacy).

The document highlights RDR’s guiding doctrines, which, under closer scrutiny, are found to be fuelled by the genocide ideology, as enumerated below:

* To convince the world that the Genocide against the Tutsi was a result of the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane.

* To persuade the international community that the Tutsi, in partnership with the Bahima, have plans to annex the Great Lakes region to create a Hima-Tutsi Empire.

* To spread rumours in refugee camps and the world that RPF was persecuting and killing the Hutu and how all the Hutu in Rwanda were in danger.

* To prepare defence strategies for Genocide suspects indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). 

This was was included in a December 23, 1995 document by Laurent Hitimana, who was the vice-chair of a committee set up to design strategies in case international jurisdictions indicted members of RDR for Genocide.

The document stresses that RDR would do all it could to accuse RPF as being behind the plight of the refugees. RDR was assisted in that propaganda by its friends in Europe, among them, the Belgians Andre Louis, Alain De Brouwer of  IDC and Fr. Serge Desouter.

* The next point in their strategy was to propagate RDR’s ideology, as stipulated in an October 3, 1996 document prepared at the headquarters of the former Rwandan army (Ex-FAR) in Bulonge.



The document titled: “Redynamisation de la Campagne Médiatique”  (Revitalisiing the media campaign) had been approved by the Ex-FAR hierachy led by Maj. Gen. Augustin Bizimungu, then head of RDR’s armed wing.

The document stated that the campaign would first begin with bringing onboard Rwandan journalists working in the international media and lists their names. They included, Augustin Karekezi, Augustin Hatari, Focus Fashaho and Thomas Kamilindi (VOA), Ally Yussuf Mugenzi and Venuste Nshimiyimana (BBC), Gerald Gatare, (Canal Afrique, South Africa) and Balthazar Nduwayezu who worked for Hirondelle in Arusha, Tanzania (at the seat of the ICTR).

RDR resolved that those journalists should be brought onboard so that RDR features prominently in their programmes.

According to Bahufite’s document, the aim was; to cleanse the genocidaire image, demonise the RPF, recruit new members for RDR and seek UN’s support.

The other strategy was to use the services of news agencies. RDR and Ex-FAR particularly homed in on the Catholic Church run news agencies and the strategy that was designed in 1996 was successfully implemented in several programmes aired on BBC, especially Imvo n’Imvano, as well as VOA.



Finally, RDR set up its own newspaper named Forum Rwandais, which published articles espousing genocide ideology. Its most prominent author, Oscar Nkurunziza portrayed that the RPF caused the Genocide in a bid to grab power. 

Among RDR’s strategy was to intensify military incursions and attacks against Genocide survivors. These went hand-in-hand with propaganda aimed at Hutu civil servants and those in leadership positions, instilling fear in them and encouraging them to flee the country.

They even coined a name; “Hutu de service” (exploited Hutu-servants), mainly championed by former politicians who fled the country after the Genocide, either because of wrongdoing, greed or were unable to shed off their genocide ideology.

They include Faustine Twagiramungu, Jean Marie Vianney Ndagijimana, Anastase Gasana, Celestin Kabanda, Jean Baptiste Nkuliyingoma, among others.

In fact, that is what was used in the several false reports by NGOs and researchers allied to RDR and other similar organisations such as FDLR

Another priest, Fr. Theophile Murengerantwari, created Mouvement Democratique du Peuple Rwandais pour la Reconciliation.  

What is clear about all those behind the creation of political organisations in exile is that they do not have the interests of Rwanda and its people at heart. Most of those groupings are based on hatred, genocide ideology and divisive politics.

In normal circumstances, there is nowhere in the world where those championing and propagating hatred and genocidal ideology are tolerated. That is the case in Europe and North America where anyone promoting hatred, genocide ideology, revisionism or denying the Jewish Holocaust is firmly dealt with.

That is the reason why we should always be on the alert so that our achievements brought about by good politics will not be derailed.

This is a translated and slightly edited version of Senator Dr Jean-Damascène Bizimana’s  presentation at the remembrance ceremony for politicians killed in the Genocide and the final day of the official mourning period on April 13, at Rebero, Kigali.


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