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Rwanda: Update to End November 1995

Publisher WRITENET
Author Gérard Prunier
Publication Date 1 December 1995
Cite as WRITENET, Rwanda: Update to End November 1995, 1 December 1995, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


1.1 National Politics

Since our last Update and the dramatic resignation of Premier Faustin Twagiramungu, followed by a cabinet reshuffle, little has changed outwardly in the domestic politics of Rwanda. But a number of things have now become much clearer. First of all, in addition to disagreements about security matters and human rights violations between Premier Twagiramungu and Vice-President Paul Kagame[1] it is now apparent that another matter was central to the political confrontation - the February/March nominations at all levels of the local administration (paroisse, commune, and préfecture), when over 95 per cent of the nominees were Tutsi and "foreign" Tutsi at that. By "foreign" we mean former refugees or their children recently repatriated from neighbouring countries, as opposed to Tutsi who had formerly lived inside Rwanda and survived the genocide. This last category of the population is not represented at the political level and finds itself increasingly marginalized by its "foreign" cousins.[2] After a period of negotiations the Hutu members of the Government, including former Interior Minister Seth Sendashonga who was a Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) stalwart, accused Major-General Kagame of ethnic prejudice in his choice of local administrators. It is the combination of this problem and the security situation, often interacting, which eventually led to the crisis.[3]

Another point which we also mentioned in our previous Update, but which progressively became clearer during late September, was the increased influence of a limited number of Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) colonels on national politics. Several of them and especially Colonel Fred Ibiringira, who was the local commanding officer at the time of the Kibeho massacre in April this year, have acquired a disproportionate influence in Kigali. Their views are often characterized as "burundian" because of the fact that they are organizationally close to the radical Tutsi militias such as the Sans Echecs now operating in Burundi and who have liaison units in Kigali.[4] Since his nomination as Prime Minister, Pierre-Célestin Rwigyema has proved much more agreeable to RPF political choices than his predecessor, resulting in a very tame, not to say cowed political life.

In exile, former Prime Minister Twagiramungu has recently moved closer to his former colleague and opponent Dismas Nsengiyaremye, leader of the so called Third Force, which tries to picture itself as equidistant from both the former regime and the present government. Unfortunately for this political line, which if it had been true could have provided a real political breakthrough, Third Force leaders have moves increasingly close to the Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Retour (RDR), led by former Habyarimana Minister of Commerce François Nzabahimana[5] at a time when RDR positions (and membership) made it look more and more like a simple carbon copy of the now-defunct Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement (MRND), President Habyarimana's former single party and the power base of the genocide perpetrators. Thus former Premier Twagiramungu has left himself open to accusations of opportunism since the people he now seems ready to ally himself with tried to kill him in April 1994. One recent example is when, on 1 December 1995, Mr Twagiramungu attended a Third Force meeting held in Bonn under the sponsorship of the authorities of the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate, where people known to have supported or even organized the 1994 genocide were present.[6]

Thus, the national political situation appears singularly blocked and unhealthy, with a near- total lack of dialogue now that the few non-technical Hutu ministers have been sacked. Former Interior Minister (and RPF member) Seth Sendashonga, now in temporary exile in Kenya, intends to go back to Rwanda and fight legally for real political pluralism.[7]

1.2 Violence

Internal violence seems to have abated to a degree while border incursions and violence caused by guerrillas and former Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) troops has been on the increase. While not reaching the level of violence in neighbouring Burundi, apparently random attacks have become more frequent.[8] These attacks led to a retaliatory raid by the RPA on the island of Iwawa on lake Kivu during the night of 5 November 1995. The first official reports claimed a body count of 300 on the side of the inzirabwabe ("those who do not fear", the self-attributed name of the Hutu rebel commandoes) for only five men killed on the government side. This prompted the RDA to claim that the Government had in fact committed a massacre and killed civilians.[9] But a United Nations team which visited the island found only 26 dead bodies, none of which were civilian, to judge from the quantity of weapons found at their side.[10] Although the press stuck to the higher figure of 300 casualties[11] it seems to have been an exaggeration.

