Foreign policy and defense
Based on geographical map from Digopaul, Rwanda is a nation in Eastern Africa. Its capital city is Kigali. Rwanda has long received a great deal of assistance from the western world in particular, but in the 2010s, an increasingly authoritarian government began to root out the outside world’s faith in President Paul Kagame. Rwanda’s relations with the countries of the region have also become more strained, not least to Uganda.
The EU and the US have appreciated Rwanda for an orderly economy and relatively limited corruption and have therefore supported the country financially. In recent years, Kagame’s increasingly authoritarian regime has distanced itself from the Western world. In addition, under President Donald Trump, the United States has been in a trade dispute with Rwanda over import duties.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Rwanda for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
As relations with the Western world have cooled down, Rwanda, like many other African countries, has approached China, which is now the country’s largest trading partner outside Africa.
Belgium retained a strong influence over its former colony after Rwanda’s independence in 1962, but Belgium’s refusal to intervene to prevent the 1994 massacres damaged relations between the two countries (read about the 1994 genocide in Modern history).
During President Kayibanda from 1962 to 1973, Rwanda was a closed society with few international contacts. For economic reasons, major changes took place after Habyarimana’s takeover of power in 1973, as the trapped Rwanda must cooperate with neighboring countries to survive.
Complex relationship with France
France built up Habyarimana’s army and stood on the regime’s side during the civil war after 1990. France has also been accused of having supplied the Hutu regime with weapons while the genocide was going on.
Relations reached a bottom when a French judge in 2006 accused President Kagame of ordering the shooting of Habyarimana’s aircraft, triggering the genocide (according to a more trusted version, the act was carried out by Hutu extremists). The judge issued an international arrest warrant for nine of Kagame’s employees and urged the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to bring charges against the president. The judge acted on behalf of relatives of the French crew on the plane.
Rwanda broke diplomatic relations and notified France before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The so-called Mucyo Commission report, which the Rwanda government backed in 2008, identified 20 French military and 13 politicians involved in the genocide, including former President François Mitterrand and former prime ministers Édouard Balladur, Alain Juppé and Dominique de Villepin.
In 2010, a new investigation, called the Mutszini Report and commissioned by the Rwandan government, determined that President Habyarimana was killed in 1994 by radical Hutus from his own circle. The investigation had collected new testimonies from Belgian military, British ballistics experts had conducted new investigations and over 500 witnesses had been heard. Several Rwandan experts said that the conclusions drawn by the investigation seemed reasonable.
Questions about what role France had played in the course of events in 1994 were not answered. But the fact that both the French Foreign Minister and the President visited Rwanda in 2010 was interpreted as France’s endorsement of the Mutszini report. French President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged that France had made a mistake in Rwanda and the countries’ diplomatic contacts were resumed. In 2018, the French investigation into the assassination of President Habyarimana was dropped in the absence of evidence.
Rwanda’s role in Congo-Kinshasa
Zaire’s (now Congo-Kinshasa) President Mobutu sent soldiers to Habyarimana’s support following the 1990 FPR guerrilla invasion. Therefore, Rwanda supported the uprising that erupted in Zaire in the fall of 1996 and contributed greatly to the overthrow of Mobutu in May 1997. Rwanda also participated in the new uprising which erupted in the summer of 1998 in eastern Congo-Kinshasa. The up to 30,000 Rwandan soldiers began to retreat in 2001, but Rwanda has also subsequently been accused of interference by supporting Congolese militia groups. In 2001, the UN accused Rwanda of looting Congo-Kinshasa’s natural wealth.
In November 2007, Rwanda was reported to have agreed with Congo-Kinshasa to forcibly disarm huturebeller in the neighboring country. Nevertheless, in October 2008, the Congolese government accused Rwanda of sending troops across the border in support of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and his Tutsimilis CNDP. Rwanda denied this, but many observers believed that the Rwandan military had at least provided the CNDP with weapons.
Such accusations were also made in a UN report in December. But CNDP was also estimated to receive money and weapons from supporters in other countries, including Europe and the United States. In addition, the militia largely financed its operations through tax collection in the controlled areas and through the exploitation of Congolese natural resources.
