Skip to main content

The Case of Rwanda

Back to All Publications

Post-colonial Rwanda was born out of a decisive reversal of power from the minority Tutsi to the majority Hutu occasioned by the 1959 revolution. The revolution inaugurated an era of massive movement of refugees in the region, endemic communal violence, and political frailty. In the early 1980s, the government of Juvenal Habyarimana and the one-party state he had erected since 1973, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (Mouvement Revolutionnaire National pour le Developpement, MRND), was under siege from three fronts. First, as the Habyarimana government grew more authoritarian, the intra-Hutu common political front frayed, shifting military and economic power to the president's narrow northern ruling elites.

Second, inequitable access to resources heightened intra-Hutu cleavages amidst a worsening economy. With the highest population density in mainland Africa (256 persons per square kilometer), Rwanda typifies the dilemma of overpopulation and resource scarcity compounded by severe dependence on coffee production. By the second half of the 1980s, with economic growth rates falling behind a burgeoning population, the government admitted that it could only feed five million people. Internal and external economic shocks were to worsen the class and regional  Economic decline and external pressure for democratization galvanized domestic opposition groups to demand political reforms. In response, Habyarimana appointed a commission in September 1990 to work out a National Political Charter that would allow the establishment of different political parties.

Third, against the backdrop of economic and political weakness, Tutsi exiles in Uganda organized in the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded in October 1990. Caught in an uncertain exile, RPF units that had been part of Uganda's National Resistance Army (NRA) took the initiative, at the opportune instance of regime weakness, to force the issue of return, restoration of citizenship rights, national unity, and an end to a dictatorial system that generates refugees.