Rwanda, unlike many African countries, has experienced the worst of violent conflict that culminated into the 1994 genocide, seeing nearly a million dead. BRIG. GEN. FRANK RUSAGARA continues to expound on the triggers of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The conflict that culminated into the 1994 genocide finds its basis on the demand for citizenship rights by Rwandans in the Diaspora, leading to the Inyenzi incursions during the Kayibanda regime in the First Republic (1962 – 1973) and the RPF struggle in the early 1990s against the Habyarimana regime in the Second Republic (1973 – 1994).
The refugees would live in relative safety in their countries of exile in the region, with the main agitation to go home mainly being staged from Burundi and, to some extent, Tanzania and Uganda in the 1960s before the Inyenzi incursions fizzled out by 1968.
In the meantime during the 1970s under the Idi Amin regime and early 1980s under the Obote regime, Rwandan exiles in Uganda were being viewed as a political problem, and were being kicked out.
It however was during the second Obote regime that the harassment of Rwandans would reach a new height, leading to the now infamous expulsions of the hapless exiles and Ugandans of Rwandan descent.
As famously put by Obote’s Minister of Security, Chris Rwakasisi, emphasizing how Rwandans, even those born in Uganda could never claim to be Ugandans, ‘If a bitch litters in a cowshed, the puppies do not mutate into calves!’
All tainted with the Rwandan blood had to go. With the 1982 expulsions, and nowhere to go, a new sense of nationalism was born by not only the Rwandan refugees, but also Ugandans of Rwandan descent as they fled to Kenya and Tanzania and elsewhere in the world.
Another group of exiles was stranded at the Rwandan border, before being herded into refugee camps in their own country. The Rwandan government would hear nothing of accommodating the exiles.
Habyarimana’s official stance regarding the accommodation of returnees was that the country was ‘full up’—that there was simply not enough land to support the existing population, let alone to sustain tens of thousands of ‘new’ arrivals.
But if the country was “full”, it was only a matter of time before the fatal emergence of the “modern day Malthusian crisis” that would eventually animate the 1994 genocide (see “b. Economic” below).
Even as this was happening, Rwandans in Uganda had already organized themselves under the RPF by 1987 with a clear agenda to regain their citizenship sooner or later. This paved the way for the October 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the RPF.
The invasion plunged the country into a three-year war, leading to the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords. This, however, precipitated a political crisis: political moderates (who supported a power-sharing arrangement with the “Tutsi-led” RPF in the Peace Agreement) broke away from the government and formed an opposition.
This opposition threatened the monopoly hold on power of ruling Hutu elites. Unsurprisingly, some officials within the government instigated by the infamous Akazu led by Madame Habyarimana vehemently resisted calls to work with either the opposition or the RPF to create a transition government.
It is during this back-and-forth, as the international community in its mediation efforts worked to see the implementation of the Accords, that Habyarimana’s plane was downed in April 1994 sparking the genocide.
Habyarimana was on his way from Dar es Salaam, where he had gone for a final briefing and persuasion to have a broad-based transitional government in place.
For their economic ideology, the former regimes promoted the idea that the Hutu ‘holy way of life’ was primitive tilling of the land using a hand-hoe, which provided a new identity to the Hutu as bene sebahinzi (sons of the tillers of the land).
Verwimp summarizes the Habyarimana regime’s economic ideology glorifying the peasant life as follows: “Habyarimana’s macro-economic ideology, as derived from his speeches, is as follows.
Rwanda is a peasant economy and should remain so; in fact, all Rwandans should be peasants. Agricultural manual labor is the only source of value and thus all human and physical activity should be concentrated in rural areas.”
The government therefore strictly limited rural migration to the city. People could not change their residence without government permission, and that was rarely given.
Consequently, the government made no attempt to significantly diversify the economy so as to create a viable non-agricultural sector or to limit population growth except by killing and expelling Tutsi.
With overpopulation, scarcity of resources—most notably land—and the stifling World Bank/IMF structural adjustment programmes that came to bear in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the socio-economic situation became dire for the poor masses.
The debilitating economic crisis was exacerbated by three particular factors. First, Rwanda was heavily dependent on export revenue from the sale of coffee and tea and the prices for both commodities fell sharply during this period.
Coffee export receipts fell “from $144 m in 1985 to $30 m in 1993.”
Second, after 1990, the government diverted its limited resources to the war effort, fighting the invading Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Habyarimana diverted upwards of 40 percent of the national budget to military purposes between 1990 and 1994.
Third, in 1990 the government agreed to a structural adjustment program that led to a 40 percent currency devaluation, higher prices, higher taxes, and increased fees for a variety of services (education, health, etc.) These elements added up to increasing poverty and hardship for the vast majority of Rwanda’s citizens.
As concerns land especially, and the “modern day Malthusian crisis” in particular, government policies made it impossible for Rwandans to find an alternative. For instance, because of lack of a formal land market people could not sell land and move to more urbanized areas, while there existed tightly controlled markets that limited entrepreneurial opportunities for people who might wish to leave farms.
In its 1994 report, the World Bank observed that, “Rwanda’s macroeconomic and regulatory framework has not been conducive to the onset of sustainable labor intensive growth . . . in the past because the Government has historically tended to: (a) heavily regulate the economy from artisans to air transport; (b) maintain artificially high exchange rates; (c) restrict free movements of population and labor; (d) control cropping patterns (forbidding cutting down coffee trees); and (e) control social behavior.”
As poverty took its toll, the above policies could only be a recipe for social discontent with grave political implications.
To deflect the political consequences of the poor economic policies the Habyarimana government became extremely repressive, controlling virtually all aspects of the lives of its citizens. In order to retain power the government chose repression, as it increased anti-Tutsi rhetoric.