The data on Rwandan involvement in Congo-Kinshasa caused Sweden to freeze its budget support to Rwanda in December 2008. Previously, the Netherlands had done the same. The fact that even the most important donor of the United Kingdom threatened to withdraw their financial support is believed to have influenced Rwanda’s government to start cooperating with Congo-Kinshasa in the fight against rebel forces in the border area. CNDP leader Nkunda was arrested shortly thereafter on Rwandan territory.
A few years later, Rwanda was again accused of supporting Congolese Tutsi rebels, after former CNDP soldiers revolted and formed a militia called the M23 (March 23 movement). In a couple of UN reports, the Kagame government was identified as directly responsible for the rebels’ activities. Several countries again froze their aid to Rwanda. The government denied involvement but joined the UN in March 2013 by sending the wanted M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, despite Rwanda not recognizing the ICC.
In February 2018, the Congolese and Rwandan military accused each other of violating the border between the two countries and several soldiers on both sides were killed in exchanges of fire. At the same time, riots occurred in camps in Rwanda where Congolese refugees gathered. However, Felix Tschisekedi’s entry as new president of Congo-Kinshasa at the end of the same year led to a rapprochement with Rwanda.
Hostile relationship with Uganda
Rwanda’s relationship with Uganda was good in the first few years after FPR’s takeover of power, as most of the FPR leadership had served in the guerrillas that took power there in 1986. During the war in Congo-Kinshasa 1998-2003, relations with Uganda deteriorated dramatically, and soldiers from both countries were repeatedly involved in fierce battles against each other. The disagreement is considered, among other things, to be a rivalry for control of territory and natural resources.
During the last years of the 2010s, Rwanda’s relations with Uganda deteriorated again, mainly because the two presidents Museveni and Kagame ended up in conflict with each other. In early 2019, the situation developed into a kind of postwar war. In February, Rwanda closed an important border crossing to Uganda. The conflict escalated in March when Rwanda accused Uganda of abducting and torturing Rwandan citizens and supporting rebels who want to overthrow Kagame and his government. Uganda, for its part, accused Rwanda of espionage, and seized and expelled several Rwandans. In May, Ugandan police accused Rwanda’s military of crossing the border and killing two Ugandan men, something Rwanda’s government denied.
In August 2019, the two countries entered into an agreement to respect each other’s sovereignty and abstain from acts that undermine the stability of the neighboring country. At the time, the disaffection between the countries’ leaders had led to reduced trade and damaged the economy in the area. The agreement was intended to set a point for this, but the discontent has persisted. Despite a series of summits between the two countries, the border crossing is still closed.
Impaired relations with Burundi
Rwanda’s relationship with Burundi deteriorated significantly in 2015 and 2016 as a contested presidential election in the neighboring country led to internal unrest. Among the regime opponents there were many Tutsis who later fled to Rwanda. The Kagame government was accused by Burundi of providing military training on the Rwandan land. The Kagame government denied this and announced in 2016 that the Burundian refugees would be relocated to a third country.
Regional and international cooperation
On July 1, 2007, Rwanda along with Burundi formally became members of the East African Community (EAC), formed in 2001 by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The countries aim to strengthen political cooperation, increase regional trade and reduce dependency on foreign aid. On July 1, 2010, the EAC countries formed a common market where labor and capital can move freely across borders. The goal is for the EAC to become a political federation. In November 2013, the five countries signed a protocol that will gradually introduce a single currency by 2023.
In 2009, Rwanda became a member of the Commonwealth, despite the fact that the country has never been a British colony. The membership was considered to be a nasal button to France but also a logical consequence of Rwanda, under FPR’s leadership, highlighting English as the first foreign language at the expense of the French.
The Rwandan defense force is one of the most capable in Africa. Rwanda has contributed soldiers to the AU and UN peacekeeping forces, including in Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 32 000 men (2017)
The air Force: 1,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.0 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 5.1 percent (2017)