Mainstory: Rwanda through history

Pre colonial Rwanda Rwanda was historically ruled by kings. They ruled through three categories of chiefs: cattle chiefs; land chiefs; and military chiefs. The chiefs were predominantly, but not exclusively, Batutsi, especially the cattle and military chiefs.
President Paul kagame.
President Paul kagame.

Pre colonial Rwanda

Rwanda was historically ruled by kings. They ruled through three categories of chiefs: cattle chiefs; land chiefs; and military chiefs. The chiefs were predominantly, but not exclusively, Batutsi, especially the cattle and military chiefs.

While the relationship between the king and the rest of the population was unequal, the relationship between the ordinary Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa was one of mutual benefit mainly through the exchange of their labour. The relationship was symbiotic. A clientele system called “Ubuhake” permeated the whole society.

Colonial rule

In 1899 Rwanda became a German colony. After the defeat of the Germans during WW1, subsequently in 1919 Rwanda became a mandate territory of the League of Nations under the administration of Belgium.

The Germans and the Belgians administered Rwanda through a system of indirect rule. During this colonial era, a cash crop economy was introduced in Rwanda, and this was administered through harsh methods that further alienated the King and his chiefs from the rest of the population.

In 1935 the Belgian colonial administration introduced a discriminatory national identification on the basis of ethnicity. Banyarwanda who possessed ten or more cows were registered as Batutsi whereas those with less were registered as Bahutu.

At first, the Belgian authorities, for political and practical reasons, favored the King and his chiefs, who were mostly a Batutsi ruling elite.

When the demand for independence began, mainly by a political party - Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR) - formed by people from the aforementioned ruling elite, the Belgian authorities hastily nurtured another party called PARMEHUTU that was founded on a sectarian ethnic ideology.

Under the Belgian supervision, the first massacres of Batutsi at the hands of the PARMEHUTU occurred in 1959. With Belgian connivance, PARMEHUTU abolished the monarchy amidst widespread violence. On July 1st, 1962 Belgium granted formal political independence to Rwanda.

Post independence Rwanda

From 1959 onwards, the population of Batutsi was targeted, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, and a population of almost two million Rwandese people in the Diaspora that was to last almost four decades.

The First Republic, under President Gregoire Kayibanda, institutionalized discrimination against Batutsi and periodically used massacres against this targeted population as a means of maintaining the status quo. Some Rwandese groups in the Diaspora attempted, without success to stage a comeback through armed means.

In 1965 Rwanda was declared a one-party state under MDR/PARMEHUTU, which was the architect of the racist ideology that was to be consolidated in the Second Republic under President Major General Juvenal Habyarimana.

In 1973 President Kayibanda was deposed in a coup d’etat that brought Major General Habyarimana to power. Subsequently, President Kayibanda and many prominent politicians of the First Republic were killed. More Batutsi were killed.

In 1975 President Habyarimana formed the Mouvement Revolutionaire Natinale pour le Developpement (MRND), a single ruling party that was to promulgate in 1978 a sham constitution that repeatedly returned him to office by organizing “elections” in which he was the sole candidate.

Both the First and second Republics repeatedly stated that Rwanda was a small, overpopulated country that could not accommodate Rwandese refugees if they were to return.

Increasingly, the population across the ethnic lines was marginalized and impoverished while Habyarimana’s regime became more violently intolerant.

The divisions within the ruling Bahutu clique that culminated in the coup d’etat of 1973 became more heightened in the 1970s and 1980s when the clique talked of Bahutu of the north and Bahutu of the south. Political activities remained banned.

The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF Inkotanyi)

Against a backdrop of entrenched divisive and genocidal ideology, repeated massacres, the persistent problems of refugees in the Diaspora, and the lack of avenues for peaceful political change, the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) was formed in 1979 by some Rwandese in the Diaspora with an objective of mobilizing Rwandese people to resolve these problems.

Almost a decade later, in 1987, RANU became the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), whose objectives were:

•  To promote national unity and reconciliation;

• To establish genuine democracy;

• To provide security for all Rwandese;

• To build an integrated and self-sustaining economy;

• To eradicate corruption in all forms

• To repatriate and resettle Rwandese refugees;

• To devise and implement policies that promote the social welfare of all Rwandese and;

• To pursue a foreign policy based on equality, peaceful co-existence and mutual benefit between Rwanda and other countries.