The Tutsi were touted as the cause for everything wrong with the country and that things would be much worse if “they” came to power. For the rural masses, their poverty was therefore another reason the Tutsi had to go.
Security concerns for Rwanda can be seen from the two succeeding periods of its history, i.e., what transpired before the genocide on the one hand, and, on the other, the current situation in the post-genocide period.
The pre-genocide security threats for Rwanda as described above were mainly characterized by the doomed Inyenzi incursions in the 1960s, and the RPF armed struggle in the early 1990s.
Although the RPF were deemed a serious security threat by the Habyarimana regime, there ended up being negotiations that culminated into the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords between the RPF and the Government of Rwanda.
Note however that, even as the negotiations were going on, preparations for the genocide were already under way only to be consummated with Habyarimana’s death through the downing of his plane a year later.
On its part, the post-genocide period brought its own security challenges, not only for Rwanda, but the Great Lakes region in general. To begin with, the influx of refugees in all the countries neighbouring Rwanda would redefine the Great Lakes region.
Not only were they were enjoined in the Rwandan conflict by harbouring the refugees, but the exiles exported their “racial” hatreds to these countries which had their own Tutsi populations, and in the case of Uganda the Hima.
The crisis this would derive would escalate bringing about what would come to be described by some as the “African World War”.
In any case, with the stopping of the genocide in July, 1994, the fleeing regime thought it had a another card up their sleeve, which was to flee into Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC) with as many Rwandans as was practically possible to deny the in-coming Government of National Unity headed by the RPF people to govern.
This saw the exodus of the Rwandan refugees, setting up in eastern Zaire the largest refugee camps ever witnessed.
As the situation unfolded, the genocidal forces continued their “racial” mission in the Kivus with the complicity of the Mobutu government.
The 1.5 million refugees were held hostage by the genocidaire military, who converted humanitarian assistance into military hardware to destabilize the new government in Rwanda.
This called for preemptive attacks on the genocidaire military bases in the refugee camps in 1996, resulting in the overthrow of Mobutu and the propping up of Laurent Kabila as the new President of Zaire in May 1997.
Despite the propping up of Kabila as an ally in Rwanda’s intention to neutralize the genocidaire forces in the Kivus, Kabila reneged on “a gentleman’s agreement” and turned around to support the genocidaires.
This resulted into increased insurgence operations in North and Western Rwanda in the years 1997 and 1998, taking advantage of the security vacuum created by the increased RPA deployment in the DRC.
In August 1998, the RPA relaunched into Eastern Congo to deny the insurgents in the North and Western Rwanda a rear base and supply of arms from Laurent Kabila.
Meanwhile, the same security concerns predicated on the racist paradigm in the genocide ideology of the ex-FAR and the Interahamwe reappeared under Laurent Kabila’s sponsorship, this time pleading a Tutsi/Hima (Rwanda/Uganda) conspiracy against his regime.
This racist interpretation found sympathy with President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, himself a professed victim of “white racism” now turned “black racist”, providing a distraction from his own problems at home as he tried to project himself as a pan-Africanist.
Mugabe used his position as the Chairman of the SADC Military Commission to draw into the conflict countries that included Namibia and Angola. In the case of Angola, however, their involvement was subject to Laurent Kabila denying Savimbi a rear base in Congo.
The conflict, pitting Uganda and Rwanda on one side, and all the above countries on the other, led to the Lusaka Peace Agreement of July 1999. Some of the provisions in the agreement included the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Congo.
In the case of the Rwanda, RPA withdrawal was subject to the disarmament, demobilization, re-assemblement and repatriation (DDRR) of the ex-FAR and the Interahamwe. Implementation of the agreement stalled, leading to Rwanda’s unilateral withdrawal in October 2002.
In the mean time a significant number of FDLR were captured, or voluntarily returned to Rwanda along with their leaders, and continue to be productively re-integrated into society as they return through Ingando and other DDR programmes (see Management and Resolution of Faultlines, below).
However, many of the Rwandan rebels remain in DRC where they are currently being pursued by an alliance of Rwanda and Congolese forces, with the latest being the Umoja Wetu joint military cooperation in early 2009.
This was following the international inability to check the violent operations of the FDLR, despite a heavy UN peacekeeping presence under MONUC.
One of the most neglected fault-line is religious ideology, which also contributed to the country’s deepening demographic problems in the run up to the genocide. The majority of Rwanda’s population was Catholic. Despite Rwanda’s evident overpopulation, those in the church and government hierarchy not only refused to promote birth control programs, they actively opposed them.
Radical Catholic pro-life commandos raided pharmacies to destroy condoms with the approval of the Ministry of Interior. The authorities told the common Hutu that the Tutsi RPF and all those who sided with them were demons who had to be eliminated.
In addition to relieving fear of supposed Tutsi evil, eliminating the demons also earned material rewards – land, cattle, loot – for the killers.
As already noted, there was limited rural migration to the city, where socio-political enlightenment is incubated as the population becomes more urbane. People could not change their residence without government permission, and that was rarely given.
Today, however, the situation is different with the reversal of these migration policies, while the government is checking on population growth by providing contraceptives and urging a voluntary three children per family.
It is also worth recognizing the blurring between the secular and the religious in the prevailing politics as religious leaders such as Vincent Nsengiyumva was a member of the Central Committee of the ruling party, Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement (MRND).
This underscored the Roman Catholic Church on people in influencing their social behavior, and thus the Churches undiminished influence in politics since the colonial period before independence.
Brig. Gen. Rusagara is the Defence Attaché at the Rwanda High Commision in London.