Background Briefing

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            Links between War and Internal Opposition: Resort to the Ethnic Appeal

Even before the invasion, the RPF had recruited a small number of supporters, Hutu and Tutsi, within Rwanda, but most Tutsi had no link to the guerilla movement and some actively opposed the invasion, remembering the killings of Tutsi civilians that had followed the incursions of the 1960s. Habyarimana and his supporters could have chosen to mount an appeal based on nationalism against the RPF, but decided instead to cast the war as a threat in ethnic terms. They may have believed it would be easier to rally all Hutu once again behind Habyarimana’s leadership if the threat were clearly identified as Tutsi. (Although the RPF was predominantly Tutsi, its president was a Hutu colonel, once a supporter then a rival of Habyarimana, who had fled Rwanda when accused of plotting a coup some years before.) 

But Habyarimana and his supporters apparently were swayed also by another consideration: the fear that the growing internal opposition would link up with the RPF. By identifying Tutsi as the enemy, Habyarimana and his group hoped to make cooperation by the internal opposition with the RPF unthinkable. Initially that hope was misplaced: the leading political parties opposed to Habyarimana (one predominantly Hutu, one ethnically mixed, and one strongly influenced by Tutsi) had begun cooperating openly with the RPF by 1992.  Although this cooperation did not last and some opposition allegiances later shifted towards Habyarimana (see below), it was the prompting of these leading opposition parties in combination with international pressure, that compelled the opening of government negotiations with the RPF. Habyarimana and his group began those negotiations in July 1992 with a sense that the dual crises of war and internal opposition had merged into a single grave threat to their continued control.

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