The armed struggle

Most of the world had never heard of the RPF until October 1st, 1990 - the day the war of liberation against the military dictatorship in Kigali began. Taking up arms was not an easy decision to make. War has always been the last option in the consideration of the RPF.

However, all efforts for peaceful and democratic change in our country had so far proved futile. It had become apparent that only by taking up arms could anyone wishing to put an end to the dictatorship and the violation of our peoples’ fundamental rights hope to succeed.

The regime had amassed a huge coercive state machinery using violence to oppress the people. The taking up of arms against the regime was therefore considered not just a right, but also a patriotic and national obligation.

When the war began, Rwandese peasants and workers, students and intellectuals, men and women from every region and “ethnic” or social group, responded to the call of the Rwandese Patriotic Front to rid our country of dictatorship.

With the beginning of the armed struggle, France, Belgium, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) hurriedly dispatched troops to Rwanda to support the dictatorial regime.

The search for peace

As the war for liberation escalated, RPF still attempted to seek peaceful ways of resolving the conflict. On March 29th, 1991, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the RPF and the then Government of Rwanda signed the N’sele Ceasefire Agreement which provided for, among other things, cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of foreign troops, exchange of prisoners of war and finally, serious political negotiations to end the conflict.

Immediately after signing the agreement, the Government of Rwanda ridiculed the said agreement as the war intensified. As the regime became more desperate, massacres of Batutsi in various parts of the country became widespread in a deliberate effort of ethnic cleansing.

The regime used violence to harass and silence the emerging internal political opposition. Violence was also used to derail the peace process. After a long period of negotiation that took place in Arusha, Tanzania, the Arusha Peace Agreement was signed on August 4th, 1993.

The Arusha Peace Agreement was preceded by the signing of the agreement on a new ceasefire, as well as parties agreeing on the following principles: That there was neither democracy nor the practice of the rule of law in Rwanda.

That a broad-based government of national unity, including parties of different political persuasions was necessary to oversee the transition to democracy; that the Rwandese army was not national in character and that it was necessary to set up a truly national army from among members of the two existing armies; and Those Rwandese refugees have got a legitimate inalienable right to return home.

The Arusha peace agreement

The Arusha Peace Agreement was structured around five pillars: The establishment of the rule of law; Power-sharing, Repatriation and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced people; the integration of armed forces; and Other miscellaneous provisions.

It was particularly the power-sharing arrangements that threatened members of the regime. The Arusha Peace Agreement threatened the basis of their power and privilege, which they had so far enjoyed without serious challenge.

Given the fact that they had always relied on the army as the instrument of maintaining their grip on power at any cost, it is clear why they were very opposed to the idea of integration of the armed forces.

The Arusha Peace Agreement was signed on August 4th, 1993 and was supposed to have been implemented within 37 days, beginning with the establishment of the institutions of the presidency, cabinet and the National Assembly.

A United Nations force was supposed to oversee this process. RPF honored all its commitments when in December 1993 it sent 600 of its troops to Kigali, as well as members of the Executive who were supposed to be members of the transitional government.

The mind of the regime on the other hand, was focused on the preparation for genocide. The Arusha Peace Agreement was never implemented although its principal provisions now constitute the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Rwanda.


The first massacres in Rwanda took place in 1959. Thereafter, almost in a regular manner, killings of the Batutsi became a habit. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s massacres of Batutsi were common.

Between April and July 1994, over 1 million Rwandese people, mainly Batutsi and some Bahutu opposition were killed by the genocidal regime.

So many people were involved in the killings. Those who planned and organised the Genocide include the late President, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, top government officials, including members of the so-called Provisional Government, the presidential Guard, the National Gendarmerie, the Rwanda Government Forces (FAR), the MRND-CDR militia (Interahamwe), local officials, and many Bahutu in the general population.

Preparation to carry out genocide by these groups involved the training of the militia, the arming of both the militia and some sections of the population, the establishment and widespread use of a hate radio called Radio television Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM), and the distribution of lists of those who were to be targeted.

Repeatedly, these groups prevented the establishment of the Arusha Peace Accords. When the genocide began, the United Nations had a peacekeeping force - the United Nations Assistance for Rwanda (UNAMIR) - in Rwanda of about 2500 troops.

The first reaction of the United Nations, and indeed of other nations that had their own nationals in Rwanda, was to withdraw their troops and their nationals respectively. Under the circumstances the RPF had to fight again in order to stop the genocide.

