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The Short Political Reign of First Rwanda Female Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana
By Abdul Malik Bangura
Jul 28, 2017, 17:02
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Agathe Uwilingiyimana (23 May 1953 – 7 April 1994), sometimes known as Madame Agathe, was a . She served as Prime Minister of Rwanda from 18 July 1993 until her assassination on 7 April 1994 (aged 41yrs old), during the opening stages of the 100 days Rwandan Genocide which claimed the lives of closed to a million people. She was Rwanda’s first and so far only female prime minister.

 

Uwilingiyimana, was a Hutu, the largest ethnic group in Rwanda. She was a stellar student and married a fellow student, Ignace Barahira, from her village of Nyaruhengeri. In the early 1980s, she taught chemistry at the National University of Rwanda.

 

Here, Agathe Uwilingiyimana is pictured with two of her five children. Photo credit: Profimedia.cz, Corbis

 

Uwilingiyimana was the target of the Rwandan media as it was thought that women should not study science or work in the same posts as men.

 

Uwilingiyimana’s work in education caught the attention of President Juvénal Habyarimana, although she was a member of the Republican and Democratic Movement (MDR) opposition party. Habyarimana’s National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) party ruled Rwanda, but there was a power-sharing strategy between the five political parties of the nation that led to a brokered deal that saw Uwilingiyimana appointed as Prime Minister by President Habyarimana on July 17, 1993.

 

Uwilingiyimana’s position caused division in the country, and there were grumblings from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was comprised of the Tutsi people who had issues with the Hutu-led government.

 

Uwilingiyimana’s official role as prime minister was essentially eliminated by President Habyarimana 18 days in to her post. She remained at her post in a “caretaker” role and was seen as an divider by her own Hutu people. In March 1994, the Broad Based Transitional Government was supposed to be enforced, but because one of the major parties did not show, the ceremonial motion of Uwilingiyimana did not occur.

 

On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana; Cyprien Ntaryamira, the President of Burundi and the Chief of Staff of the Rwandan military; and many others were on president’s private jet that was shot down out of Rwandan airspace.

 

Who ordered the blasting of the aircraft still remains a mystery, although some thought the RPF was originally responsibleThe French have also been accused of shooting down the plane and inciting more conflict.

 

After addressing the Rwandan people via Radio France, Uwilingiyimana was essentially the head of the government for 14 hours. The United Nations sent a peacekeeping escort to her home comprised of 10 troops from Belgium in the wee hours of the morning. They were to shield Uwilingiyimana and her family from harm as she intended to head to Radio Rwanda the the next day in order to encourage calm.

 

Holed up in her home with her husband and their five children, the military descended upon the residence under orders from Colonel Théoneste Bagosora who was the chief of staff of the Ministry of Defense.

 

Bagosora’s military forces and the presidential guard murdered the 10 Belgian peacekeepers and later cornered Uwilingiyimana and her husband who hid their children in a neighboring home.

 

Even though Uwilingiyimana and her husband surrendered to the forces to save the rest of the family, the troops killed and then physically assaulted Uwilingiyimana in plain view.

 

Uwilingiyimana’s husband and five other men were also killed, but the children escaped with the help of U.N. peacekeeper Mbaye Diagne. They were eventually sent to live in Switzerland.

 

Diagne was later killed by RPF forces the following month.

 

Major Bernard Ntuyahaga of the Rwandan military was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the murder of Uwilingiyimana and the peacekeepers; however, charges were later dropped.

 

On December 18, 2008, Colonel Bagosora was found guilty by the ICTR of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes and sentenced him to life in prison for his part in the killing of the prime minister and U.N. peacekeeper forces.

 

Though short, Uwilingiyimana’s political career was precedent-setting as one of the few female political figures in Africa. She was contemporaneous with Sylvie Kinigi, Prime Minister of Burundi. As a memorial to the late Rwandan Prime Minister, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) established The Agathe Innovative Award Competition. The award funds educational and income generating projects aimed at improving the prospects of African girls. One of FAWE’s founding members was Agathe Uwilingiyimana.


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