Habyarimana, Juvénal (Rwanda)

Reference work entry


Juvénal Habyarimana became president of Rwanda in 1973 when he overthrew President Gregoire Kayibanda and the ruling Parmehtu Party. His tenure initially saw a move away from exclusively Hutu rule towards greater inclusion of the Tutsi minority in government and the professions. However, this rapprochement was short-lived and tensions between Tutsis and Hutus heightened during his period in office. On 6 April 1994 he was assassinated, precipitating civil war and genocide.

Early Life

Juvénal Habyarimana was born on 8 March 1937 in Gasiza, Gisenyi Province in what was then Ruanda-Urundi. A member of the Hutu majority ethnic group and raised a Roman Catholic, he studied mathematics at St Paul’s College in Bukavu and medicine at the University of Lovanium in former Leopoldville, both in the former Belgian Congo. In 1960 he returned to Rwanda to train for the National Guard at the Officer’s School in Kigali. He was chief of staff from 1963 to 1965 and as minister of defence and police chief of staff from 1965 to 1973. In April 1973 he was promoted to major-general.

Career Peak

On 5 July 1973 Habyarimana led a coup that ousted President Gregoire Kayibanda and the ruling Parmehtu Party. In 1975 he created the Mouvement Révolutionaire National Pour le Développement and established himself as sole ruler of a single-party state. Policies included quotas for Tutsis for jobs with universities and government services.

In 1978 a new constitution provided for a return to civilian rule and Habyarimana was elected president. He was re-elected in 1983 and again in 1988. In July 1990 he accepted some political reforms and in 1991 constitutional changes allowed for multi-party government. In Oct. 1990 a rebellion by the Tutsi-led Fronte Patriotique Rwandais (Rwandan Patriotic Front; RPF) exacerbated simmering ethnic tensions, with hundreds of Tutsi civilians killed by extremist Hutu militia, the Interahamwe.

On 4 Aug. 1993 Habyarimana signed a power-sharing agreement with the RPF in Arusha, Tanzania, arousing extremist opposition from within his own administration. In Jan. 1994 he was named president of a power-sharing transitional government based on the Arusha Accords.

On 6 April 1994 Habyarimana was returning from peace talks in his private jet with President Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu leader of Burundi, when his plane was shot down over the grounds of the presidential palace. Responsibility for the attack was disputed, with Paul Kagame of the RPF (and later to become national president) held responsible by a French investigation concluded in 2006. Others, however, have pointed to the involvement of Hutu extremists. Following Habyarimana’s death, the country descended into civil war, with the ensuing genocide claiming the lives of between 800,000 and 1 m. Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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