In retrospect: The day Maj Gen Paul Kagame met with EX-FAR Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Nsabimana

By Esther Muhozi
On 27 November 2023 at 02:48

In the wake of the Arusha Peace Agreement inked in August 1993, the intricate dance of its execution began, setting the stage for a transformative meeting between Maj Gen Paul Kagame and the former Chief of Defence Staff for the Armed Forces of Rwanda (EX-FAR), Gen Nsabimana.

The peace accord, a response to years of Rwandan turmoil, compelled various factions to align with its objectives. While the reigning regime grappled with internal dissent, a pivotal decision emerged — a collaboration with the RPF Inkotanyi, advocates for a united and democratic Rwanda.

Despite this alignment, tensions arose over the proposal to create a demarcation between the EX-FAR and RPA Forces. At the helm of this divergence was Gen Nsabimana, then Defence Chief of Staff, who staunchly insisted on pushing back opposing forces from the battlefield.

On October 1, 1990, the struggle for the liberation of the country commenced. The RPF Inkotanyi fought to emancipate Rwandans from the clutches of an oppressive regime that propagated inequality, injustice, and targeted Tutsis across the nation.

The Arusha Peace Agreement, signed on August 4, 1993, mandated international forces’ involvement in its implementation. Gen Romeo Dallaire’s arrival in Rwanda in August 1993 marked a turning point, as it was concluded that UN forces should intervene to restore peace and support the accord.

On October 5, 1993, the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUAR, was established to enforce the Arusha Agreement. It sought to find common ground between conflicting parties while upholding the agreement’s key provisions.

Gen Dallaire, witnessing the devastating impact of the war, proposed a strategy, kept confidential until February 1, 1994, suggesting that soldiers from both sides engage at a distance to avert further conflict. Despite these efforts, extremists in Habyarimana’s government persisted in undermining the peace plan.

A pivotal meeting on February 2, 1994, brought together Gen Dallaire, Maj Gen Déogratias Nsabimana, Maj Gen Augustin Ndindiriyimana, and Maj Gen Paul Kagame, who commanded RPA soldiers.

Gen Dallaire, in his book ’Shake Hands with The Devil,’ recalled it as the first encounter between these rivals. In this diplomatic exchange, he served as a linguistic bridge, translating for Kagame and Nsabimana to avoid misunderstandings and expedite proceedings.

The meeting, attended by military officers from both sides, aimed to discuss increasing the distance between opposing forces. A map, revealing that 75% of EX-FAR forces had to withdraw or surrender control of critical assets to UNAMIR, became the focal point.

Maj Gen Paul Kagame, overseeing the RPA forces in Mulindi, maintained a stoic silence, constrained by limited space near the Ugandan border. Gen Nsabimana, confronted with the map outlining the withdrawal area, voiced frustration about the army’s retreat.

Despite initial resistance, the EX-FAR forces eventually conceded to the necessity of positional changes, ensuring a safe distance between conflicting forces.

Gen Dallaire’s belief in direct discussions among military leaders as a catalyst for the Arusha Agreement’s success, however, faced political complexities that hindered its implementation. The rejection persisted until the RPA Army intervened, halting the Genocide against the Tutsi in July 1994.

Gen Nsabimana, confronted with the map outlining the withdrawal area, voiced frustration about the army’s retreat.