Policing a post-Genocide society: Establishing the RNP

Towards the latter part of 1999, concrete measures to merge the three organs into a single entity were proposed by the committee appointed to look into the matter.
Police officers on parade during the Rwanda National Police 10th anniversary celebrations in 2012. File.
Police officers on parade during the Rwanda National Police 10th anniversary celebrations in 2012. File.

This is the ninth and final part of the series extracted from the recently published book, Policing a Rapidly Transforming Post-Genocide Society: Making Rwandans Feel Safe, Involved, and Reassured, authored by the Rwanda National Police (RNP).

Towards the latter part of 1999, concrete measures to merge the three organs into a single entity were proposed by the committee appointed to look into the matter.


The government decided to release to the Ministry of Internal Security 1,800 gendarmes to join the new police, among them were 199 officers, 215 NCOs, and 1,466 men. Other military officers were re-posted to the army.


With its reservoir of experience and talent, qualities the new force did not have in abundance, and steeped in the values and ideology that had propelled the RPF to victory against the odds in the civil war, it was inevitable that the army would continue to provide leaders for the new force.


Officers of the judicial police were given the option to join the new force. A former IPJ who headed the IPJ contingent that joined the police recalls: “They told us those who want to become police officers should go.”

A list of 120 IPJs willing to join the police was drawn up, 66 of them women. Many of those who worked in administrative positions chose to remain at the Ministry of Justice as civilian staff.

Gishari, the former Police Communale Training School, had by then become a fully-fledged police training school for non-commissioned officers. Another training school oriented towards officers was also operating in Ruhengeri (now Musanze).

Training had also become more sophisticated than the initial drills and basic law enforcement and had come to include ICT training, for instance.

By March 2000, the legal framework for establishing the new force was under preparation. The Rwanda National Police was established by law No 09/2000 of 16 June 2000 determining the powers, responsibilities, organization and functioning of the institution.

By then, the symbolic aspects of the force, emblems, logos, and ranks had also been thought out. Now President of the Republic, Paul Kagame appointed the then Deputy Chief of Staff of the army, Colonel Frank Mugambage to head the new force.

Dennis Karera, the former head of the now defunct Police Communale, along with Ephraim Rurangwa were nominated as his deputies in charge of administration and operations, respectively.

Local capacity development

Many of the senior officers who took over leadership of the new force had been identified and trained in advance. What remained to be done was to train mid-level managers.

In 2000, officers departed for courses in Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Later, others were sent to Canada, Germany, Sweden, and to the United States.

From a strategic point of view, however, continuing to send officers outside the country for training was not a sustainable undertaking. It was decided that cadet training should be done locally.

Subsequently, the former gendarmerie training school in Ruhengeri, (EGENA) was refurbished, leading to the first cadet intake for a seven-month course graduating on September 28, 2002.

Also demanding of attention was the harmonisation of the various traditions that were being brought together into one force. The merger had necessarily to include efforts directed at changing mindsets and attitudes.

It is important to recall that three components with different backgrounds were being fused into one. One consisted of former officers of the Rwanda Patriotic Army.

The other element comprised officers who had served in the gendarmerie or the military under the deposed government, while the third were formerly with the post-genocide communal police who in general terms possessed no more than basic training and formal education.

Further, there were the former judicial officers who had opted to go for training and join the new force. And then, of course, there were the civilian recruits with no background in policing or the law and order sector.

Some were university graduates, others with secondary school level education, while others had had very modest formal education.  Each group brought its own historical baggage and therefore different challenges for efforts to build a unified force pulling in the same direction.

For the majority of the ex-RPA officers, it was upon arrival in Rwanda that, for the first time, they had a country they could call home. Being back home, therefore, offered them an enhanced sense of self-worth.

Armed with an unusual toughness of spirit, the product of a tough life in exile, sacrificing for their country was not too much to ask of them.

Therefore, when they were asked to forego their salary for the first year after taking power, there was nothing unusual about it. Having been inducted into the RPF’s strict discipline obviously helped.

Therefore, that background and liberation coupled with strict discipline gave the ex-RPA elements of the new force a different mindset from the rest.

The psychological disposition of large numbers of officers who had served in the previous government illustrated the impact of years of serving a visionless leadership.

For many, due to decades of indoctrination both in society and in the armed forces, it was at first difficult to imagine a common future for the different ethnic or social categories of Rwandans.

Steeped in the old thinking that in many ways had led to the Genocide against the Tutsi, they had to be turned around gradually.

Former communal police officers were generally similar in orientation to the other old-regime elements and faced similar challenges in their efforts to adjust to the new context. Communal police officers, however, were comparatively less skilled, and the training they had received was more modest.

And they were prone to engaging in acts of indiscipline. Consequently, only a tiny number made the grade to join the new force. The majority were sent home on account of being unqualified.

These contrasting backgrounds rendered the beginning difficult. Under normal circumstances, these could have led to mutual suspicion and reserve for each towards the other, and give rise to tensions. There could have developed tensions arising out of the worst aspects of fragmenting the function of policing into several bits.

For example, it had been almost customary for Habyarimana-era gendarmes, perhaps because of their military training, to consider and refer to members of the communal police as ‘civilians.’

Being of very modest formal education for the most part did nothing to earn communal police officers the respect they felt they deserved from their gendarmerie counterparts.

According to a former gendarme: “You would look at this person from the communal police and ask yourself, ‘Is he really going to have the same rank as me?’” Having different uniforms for different units of the same force also contributed to differentiation that caused tensions.

However, training and serving together gradually broke down any potential psychological walls behind which the different groups could have barricaded themselves.

With time the importance of complimenting each other to build the country diminished and lingering differences leading to an esprit de corps that in the early days some did not consider possible.

In all this, officers were brought into line by a visionary leadership with a deep determination to create and affirm a common mindset. One officer emphasised: “Had it not been for strong leadership, things would have been very bad”

It was the civilian entrants that found it easiest to integrate fully. First, they were for the most part reconciled to and ideologically aligned with the new political realities.

Among civilian entrants were graduates fresh out of university and were conversant with the ideals and values upon which the new government sought to build a new country in which people would no longer carry the baggage of the past.

They were therefore motivated by the desire to be part of the new nation-building project. Also, some had relatives who had fought in the war and therefore felt the need to ‘make a contribution.’ But also as recent graduates in a challenging socio-economic environment, many were motivated by the desire to find employment.

Clearly, therefore, each of these groups boasted different levels of motivation, commitment, discipline, and capacity for adaptation, a key requirement for building cohesion within the new force. It was therefore up to the leadership to shape them accordingly.

Perhaps more than any other task, aligning individual officers with the new values was critical in the formative years of the new force. The success of the integration would go a long way in establishing the force’s values, image, and vision.

For those who might have harboured doubts, it became clear that personal merit defined by performance, not ethnic or social background or even area of origin, determined whether one would rise through the ranks and how quickly they did. It became a key driver for embracing the new way of doing things.

Those lacking the ability to adjust perhaps because they were too set in their ways to do so, found it difficult to get used to the new system. Some chose voluntarily to retire, while others were ejected. For those who soldiered on, however, benefits came by way of, among other things, equal treatment.

According to one such officer, such has been the success of the integration project that now “it is very difficult to tell who came from where”.

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