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Conflict Prevention through Shared Power:

The Rwanda Case

By Dr.Claude Shema Rutagengwa

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)



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Rwanda - Before Independence


Inbalance in power sharing is one of the key issues of the endless conflict in many nations, communities, societies, and organizations - even in family at a smaller dimension.


During the colonial period before independence in Rwanda (1900-1950's), colonialist unilaterally ruled the whole country under oppression, brutality and even killing of opposition members. It was the Belgians who had created this mess. Nevertheless, even the Belgians couldn't rule whatsoever without local support. So they had to seek allies.


I doing so, the Belgians introduced and ethnic identity and got closer collaboration with the Tutsis on one hand, while they oppressed the Hutus on another. And, then in the late 1940's, the Tutsis - who were already in the majority in some political positions (the King was Tutsi as well) - didn't appreciate the way white foreigner colonialists were ruling the country. So between Tutsis against Belgians set in.


This left the Belgians with their only other alternative - to defeat the Tutsis by against them – so the Belgians started collaborating with Hutus, and oppressing the Tutsis.


Unfortunately, the key issue causing conflict and breaking up ties between Tutsis and Belgians stayed the same: "Power sharing". This was despite the fact that Belgians helped Hutus end up the Royal ruling system and create the republic ruling system in the so called "1959 social revolution" which caused death to more than 20.000 Tutsis through systematic and planned massacres by Hutus, with huge damage on the Tutsi side, and which led the Tutsis into exodus.


Independence - 1st republic


Then, after a short time, Hutus wanted independence through referendum, from both Royal rule and Belgian colonists, declaring Rwanda an independent nation in 1962.


After 1962, power was in Hutu hands until 1994 (before July). During this period as well, there was a huge conflict among Hutus, Tutsis who were already into exile (having been chased away by Hutus and Belgians), and Belgians who were no longer there after independence.


Then conflict changed colour. Instead of being an issue of Tutsis-Hutus-Belgians, it was between Hutus from nothern part against southern Hutus. The first president, Gregoire Kayibanda, was a Hutu from the south, and oppressed Hutus from the north. The power was in hand of his people from his region.


Independence - 2nd Republic


The biased first republic leaders caused anger to the northern Hutus, which resulted in the military coup, and the second Hutu president, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, who was from north, took power in July 1972. He demolished all political parties, introduced his new party "MRND", and forced all single Munyarwanda (Rwandese) to be members of it, launching compulsory membership fees for everyone. Also during this time, in the 1960's, there were multiple attacks by former Tutsis, who invaded the country from neighboring countries (Burundi, and Zaïre – DRC, notably), and the key issue remained the same: "sharing power".


After 1973 the power was in northern Hutu hands until the 1990's, when RPF-Inkotanyi armed rebels - former Tutsi majority refugees- ( - backed by Uganda and some English speaking countries influenced by USA/UK, launched the so-called "liberation war" or "The War of 1st October 1990".


The slogan was the same:” Power sharing..."


This time, southern Hutus also were on RPF side, because they had the same position - "equity in power sharing with all ethnic groups in Rwanda". Actually they joined this alliance in order to have more power and raise their voice together, and get international attention and support as well.


The bloody war went on and caused so many casualties on both side, until mediation and negotiation took place in different places, lastly in Arousha Tanzania. Unfortunately, there still wasn't full willingness between actors in that conflict, until the unspeakable genocide against Tutsis took place and more than 1,000,000 of them and moderate Hutus perished. Killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus was the only way chosen by authorities to keep power in their own hands. Imagine!


This is the principle:  “Instead of sharing power with you, I would rather exterminate you.”


So extreme indeed. 


Independence - 3rd Republic

In July 4th 1994, the RPF-Inkotanyi vanquished the former Hutu regime and took power after 3 months of deadly fighting with former Hutus soldiers and Interahamwe - militiamen trained and formed into units by the former Hutu government and supported by France.


After 1996-1999, there was many attacks of Hutu rebels (former Hutus in power), and the slogan with them was "general amnesty first, and sharing power with the Tutsi regime."


The image of the regime after genocide was more or less positive and promising, politically speaking, but still something was missing according to the opposition viewpoint: "Equally sharing power".

Many of the political leaders were (and are) not satisfied with the political system of the RPF-Inkotanyi (ruling political party), and this also caused death and oppressions for some political figures - opinion leaders (both Hutus and Tutsis who are not members of RPF) - and the exodus of others. Sooner or later, this will cause more damage and victims as well, as long as nothing changes.