Rwandan Civil War

The Rwandan Civil War was a large-scale civil war in Rwanda which was fought between the Rwandan Armed Forces, representing the country's government, and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) from 1 October 1990 to 18 July 1994. The war arose from the long-running dispute between the Hutu and Tutsi groups within the Rwandan population. A 1959–1962 revolution had replaced the Tutsi monarchy with a Hutu-led republic, forcing more than 336,000 Tutsi to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. A group of these refugees in Uganda founded the RPF which, under the leadership of Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, became a battle-ready army by the late 1980s.

Rwandan Civil War
Refer to caption.
Paul Kagame (left) and Juvénal Habyarimana, leaders of the RPF and Rwandan Government forces, respectively, for most of the war.
Date1 October 1990 − 18 July 1994

Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) victory

Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)
Commanders and leaders
RPF: 20,000[1]
  • Rwanda Rwandan Armed Forces:
  • France French Armed Forces:
    • 600 (1990)
    • 400 (1993)
    • 2,500 (1994)
Casualties and losses

The war began on 1 October 1990 when the RPF invaded north-eastern Rwanda, advancing 60 km (37 mi) into the country. They suffered a major setback when Rwigyema was killed in action on the second day. The Rwandan Army, assisted by troops from France, gained the upper hand and the RPF were largely defeated by the end of October. Kagame, who had been in the United States during the invasion, returned to take command. He withdrew troops to the Virunga Mountains for several months before attacking again. The RPF began a guerrilla war, which continued until mid-1992 with neither side able to gain the upper hand. A series of protests forced Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana to begin peace negotiations with the RPF and domestic opposition parties. Despite disruption and killings by Hutu Power, a group of extremists opposed to any deal, and a fresh RPF offensive in early 1993, the negotiations were successfully concluded with the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 1993.

An uneasy peace followed, during which the terms of the accords were gradually implemented. RPF troops were deployed to a compound in Kigali and the peace-keeping United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was sent to the country. The Hutu Power movement was steadily gaining influence and planned a "final solution" to exterminate the Tutsi. This plan was put into action following the assassination of President Habyarimana on 6 April 1994. Over the course of about a hundred days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in the Rwandan genocide. The RPF quickly resumed the civil war. They captured territory steadily, encircling cities and cutting off supply routes. By mid-June they had surrounded the capital, Kigali, and on 4 July they seized it. The war ended later that month when the RPF captured the last territory held by the interim government, forcing the government and genocidaires into Zaire.

The victorious RPF assumed control of the country, with Paul Kagame as de facto leader. Kagame served as vice president from 1994 and as president from 2000. The RPF began a programme of rebuilding the infrastructure and economy of the country, bringing genocide perpetrators to trial, and promoting reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi. In 1996 the RPF-led Rwandan Government launched an offensive against refugee camps in Zaire, home to exiled leaders of the former regime and millions of Hutu refugees. This action started the First Congo War, which removed long-time dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko from power. As of 2023, Kagame and the RPF remain the dominant political force in Rwanda.

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