Later, I encountered such an environment formed of men and women in uniform when I was undergoing a paramilitary training at RPF Karama Political Military School, a component of the then Rwandese Patriotic Army Training Wing in July-August 1993.
Undoubtedly, these two experiences have impacted my personal sensitivity to issues relating to the military. Nonetheless, not only the military is a too serious matter to be left to the military to handle alone, but also every Rwandan suffered so much from the wrongdoings of Rwandans in military uniform, especially in today’s Rwanda. It is a country that some external observers like Filip Reyntjens describe as « an Army with a State» in such a way, that the positive or negative role of the military is a question of high relevancy in our search for a stable and peaceful Rwanda. This is not specific to Rwanda though. What’s specific and also a source of major concern is the fact that it is characterized by deep ethnic imbalance that it’s hardly over-stated to say that those imbalances constitute the biggest threat to Rwanda’s stability.
Even though or because of the fact that US Africom commissioned report assessing risks to stability in Rwanda, released recently by the US Centre for Strategic International Studies does not include any assessment of this problem for reasons easy to guess, this shortcoming gives this topic even more relevancy.
When one looks at the history of the military in Rwanda, from the precolonial period to present, it has been consistently ethnically imbalanced. This deliberate and self-imposed imbalance shaped the army’s mission, size, composition, operations and command structure in such a way that it reinforced the perception of Rwandan sectarian leaders that more ethnic exclussiveness was the only path to enable them to avoid coups and suppress internal threats.
During the precolonial era, Tutsis dominated the command structure of the Rwandan army. During the colonial era, Belgian colonialists decided to dismantle the King’s traditional army not only to avoid any confrontation with it but also because King Yuhi Musinga’s militia INDUGARUGA had been an ally to the German troops during the World War I and fought them alongside the Germans until their defeat in 1916. The Belgians replaced it with the Force Publique, a colonial force composed of African mercenaries, most of whom were Congolese, under the command of Belgian officers.
It is Colonel Guy Logiest who initiated and conducted the formation of the modern Rwandan army first named National Guard and later became the « Forces Armées Rwandaises, FAR », in the aftermath of the 1959 peasant revolution that culminated in the 1961 bloodless civil coup d’Etat that deposed King Kigeri Ndahindurwa and ended the Nyiginya monarchy in Rwanda. Suffice to recall that, these events pushed almost all Tutsi feudalists and most of the Tutsi middle class into exile in neigbouring countries from where they unsuccessfully tried to retake power by force till the fall of 1968. In those circumstances, be it the first intake of the « Ecole des Officiers » led by Belgian colonial officer Léon de Peauw or later after a Rwandan national took over in 1964, all of those who followed, almost all Rwandan officer recruits were Hutus until July 1994 when the Rwandese Patriotic Army took power. In his book, « Rwanda : Du Parti-Etat à l’Etat-garnison, Harmattan, Paris-L’Harmattan, 2002 », former defence minister James Gasana gave the figure of one (retired) colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, 7 majors, 6 captains and 20 lieutenants(as being the only Tutsi officers in FAR)???. This however doesn’t change anything in practical terms.