Rwandan Patriotic Front

The Rwandan Patriotic Front (also translated as: Rwandese Patriotic Front; or referred to as: Patriotic Front of Rwanda) abbreviated as RPF (also often referred to as FPR from French: Front patriotique rwandais) is the current ruling political party of Rwanda, led by President Paul Kagame. It governs in a coalition with other parties.

In the parliamentary election held on 30 September 2003, the party won (as part of the ruling coalition) 33 out of 53 seats. Paul Kagame was also elected as President in the same year.


The RPF was formed in 1987 by the Tutsi refugee diaspora in Uganda. The first Tutsi refugees fled to Uganda to escape ethnic purges beginning 1959. These resulted from the "social revolution" of 1959, led by Grégoire Kayibanda, that overthrew the Tutsi-led monarchy, and instability that continued through independence from Belgium in 1962. While 50,000 to 70,000 Tutsi arrived in the initial refugee influx, periodic ethnic violence resulted in a refugee population of about 200,000 by 1990, though only about 82,000 of these had registered as refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Uganda has perhaps the harshest refugee laws in the region. Refugees were confined to designated refugee camps and refugee status was transferred between generations: the children born in Uganda from refugee parents were themselves considered refugees. However, as the refugee numbers grew the population overflowed the boundaries of the camps set up during the initial refugee crisis. The one benefit of refugee status was that it gave children access to United Nations aid, in particular UNHCR scholarships, which allowed most young people to escape the camps and find work in urban areas in Uganda and abroad. This and the resulting success of many Tutsi bred resentment among both Ugandan nationals, which often manifested as work-place discrimination.

During the political crisis of the late 1960s, the administration of Milton Obote passed a bill called the Control of Alien Refugees Act, which declared Rwandese to be a special class subject to arbitrary detention. In 1969, Obote ordered all "unskilled foreigners" to be removed from government jobs, affecting thousands of Banyarwanda. ("Banyarwanda" are all persons who speak the Kinyarwanda language, which includes the indigenous Banyarwanda who lived in southern border regions, the descendants of Hutus who had come as migrant laborers in the mid-1920s, and the more recent Tutsi refugees.) Obote also ordered a census of all ethnic Banyarwanda, with the intention of ensuring that they would have no influence over the political process. The census was interrupted by the 1971 coup of Idi Amin, which was greeted with relief by many Banyarwanda. While some Banyarwanda joined the security forces, other joined the anti-Amin forces gathering in Tanzania. Prominent among these was a teenage Fred Rwigema, who was recruited by Yoweri Museveni into his Front for National Salvation.

RANU (1979-1987)

Following the overthrow of Amin in 1979, the Tutsi refugee intelligentsia set up the region's first political refugee organization, the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU), to discuss the possible return to Rwanda. Though primarily a forum for intellectual discussion, it became radicalized after Obote's rigged election of 1980 resulted in many Tutsi refugees joining Museveni in fighting the Ugandan Bush War. In response, Obote denounced Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) as composed of Banyarwanda. A failed attempt to force all Tutsi refugees into the refugee camps in February 1982 resulted in a massive purge, driving 40,000 refugees back into Rwanda. Rwanda declared that they recognized only 4000 of these as Rwandan nationals, while Uganda declared that they would take back only 1000. The remaining 35,000 were left in a legal limbo along the border region that lasted for years, from where many refugee youth left to join the NRA.

Two of the 27 people who were part of the 1981 NRA raid at Kabamba that began the war were Tutsi refugees: Fred Rwigema and Paul Kagame, who had grown up together in Kahunge refugee camp and were both active members of RANU. By the time that the victorious NRA entered Kampala in 1986, about a quarter of its 16000 combatants were Banyarwanda, while Rwigema was its deputy commander. After the Museveni government was formed, Rwigema was appointed deputy minister of defense and deputy army commander-in-chief, second only to Museveni in the military chain of command for the nation. Kagame was appointed acting chief of military intelligence. Other Tutsi refugees were highly placed: Peter Baingana was head of NRA medical services and Chris Bunyenyezi was the commander of the 306th brigade. Tutsi refugees formed a disproportionate number of NRA officers for the simple reason that they had joined the rebellion early and thus had accumulated more experience.

