Former Rwandan rebel leader is first Tutsi president
KIGALI, Rwanda: Amid beating drums and applause, former rebel leader Paul
Kagame took the oath as Rwanda's first Tutsi president Saturday and called
on Rwandans to shun the ethnic divisions that have devastated the tiny
central African nation.
Tens of thousands of people witnessed Kagame being sworn in before Chief
Justice Simeon Rwagasore in Amahoro Stadium, where six years earlier
minority Tutsis had sought refuge from murderous Hutu mobs.
"It is the first time in the history of Rwanda that a change ofpower had
taken place without a bloodshed," Kagame said in Kinyarwanda, the national
language. "Peace and security have been established in the whole country.
More than 3 million Rwandan refugees have returned home. Rwanda will become
a nation that every Rwandan will want to live in."
Kagame's ascent to power mirrors the life of many Rwandan Tutsis. An
estimated half million of them grew up in exile after being persecuted for
their ethnicity at home, only to return as a victorious rebel force that
stopped the 1994 genocide and defeated an extremist Hutu government.
"Kagame is exactly what we need. Discipline and organization skills," said
Andre Kimonyo, a 25-year-old student. Kagame made a passionate appeal to
Rwandans in exile to return home and rebuild the nation, particularly those
Hutu refugees still in neighboring Congo, where they fled in fear of
reprisals for the 1994 genocide.
But he warned that Rwandan troops will stay in Congo as long as those
opposed to his government use it as a base to attack Rwanda. The presidents
of Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia and other senior African officials were the
first to congratulate Kagame.
More than 500,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died at the hands of
former Hutu soldiers and militiamen during the 90 days of killings from
April to July 1994 that were only stopped after Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic
Front captured Kigali and formed a government of national unity.
The 42-year old Kagame then handed the presidency to a Hutu and RPF member,
Pasteur Bizimungu, largely to appease the Hutu majority and avoid the
impression that the minority Tutsis were actually in charge.
Kagame, a specialist in military intelligence who had undergone brief
training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., became vice president and minister of
defense. Hutus and Tutsis from seven major parties participate in parliament
and government, and the country is run under a power-sharing formula. But
Kagame's RPF is the strongest political force in Rwanda, and critics often
charge it does not tolerate opposition at home or criticism from abroad.
Last month, Bizimungu resigned amid accusations of incompetence and
squabbling with parliament and the RPF.
Senior RPF officials insist the government is dedicated to democracy and
national reconciliation - but in due time. In September, Rwanda will hold
local elections - the second since the 1994 genocide - to elect leaders in
more than 1,000 communes.
Kagame's associates describe the president as a serious, ascetic leader who
basks in the respect and loyalty of his troops and supporters.
Married with four children, Kagame neither drinks nor smokes. He plays
tennis whenever he can and is a soccer fan. Driven into exile in neighboring
Uganda with his family at the age of 3, Kagame was among the first 27 men to
join the National Resistance Movement that brought Yoweri Museveni to power
in Uganda in 1986 after a five-year bush war.(AP)
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