The fall of the Genocide regime

On July 4th, 1994, the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, fell to the forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), the armed wing of the RPF. The members of the so-called Provisional Government, the armed groups, and many people who were involved in genocide, fled mainly to the DRC and Tanzania.

Over 3 million refugees fled to Tanzania and the DRC. On July 19th, 1994, RPF established the Government of National Unity with four other political parties. These parties are the Liberal Party (PL), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), and the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR).

Weeks later, the National Assembly was formed. Members were nominated by the RPF, the four above-mentioned parties plus three other smaller parties, namely, the Islamic Party (PDI), the Socialist Party (PSR), and the Democratic Union for Rwandese People (UDPR). In this parliament of 70 seats, the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) has 6 representatives AR and Interahamwe).

Thirteen years of progress

From 1994 the Government of Rwanda began the difficult task of rebuilding the country. At that time no schools, hospitals, factories and government departments were functioning.

Public utilities like telephones, electricity and water were also not functioning. There was total displacement of the population, both internally and externally.

There was no civil service and the government’s administrative capacity had collapsed. Civil servants had either been killed during the genocide or had fled the country.

Survivors of genocide were still scattered all over the country and traumatised. Genocide had further polarised the Rwandan society.

The Government of National Unity and the Rwandese people, with some support from the International community, have registered progress in the difficult process of moving from emergency to long-term development.

The first challenge that the government faced was to stabilise the country and create conditions that would enable the whole population to enjoy peace and security.

About three-and-a half million Rwandese refugees have been repatriated and resettled. This is a phenomenal repatriation record in world refugee history.

The process of reintegration of refugees and members of the former government army (Ex-FAR) has further promoted reconciliation. About 15,000 elements of ex-FAR have been integrated into the Rwandese National Army, the RPA, at various command levels, as well as within the rank and file.

In promoting reconciliation, a Unity and Reconciliation Commission was established to consolidate the government policy of redressing the legacy of divisive politics that has been a prominent feature of Rwanda for many decades.

The commission continues to raise public awareness through civic education initiatives (Ingando). Furthermore, there has been extensive dialogue, which took place under the leadership of the President of Rwanda, touched on unity and reconciliation, justice, democratisation, security and economy.

The Government of national Unity has made progress in building the justice system from scratch. Following the enactment of the Genocide Law, trials have taken place to bring to justice the genocide suspects.

So far, (...) have been convicted and (...) acquitted. Currently, there are over 120,000 genocide suspects in overcrowded prisons. About 12 million Rwanda francs are spent annually on looking after these prisoners.

To deal with this caseload expeditiously, the government has initiated a participatory form of justice (GACACA) that draws from the experience of traditional pre-colonial Rwandan society. This will be operational by the end of the year 2000.

Through a Genocide Survivors Fund, the government provides support in education, shelter, health, and income-generating activities to the most vulnerable amongst the survivors. About 5% of government revenue collected each year (approximately 4 billion Rwanda francs) is contributed to this fund.

Donations from the public or private sector, as well as from the international community are welcome. A Human Rights Commission has been established to promote the rule of law and respect for the fundamental rights of citizens.

On the political front, the Government of National Unity has made progress in maintaining the inclusiveness of the broad-based government as an indispensable component of the new political dispensation.

A policy of decentralisation has been initiated to involve people in grassroots communities in decision-making. This will enhance their participation in activities to transform their poor conditions.

Local elections have already taken place at the cellule and secteur levels. Elections at the commune and prefecture levels will take place by the end of the year 2000.

A Legal and Constitutional Commission has been established to consult all Rwandese citizens on what kind of Constitution Rwanda should have at the end of the transition period.

Transparency and accountability within government institutions have been identified and promoted as critical ingredients necessary for effective and efficient government.

To that effect, a number of institutions have been established, namely the National Examinations Board, the National Tender Board, the Auditor General’s Office and the Rwanda Revenue Authority.

In addition, government will further require public officials to declare their assets in accordance with a National Leadership Code of Conduct. Economic recovery has been consistent since 1994 when real GDP declined by 50% and inflation stood at 65%.

Security has been restored to all the four provinces of Rwanda. Undoubtedly, this is a peace dividend from Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC.