But if large scale military operations have failed to take place so far, there is no guarantee that they will not in the near future. The military prognosis is definitely in favour of the RPA, but a desperate gesture on the part of the FAR, especially if there is pressure coming from Zaïre, is not to be excluded.


Two countries have had input into the Rwanda situation. First and foremost of these is Zaïre. In many ways, as early as the period of the genocide itself President Mobutu had been able to cleverly manipulate the Rwanda crisis in order to put himself back on the international diplomatic scene after being marginalized for years.[12] The whole summer and autumn of 1995 was a period of frequent diplomatic meetings between representatives of the recently elected French administration and President Mobutu.[13] Later, it was former President Jimmy Carter who visited President Mobutu at his Faro estate in Portugal to begin persuading him to accept his Regional Conference Plan. President Mobutu had such a "shopping list" of personal demands (a monthly US$ 5 million stipend, permanent multiple entry European Union and U.S. visas for him and his relatives[14]14) that former President Carter felt obliged to declare that he had not discussed the visa question during his interview.[15] President Mobutu's position was considered a key element of the Cairo Great Lakes Regional Conference in late November (see further below 3. THE REFUGEE SITUATION).

The other country which played a role in the difficult Rwandese situation is Kenya, where President Daniel Arap Moi took advantage of the visit of Burundi President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya to Nairobi on 5 October to announce that he would not back what he termed "a partisan tribunal" on Rwanda.[16] He made himself clearer when he explained a couple of days later that the Tribunal should, in his view, "take into consideration the invasion of Rwanda" as well as inquire into the bringing down of the presidential plane on 6 April 1994.[17] He soon went further by threatening to arrest investigators from the International Tribunal if they set foot in Kenya.[18] This led to an angry retort from Vice-President Paul Kagame who declared that "if the Tribunal was blocked, the Rwandese would do everything possible in their own way to punish the hangmen of their people".[19] While perfectly understandable this declaration was nevertheless heavy with threat and underscored once more the absolute urgency of setting the International Tribunal in motion.


During this period the situation has moved from the status of an acute to that of a protracted crisis. By late September, after the recent spate of violent refugee expulsions, pressure from Zaïre for an accelerated return was strong.[20] We were explicit in our last Update about the extreme dangers of such a plan and the considerable risk to human lives it entailed. But after a short period of negotiations in Geneva the plan seemed to move forward[21] in spite of several of the participants having a sense of dream-like unreality about the whole thing. It was only when President Mobutu declared in New York that "there was too much pressure on the Zaïrean population", and then followed by promising his support for the Carter/Museveni proposal of a general regional conference,[22] that there was a realization that the pressure had been carefully built by the Zaïrean Head of State with an eye on the negotiation table. The pressure was kept up when Zaïrean Premier Kengo wa Dondo insisted that the 31 December 1995 expulsion deadline should be adhered to.[23] And it even escalated further after an aborted bomb attack on the Zaïrean army Chief of Staff, General Eluki Mongo Andu, on 11 November 1995.[24] The attack was very likely a fake, engineered by the Zaïrean Special Services. But is was nevertheless blamed on a mysterious "Rwandese Tutsi woman" who was "seen slipping back into Rwanda" after allegedly perpetrating the "crime".[25] Even if this incident was bizarre and inconclusive, it came after a series of about fifteen genuine grenade attacks and mine explosions during the preceding few weeks, the last of which had cost a U.S. nurse both legs after her car had been blown up. The Rwandese Government was extremely hostile and made France responsible for the situation.