The contributions of the Banyarwanda in the war were immediately recognized by the new government. Six months after taking power, Museveni reversed the decades-old legal regime and declared that Banyarwanda who had resided in Uganda would be entitled to citizenship after 10 years. In December 1987, RANU held its seventh congress in Kampala and renamed itself the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The new RPF, dominated by Banyarwanda veterans of the war, was far more militaristic than the original RANU.

Citizenship and indigeneity

Some critics of the RPF have argued that the Tutsi diaspora always intended to form an "army within an army" that would be used to invade Rwanda. This argument states that the Tutsi rebels of RANU had joined with Museveni as part of a long-planned conspiracy. However, Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani argues that the 1990 invasion was the result of a debate among the refugees in response to events, the most important of which was the rising nativist urge in Uganda. Criticism that the NRA was overly dominated by refugees resulted in Major-General Fred Rwigema being transferred from the powerful position of deputy commander of the army to the more ceremonial position of deputy minister of defense in 1987. The next year he was removed from even this position.

Nevertheless, in a 1988 conference of the political diaspora in Washington, D.C., most of the exiled community agreed that the Tutsi should become naturalized citizens of the countries in which they resided, while those who wished to return could do so through a process of peaceful negotiation with the Rwandan government.

The final change came with a 1990 debate on ranches in Mawagola County, Masaka District and the issues it raised about whether citizenship should emanate from resident or indigenous status. The ranches had been gradually taken over by 200,000 pastoralists, about 80,000 of whom were said to be refugees. The owners of the land had raised the rent for using the land and for access to water, eventually resulting in a squatter uprising and outbreak of violence. A political firestorm erupted when the government sided with the squatters, as ranchers and others accused the president of favoring the nonindigenous Banyarwanda over the 'real Ugandans'. The opposition managed to put the topic of indigeneity and its relationship to citizenship and legal rights at the center of the political debate. Thus backed into a corner and in need of maintaining his political coalition, the president backed down, agreeing that the Banyarwanda were foreigners with no rights as citizens. Within the army, refugee officers were systematically removed, with the replacement of refugees in favor of individuals with claims to indigeneity eventually extending into other government agencies.

A senior RPF commander, speaking in 1995, summed up the effect this experience had on him:

You stake your life and at the end of the day you recognize that no amount of contribution can make you what you are not. You can't buy it, even with blood.

Rwandan Civil War (1990-1994)

On 1 October 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Army(RPA), the armed wing of the RPF, deserted their posts in the Ugandan army and invaded northern Rwanda. After initial gains in threatening Kigali, the offensive was turned back by Zairean and French troops sent to reinforce the Habariyamana regime. The RPF suffered a major setback when Rwigema was killed in the second day of the war and was forced to retreat in disarray into the mountainous border region. There the RPA regrouped under Kagame and began a classic insurgency campaign. The war reached a stalemate and the two sides entered into peace negotiations. These talks resulted in the signing of the Arusha Accords in 1993 to create a power-sharing government.

Genocide (1994)

The catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide was the 6 April 1994 assassination of president Habyarimana. By evening on 7 April with killings becoming widespread and the RPF battalion in the CND coming under attack, the RPF renewed its offensive south. The RPF struck southward towards Kigali, while at the same time a force swung clockwise to capture the countryside. Kigali fell to RPF forces on 4 July, allowing the freed up forces to capture the last remaining stronghold of Gisenyi, in the northwest, on 18 July. In the south-west of the country French forces from Operation Turquoise controlled a large area, which was given over to the RPF on 21 August 1994, thus giving the RPF complete control of the country.

Existence after genocide and victory

After its conquest of Rwanda, the RPF was split into a political division which retained the RPF name, and a military one, called the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now the Rwandan Defence Forces). The RPF continues to be the dominant political party in Rwanda under President Paul Kagame

Notes and references

External links

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