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What Could Have Motivated The 1961 Gitarama Coup In Rwanda?

Special Report

What Could Have Motivated The 1961 Gitarama Coup In Rwanda?

In the morning of January 28, 1961, Gitarama stadium, located in Southern Rwanda, was busy with the comings and goings of trucks carrying over 3500 burgomasters (similar to the mayors of nowadays) and counsellors (nowadays’ sector’s executive secretaries) from all over the country.

They had responded to the invitation by the then acting minister of security, Jean Baptiste Rwasibo, who invited them to participate in a meeting that would discuss strategies to peace and security in the country.

Most of the delegates were members of Grégoire Kayibanda’s political party who was the acting Prime Minister.

In that morning, the place where the meeting was scheduled to take place was well-organised.

Every prefecture’s seats were marked.

Rwasibo made a speech and thanked those who were present and reminded them that they were the messengers of the people.

Kayibanda was next, as prime minister and as a leader of the dominant party.

He began by reading the decisions taken, asking participants to confirm.

“The kingdom, the altar and guardians have been abolished. From now on, the Republic of Rwanda will be featured with a red, yellow and green flag,” he said.

No elections were made, but participants were required to confirm by raising their hands and they considered the majority.

After the Republic was confirmed, each participant received a ballot paper and voted for the President of the Republic.

Dominique Mbonyumutwa of MDR Parmehutu was elected president even though he was the only candidate.

The king is overthrown in absentia

It should also be noted that, in July 1960, King Kigeli Ndahindurwa had attended a meeting in Bujumbura, which was a territory of Rwanda-Urundi.

While in Burundi, it was reported that he was not allowed to return to the country. He sought refuge in Zaire.

When he was about to attend the meeting, there were conflicts in the country.

Leading Hutu parties such AS MDR Parmehutu and APROSOMA were in a great campaign all over the country, proclaiming the ills of the kingdom.

For example, on April 20, 1960, the provisional council (Conseil Provisoire) that acted in the same way as the nowadays parliament, gave Kigeli burdensome decisions to discourage him, to maintain peace in the country.

Among the decisions, they requested him to leave Nyanza and relocate to Kigali with four people who would have been from the most prominent parties at the time, including MDR, Aprosoma, RADER and UNAR.

They also requested to remove the government, including Kalinga and the council of royal guardians.

Kigeli rejected them because he thought it was a betrayal.

After rejecting them, MDR and APROSOMA wrote to the Government of Germany on April 30, 1960 saying that since the king refused to heed their wishes, they had cut relationship with him.

On June 6, 1960, MDR Parmehutu leaders gathered in Ruhengeri led by Kayibanda, saying that they didn’t want the kingdom but the republic.

From the same month, there were local government elections as it had been confirmed by the United Nations.

MDR secured the biggest number of positions.

From the time that the kingdom was abolished, the government was in the hands of the Belgians for six months.

On the day PARMEHUTU announced that the kingdom was abolished, King Kigeli Ndahindurwa had gone to Kinshasa to meet the UN Secretary General to discuss the issues of Rwanda.

MDR Parmehutu, backed by Belgians, violates UN’s decisions

In response to the request of King Kigeli, who was in exile yet political parties such as UNAR which backed him, on December 20, the UN General Assembly made two decisions.

One demanded Belgium to reconcile conflicting political parties in Rwanda, allowing Kigeli to return to the country and to prepare for a referendum to confirm whether or not citizens supported the reign of Kigeli.

A meeting between the two disagreeing sides was held in Belgium in January 1961, with a large number of respondents supporting the implementation of UN decisions.

MDR and APROSOMA rejected it, claiming that UN decisions were against the wishes of the people.

As a result, they called on all local authorities on January 28.

In disregarding the decisions of the UN, Kayibanda and MDR were backed by Belgium.

This was confirmed by the fact that shortly before the Gitarama coup, Kayibanda himself visited Col. Guy Logiest, the special resident of Rwanda, and informed him about the coup.

Note that in 1988, Logiest wrote a book where he said: “I could not possibly support him in the rebellious act, but I could not refuse to support him, either,”.

“I did not want to, but I did not have any way (to refuse to) […] I promised to help him in organizing the meeting to protect the public’s welfare, host the delegates, to prepare for the place where it would bee held and providing the speakers.”

Rwanda’s independence does not prove productive

On April 25, 1961, there was a referendum as it had been requested by the UN to see whether Rwandans still wanted the kingdom and Kigeli.

In the election, 79% voted against the kingdom and Kigeli.

Shortly thereafter, King Kigeli, who was in exile rejected the outcome of the election.

Former senator Antoine Mugesera, a member of Rwanda’s Elderly Advisory Council, this year, published his book “Rwanda 1959-1962, La Révolution manquée” loosely translated as “a lost revolution” saying that the revolution started by Kayibanda and his colleagues didn’t benefit Rwanda.

“The Kingdom was abolished, but the problem was that they enforced ethnic divisions.

“They didn’t have a vision as revolutionaries.”

“Had they not enforce ethnic divisions, they would still get power, but we would not have the same problems as we do. And they didn’t even free the Hutus, but poisoned them with ethnic divisions.”

He further stated that the problem in Rwanda was that almost all those who sought their independence were not motivated by the willingness to seek the welfare of all Rwandans.

“Belgians did not like Kayibanda; they liked the one who gave them trust to continue ruling. And the Tutsis would have won independence by giving Belgians confidence, saying that they would do what they wanted them to do.” he wrote.

The article was first published by Igihe

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