Editorials - Central Africa - Rwanda - History - Politics - Governance
Rwanda: Political and linguistic change under a prominent leader?
The horrors of the 1994 Rwanda genocide came ended when the RPF- led by U.S. trained Officer Paul Kagame defeated the genocide perpetrators and chased over 30,000 Hutu militiamen into DR Congo. Tutsi leaders accused France of supporting the Hutu extremists who carried out the genocide. Some political scientists argue that the Tutsi-led RPF regime was backed by Britain and the U.S. because it offered Anglophone countries access and influence in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

The Tutsi dominated RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front), after its military victory in July 1994 became the principal political force and controlled the military and the government of National Unity in Rwanda. Although all political parties are represented within the Transitional National Assembly, policies are influenced greatly by President Kagame and the RPF (Jurist Legal Intelligence: Rwanda).

President Kagame has been a driving force in Rwandan politics ever since. In 2003, the RPF regime held its first elections. Kagame was elected president with 95% of the vote, facing no real opposition. The seven political parties in Rwanda endorsed incumbent Paul Kagame for president, who was elected to a 7-year term on August 25, 2003. The Tutsi-dominated government and national army would have common ideologies and support a common domestic or foreign policy.

In 2004, a French judge asserted that Kagame was responsible for the 1994 downing of a plane that killed the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi and set off the genocide. In 2008, Rose Kabuye, a senior aide to Kagame, was arrested at Frankfurt International Airport on a warrant from France and charged in connection with the crash. This actions by France triggered Rwanda’s foreign policy change toward France.

In the fall of 2006, Rwanda broke diplomatic ties with France, and sought to join the Commonwealth of Nations in order to underline Rwanda’s complete dissociation from France.

President Kagame lobbied hard for his country to join the Commonwealth as part of a policy of moving towards the Anglophone world and away from the influence of France. On Nov. 29, 2009, Rwanda joined the Commonwealth, becoming only the second country which was not formerly a British colony to be admitted to the group. Rwanda, once a Franco-Belgian colonial country, became distinctly Anglo-American, under the leadership of the Tutsi led RPF government. English became the dominant language in both the public and private sectors, and cricket- quintessential game of Britain was adopted as the national sport (The Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 2009).

Prominent Leader

When a single individual has the power to make the choice concerning how a state is going to respond to a foreign policy problem, he or she becomes the decision unit and acts as a predominant leader.

The case of Rwanda’s foreign policy restructuring that switched its orientation from Francophone to Anglophone can be explained through a prominent leader decision model.

Herman et al. [1] states that even though a political regime has a single, powerful individual who would qualify under the above definition as a predominant leader, that person must exercise authority in dealing with the problem under consideration to become the authoritative decision unit.

Single, powerful leaders have been found to act as predominant leaders when: they have a general, active interest in, as well as involvement with, foreign and defense issues; the immediate foreign policy problem is perceived by the regime leadership to be critical to the well-being of the regime-it is perceived to be a crisis; the current situation involves high-level diplomacy or protocol — a state visit, a summit meeting, international negotiations; or the issue under consideration is of special interest or concern to the leader [2]. And Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is debatably the most significant actor in foreign policy-making in the African country.

Rwanda has as its goal to move its economy from an aid dependent economy to a thriving economy by attracting investments and businesses. According to Rwanda the francophone market was not large enough to meet this goal. Having assessed the international and domestic political environment Rwanda’s government argued that to bolster Rwanda’s economy, the country must utilize the vast market and business opportunities offered by the Commonwealth of Nations. So, the decision to switch from francophone to Anglophone was made and implemented within an international and domestic political context.

The foreign policy restructuring was possible because Rwanda had a prominent leader in President Paul Kagame who even though was elected, rules like a dictator; insisting on material and financial support for repairing Rwanda’s infrastructure with a guiding philosophy of self-reliance that is driven by capitalism, pride, indigenous traditions, and nationalism. Also, Hutu based political parties were outlawed, opposition leaders were repressed, other political parties were allied to the Tutsi dominated government and the national army comprised of the former Tutsi dominated RPF rebels. The transformation from Francophone to Anglophone was possible because of Rwanda’s indigenous innovations, its ability to consolidate peace, security and stability in a relatively short time after the 1994 genocide.

According to Merritt and Zinnes, [3] political science scholars have observed that in international crises there is a strong tendency for a contraction of authority to the highest levels of government which, even in democracies, decreases usual institutional and normative restraints and increases leaders’ decision autonomy while at the same time encouraging them to act on their perceptions of the national interest and their images of the public’s preferences. Under this condition, Rwanda has managed to achieve unity, reconciliation and economic recovery in a post-genocide situation, and has switched its orientation from Francophone to Anglophone due mainly to its prominent leader and the grand coalition decision making model of its government.

[1] 2001

[2] Herman et al., 2001, p 86

[3] 1991, cited in Herman et al., 2001,


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