Rwanda has joined the East African Cooperation (EAC), in pursuit of greater cooperation and economic integration. Rwanda is also an active member of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Structure of the government of Rwanda

The Rwandan government of national unity is made up of seven political parties. They are;  Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR), Parti Social Démocrate (PSD), Parti Libéral (PL), Parti Démocrate Centriste (PDC) Parti Démocratique Idéal (PDI), Parti Socialiste Rwandais (PSR) and Union Démocratique du Peuple Rwandais (UDPR).

All regions, ethnic groups and religions are represented in the Government of National Unity. Women are also represented at cabinet level, in parliament, the civil service and in local and regional government.

The executive arm of government is headed by the President. The President is the Head of State. He also heads the cabinet. The cabinet is the body of ministers responsible for the conduct of national affairs.

Ministers are appointed by the President upon consultation with leaders of political parties in the Government of National Unity.

Government departments or ministries are headed by Ministers. Some ministries also have Ministers of State, who are junior Ministers. The ministries are staffed by civil servants who are the main instrument for implementing government policy.

Rwanda’s legislature is divided between the chamber of deputies and the senate. The former is the lower house of parliament while the latter is the upper house of parliament.

Administratively Rwanda is divided into four provinces namely; eastern province, Northern Province, western province and southern province. These provinces are headed by governors.

Recreation and tourism

The current Rwandan government has made significant steps in several areas like Tourism. Tourism now is a leader in foreign exchange earning for the country.

Rwanda has natural beauty and for that reason was baptized the land of a thousand hills. Among its main tourist attractions is the rare mountain gorillas in Northern Province. Apart from mountain gorillas Rwanda has several national parks like Akagera and Nyungwe.

Rwanda boasts a wide variety of wildlife. The Parc National des Volcans, in northern Rwanda is home to the world’s largest number of endangered mountain gorillas. Numbering in the hundreds, the gorillas live in a protected area, free from poachers.

The gorillas can be viewed in their natural mountain habitats at a fairly close range. Best known for its wealth of primates, Rwanda also has one of Africa’s richest bird life. A staggering 670 different bird species have been recorded in Rwanda.

For botanists, the gorgeous wildflowers of the forests and mountains are capped by more than 100 orchid species in Nyungwe alone.

The Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda is teeming with wildlife both large and small. They range from Lions, Giraffe, Elephant and Hippopotamus to Hyena, Impala and Gazelle.

There is a rich variety of bird life at Akagera as well. Rwanda also has water bodies which are ideal for water sports and fishing, particularly Lake Kivu in the west of the country and Lake Muhazi in the east. Lake Kivu also offers beautiful beaches, jutting peninsulas and an archipelago of beautiful islands.


Rwanda’s economy has historically been a small economy, predominantly agricultural. But in recent years after the ushering in of peace and stability, the country has registered impressive growth rates.

Rwanda registered a GDP of 5.8 % in 2006 which is expected to continue increasing. There has been the liberalization of forex exchange controls and the banking system is doing great.

With its Vision 2020 objective of combating poverty, Rwanda has embarked on a comprehensive program of privatization and liberalization with a goal to attaining rapid and sustainable economic growth.

This is aimed at transforming the economy from its 90% dependence on subsistence agriculture into a modern, broadly based economic engine, welcoming to investors, creating employment and new opportunities

The new Rwanda national anthem

1. Rwanda nziza Gihugu  cyacu
Wuje imisozi, ibiyaga n’ibirunga
Ngobyi iduhetse gahorane ishya.
Reka tukurate tukuvuge ibigwi
Wowe utubumbiye hamwe twese
Abanyarwanda uko watubyaye
Berwa, sugira, singizwa iteka.

2. Horana Imana, murage mwiza
Ibyo tugukesha ntibishyikirwa;
Umuco dusangiye uraturanga
Ururimi rwacu rukaduhuza
Ubwenge, umutima,amaboko yacu
Nibigukungahaze bikwiye
Nuko utere imbere ubutitsa.

3. Abakurambere b’intwari
Bitanze batizigama
Baraguhanga uvamo ubukombe
Utsinda ubukoroni na mpatsibihugu
Byayogoje Afurika yose
None uraganje mu bwigenge
Tubukomeyeho uko turi twese.

4. Komeza imihigo Rwanda dukunda
Duhagurukiye kukwitangira
Ngo amahoro asabe mu bagutuye
Wishyire wizane muri byose
Urangwe n’ishyaka, utere imbere
Uhamye umubano n’amahanga yose
Maze ijabo ryawe riguhe ijambo.