Such was the context in which former President Carter managed to call a general meeting of the regional heads of states and other concerned parties in Cairo. This "conference of the last chance", in the words of the former President, eventually led to several resolutions of a general nature which did not change the basis of the problem. But the main result was that President Mobutu used the meeting as a forum to announce that he would not enforce the 31 December expulsion deadline. This of course was in itself quite insufficient to solve the refugee problem or even to really advance the state of the question. But it gave a breathing space to a hardpressed UNHCR, left a number of options open, at least theoretically, in terms of internal Rwandese political contacts and remove the spectre of a year-end mass slaughter. On the issue of UNAMIR (United Nations Mission in Rwanda) the conference came close to comedy when the Rwandese Government successively announced that it would ask for the departure of the Blue Helmets, then that it would accept an extension of UNAMIR's mandate and finally that it would ask them to leave. The outcome might still be modified in the coming days, bearing out the rather cynical appreciation of a long-term practitioner in the area, who recently declared: "The Carter initiative is useless. Almost everything in the area is useless. Only luck and prayers will save us from another major humanitarian disaster at some point in the future."


The views expressed in the papers are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of UNHCR.


[1] Gérard Prunier, Rwanda: Update to End of September 1995, WRITENET for UNHCR/CDR, October 1995

[2] See Anne Moutot, "Au Rwanda, la diaspora tutsie contre les rescapés", Libération (28 November 1995)

[3] Professor André Guichaoua, Lille. Personal interview, 22 November 1995

[4] Sixbert Musamgamfura, former Head of Prime Minister Twagiramungu's Security Office. Personal interview, Abidjan, 26 September 1995; François-Xavier Nsanzuwera, former Public Prosecutor. Personal interview, Paris, 13 November 1995.

[5] For more details refer to Gérard Prunier, Rwanda: Update to End of July 1995, CDR/WRITENET, August 1995

[6] Professor Filip Reyntjens. Personal interview, Antwerp, 2 December 1995

[7] Seth Sendashonga, Nairobi. Telephone interview, 19 November 1995

[8] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts,"Mine Explosion in Gikondo, Wounding Four", 2 October 1995, quoting Radio Rwanda; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Eight People Killed by Unidentified Assailants in Rusumo Commune, Kibungo Préfecture", 3 October 1995, quoting Radio Rwanda; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Ten People Gunned Down in the Kanombe Suburb of Kigali", 27 October 1995, quoting Radio Rwanda

[9] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 8 November 1995, quoting Radio Africa No 1 [Libreville]

[10] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 9 November 1995, quoting Radio France Internationale

[11] See both Libération and Le Monde on 9 November 1995

[12] See Gérard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (1959 - 1994) (London: Hurst, 1995), pp. 317-21

[13] President Mobutu met with former Mitterand Special Envoy Wibaux, with former Head of General De Gaulle's and President Pompidou's Africa Office, Jacques Foccart, as well as with several minor officials. See La Lettre du Continent, 21 September 1995. The reason for these multiple meetings is the new and rather confused structure of the French Government decision-making process on African matters. President Chirac abolished the Ministry of Cooperation after his election in the Spring, but named a Minister (Mr Jacques Godfrain) all the same, before finally "re-creating" the Ministry during the latest Summit of Francophone Countries in Cotonou. See Le Monde, 3-4 December 1995. The result was extreme confusion and contradictory initiatives being taken by various political actors. Personal interview with a high-ranking French civil servant, Paris, 6 November 1995.

[14] President Mobutu owns large estates in Faro (Portugal) and Cap Martin (France) where he likes to live because of the mild and temperate climate. He has been prevented in the past from visiting his properties because of diplomatic difficulties.

[15] La Lettre du Continent, 5 October 1995

[16] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 5 October 1995, quoting Kenya Television Network

[17] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 7 October 1995, quoting Kenya News Agency

[18] Le Monde, 7 October 1995

[19] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 8 October 1995, quoting Radio Rwanda

[20] Stephen Smith, "Un plan pour les réfugiés rwandais: le HCR souhaite le "retour accéléré" d'un million de personnes", Libération, 25 September 1995

[21] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 13 October 1995, quoting Radio Rwanda; Le Monde, 14 October 1995

[22] United Press International, New York, 22 October 1995

[23] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 27 October 1995, quoting Radio France Internationale

[24] Le Monde, 14 November 1995

[25] Le Monde, 16 November 1995

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