Is the “power sharing” the best political solution for Rwanda? Is it practically possible in actual political environment?

By René Claudel Mugenzi

Either or not Rwandans want it, the issue of ethnicity (Hutu-Tutsi) will not go away. Kagame regime has always boasted to have dealt with the issue by suppressing ethnicity in the identity card, which in the past, instrumentalised the ethnic cleavages. However, the analysis of the regime’s organisational structure, particularly in the army and the public services, tells you a different story. Rwandans cannot avoid to talk about these issues, if not publicly, at least privately. Additionally, successive governments since the independence promised to unite Hutu and Tutsi but failed. Instead some officials inside those governments used their co-ethnic group for their own benefits.

Since 1961, Rwanda embraced a new political dimension, a new transitional era from monarchic power to Republic institutions. However, although necessary, such transition failed to grasp the fundamental changes most of Rwandans were striving for, such as uniting all Rwandans through political power sharing. Rwandans have never shared power where both minority and majority ethnic groups have fair share of political representation and privileges. Successive governments, favoured co-ethnic group which benefited greatly from the system in place.

In the brief, since 1959, all Rwandan regimes successively failed to grab the chance to implement the changes needed by all Rwandans for their wellbeing, their political representation and Physical, economic and social security. They failed to share the power where all ethnic divided are represented in terms of government, parliament, judiciary and the army. In fact, fair power sharing, since 1961 has had less priority on successive Rwandan government’s agenda.  Such being the case, the low chances of political representation in Rwanda’s political institutions stood at the core of ethnic violence.

There is a general agreement across different school of thoughts that the problem of ethnic and other deep divisions is greater in countries that are not yet democratic or fully democratic than in well-established democracies, and that such divisions present a major obstacle to democratization in the twenty-first century.  In other words, countries with deep ethnic and other cleavages, where societal divisions are deep, pose a grave problem for democracy. They also agree that the key requirement for successful establishment of democratic government in divided societies “is the power sharing”.

So why is power sharing important and why is important in multi-ethnic Rwanda society

The power sharing increases the political representation, and when the well-designed political institutions provide high chances of political representation, the ethnic group value highly those institutions mostly due to the intrinsic worth of having a ‘voice’ in the sense of one’s group’s interests being considered in the political decision-making process.

Furthermore, it is know that political institutions influence the distribution of resources and powers. Therefore, such influence is more likely to affect the interests of different ethnic groups. It has also an impact on security perception amongst ethnic groups because being represented politically increases the likelihood that policies and decisions which might be harmful to one’s ethnic group can be averted or attenuated.

Why is it crucial in Rwanda?

Since Rwanda became a Republic, conflicts between Tutsi and Hutus remained.  Each ethnic group dominated the other depending on which one has the power. Hutu dominance occurred since 1959 up to 1994 and Tutsi dominance started from 1994.

When demands for fairer treatment, lack of participation in political arena and lack of security repeatedly degenerated into forceful confrontations between Tutsi challengers and Hutu-dominated government authorities vice versa, this arguably demonstrates that grievances about low chances of political representation in Rwanda’s political institutions stood at the core of ethnic violence.

The other important element is the ‘’perception of security’’, which may be a source of conflict.  According to the likes of Saideman (2001), Horrowitz (1993) and Lake & Rothchild (1998); the non-sharing of power will influence the ethnic security dilemma because the number of the excluded group reduce, and their voices become insignificant. Such being the case they cannot get the platform to participate in decision making that would safeguard the group interests including their economic, political, social and physical security.

As result the group may see the government as potential threat rather than a political partner because, they may fear that others control the government and may use its resources (the army, the secret police, and the courts), and influence against them. Thus, the search for security motivates groups in divided societies to seek to control the state or secede if the state’s neutrality cannot be assured. These efforts can exacerbate the situation, because one group’s attempts to control the State will reinforce the fears of others, so they respond by competing to influence and even control the government (ibid).

Since 1994, Kagame regime have dominated all area of politics and failed to guarantee the political representation through a fair share of power to Hutu majority who are now politically speaking, “minority group”. His regime governs institutions under the “winner take it all”, where co-ethnic are significantly favoured in terms of public services, politically and other privileges. The incumbent president has recently manoeuvred the constitutional amendment to allow him to reign until 2034, killing any hope for a political power sharing likelihood. In the beginning of Kagame regime, Hutus have been victim of killings, forcible jail, or forced into exile. However, one needs to note that in recent years many Tutsi have become victims of the regime in that regards.

How can it be done?

My suggestion to future leadership and policy makers would be to agree on short-term political power sharing accord between Hutus and Tutsis as well as Twas in formal way. Either Burundi model type like or under any other process and mechanisms agreed by all political parties. For instance 50/50 power sharing in the army, executive, parliament and local authorities’ representatives put forward by parties and elected democratically. The whole process would be under a transitional period of  at least 10 years. The transitional period would allow Rwandans to absorb the new political culture where brothers and sisters from both ethnic group share the power.

The new political culture would change people perception, particularly less educated who are majority and depend on how they are represented politically, socially economically and their security (kwibona mu butegetsi). It would also eradicate the ethnic dominance over the other. Furthermore, under new designed institutions, people’s voices from all background would be heard and would influence the institutions decisions and policies. I am quite sure that under the new format Rwandans would hold more accountable their representatives, which is healthier for democracy.

Is power sharing practical under the current Rwandan Government?

Under the current regime, sharing power may seem impossible. The regime has become autocratic and a tyrannical, with an absolute ruler that kills anyone deemed a threat.  Secondary, most of power sharing in ethno-political environment are initiated when governments feel threaten and are fighting with rebellious groups or upraising groups.  Therefore, Governments cede under pressure to share the power because of fear that their losses may outweigh the power sharing.

Rwanda has not currently such threat, and the incumbent is free to lead the country in the direction he wants without any opposition. In fact, Kagame has just manoeuvred the constitutional amendment to allow his reign until 2034. His regime is in position of force.

Either or not, his regime would be willing to listen let alone to talk, is an issue.  If the opposition can mobilise in movement that would threaten his regime, probably the president would come to concessions. Until then, Rwandans will be squashed by authoritarian machine, and the chances for power sharing are very slim indeed.

As I started, ethnicity issue will not go away soon. It still on many Rwandans lips if not publically, at least privately. Furthermore, successive governments have used ethnicity card for their personal gains. Therefore, Rwandans should understand that both ethnic group have to live side by side in dignity and respect if they want to strive. One way to achieve that is trough clear and robust power sharing that guarantees political representation, under an agreed process and mechanisms to allow every Rwandan’s voice in decision making through their representatives and to protect every Rwandans interests. This situation is called in Kinyarwanda ” Kwiyumva mu butegetsi ”



Horowitz, D. (1993) “Democracy in Divided Societies,” Journal of Democracy, 4 (4): 18-38.

Saideman, S., M. Lanoue, D., J. Campenni, M. Stanton, S. (2002) Democratization, Political institutions, and Ethnic Conflict. Comparative Studies, 35 (1): 103-129

Lake and Rotchdil (1998) the international spread of ethnic conflict: Fear Diffusion and Escalation. New Jersey: Princeton University Press