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Agathe Uwilingiyimana

Agathe Uwilingiyimana
Prime Minister of Rwanda
In office
18 July 1993 – 7 April 1994
President Juvénal Habyarimana
Preceded by Dismas Nsengiyaremye
Succeeded by Jean Kambanda
Personal details
Born (1953-05-23)23 May 1953
Nyaruhengeri, Ruanda-Urundi (now Rwanda)
Died 7 April 1994(1994-04-07) (aged 40)
Kigali, Rwanda
Political party Republican Democratic Movement

Agathe Uwilingiyimana (23 May 1953 – 7 April 1994), sometimes known as Madame Agathe,[1] was a Rwandan political figure. (She should not be confused with Agathe Habyarimana, who is also known as Madame Agathe.) She served as Prime Minister of Rwanda from 18 July 1993 until her death on 7 April 1994. Her term was ended when she was assassinated during the opening stages of the Rwandan Genocide. She was Rwanda's first and so far only female prime minister.


  • Early life 1
  • Rise to prime minister 2
  • Arusha Accords 3
  • Caretaker prime minister 4
  • Assassination 5
  • Legacy 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Agathe Uwilingiyimana, one of the most influential women in Rwandan history, a Hutu, was born in 1953 in the village of Nyaruhengeri, some 140 km southeast of Kigali, Rwanda's capital city, to farming parents. Shortly after she was born the family emigrated from the border region of Butare to work in the Belgian Congo. Her father moved the family back to Butare when Uwilingiyimana was four. After success in public examinations she was educated at Notre Dame des Citeaux High School, and obtained the certificate to teach humanities at twenty.

In 1976 she received an A-level certificate in mathematics and chemistry; she became a mathematics teacher in a Butare social school. In the same year she married Ignace Barahira, a fellow student from her village. Their first child was born later in the year; they would go on to have five children.

When she was thirty (in 1983) she taught chemistry at the National University of Rwanda. This was financially possible because her husband obtained a University Laboratory post at twice the salary of a math teacher. She received a B.Sc. in 1985, teaching chemistry for four years in the Butare academic schools. Rwandan media was later critical of her scientific education, as it was thought that girls should not study science.

Rise to prime minister

In 1986 she created a Soriority and Credit Cooperative Society among the staff of the Butare academic school, and her high-profile role in the self-help organization brought her to the attention of the Kigali authorities, who wanted to appoint decision makers from the discontented south of the country. In 1989 she became a director in the Ministry of Commerce.

She joined the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR), an opposition party, in 1992, and four months later was appointed Minister of Education by Dismas Nsengiyaremye, the first opposition prime minister under a power-sharing scheme negotiated between President Juvénal Habyarimana and five major opposition parties. As education minister she abolished the academic ethnic quota system, awarding public school places and scholarships by open merit ranking. This decision earned her the enmity of the Hutu-extremist parties.

On 17 July 1993, after a meeting between President Habyarimana and all five parties, Agathe Uwilingiyimana became the first woman prime minister of Rwanda, replacing Dr Nsengiyaremye, the man who had appointed her Minister of Education, and whose exoneration of the president was unpopular with the other parties. Since Uwilingiyimana didn't have the power base of the other candidates, and was not wanted by Habyarimana most observers believe that her appointment as prime minister was based on the political calculation by the President that she would divide the opposition, and by the opposition that she would be controllable. On the day of her appointment, Nsengiyareme suspended Uwilingiyimana's MDR membership. (The MDR had opposed the formation of any interim government excluding the rebel RPF.)

Arusha Accords

The Habyarimana–Uwilingiyimana government was still Hutu dominated, and had the daunting task of successfully negotiating a peace accord with the rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), the Tutsi-dominated guerilla movement. An agreement between Habyarimana, the five opposition parties (led ostensibly by Uwilingiyimana), and the RPF, was finally reached on 4 August 1993. Under the "Arusha Accords", Habyarimana's ruling MRND would take the transitional presidency, and the Prime Minister would come from the MDR. Since the MDR had suspended Uwilingiyimana they chose Faustin Twagiramungu (who had been instrumental in suspending her) to replace her.

Caretaker prime minister

President Habyarimana officially dismissed her as Prime Minister eighteen days after her appointment to the office, but she stayed on in a caretaker capacity for eight months, until her death in April 1994. This was despite being excoriated by all the Hutu-dominated parties, including her own MDR, and President Habyrimana's ruling party, which held a press conference in January 1994 attacking Uwilingiyimana for being a "political trickster".

The swearing in of the "Broad Based Transitional Government", or BBTG, was to have taken place on 25 March 1994. At that point, Uwilingiyimana was to have stepped down in favor of Faustin Twagiramungu, having been guaranteed a lower level ministerial post in the new government. However, the RPF did not appear at the ceremony, postponing the establishment of the new regime. She reached agreement with them that the new government would be sworn in on the following day.


The talks between President Habyarimana, Uwilingiyimana, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front were never concluded, because the president's plane was shot down by rockets at around 8:30 pm on 6 April 1994. From Habyarimana's death until her assassination the following morning (approximately 14 hours), Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana was Rwanda's constitutional head of government.

In an interview with Radio France on the night of President Habyarimana's assassination, Uwilingiyimana said that there would be an immediate investigation. She also said, in her last recorded words:

There is shooting, people are being terrorized, people are inside their homes lying on the floor. We are suffering the consequences of the death of the head of state, I believe. We, the civilians, are in no way responsible for the death of our head of state.

The U.N. peacekeeping force sent a Belgian escort to her home before 3 am the following morning; they intended to take her to Radio Rwanda, from where she planned a dawn broadcast appealing for national calm. Uwilingiyimana's house was further guarded by five Ghanaian U.N. troops on the outside in addition to the ten Belgian troops. Inside the house, the family was protected by the Rwandan presidential guard, but between 6:55 and 7:15 am the presidential guard surrounded the U.N. troops and told them to lay down their arms. Fatally, the blue berets ultimately complied, handing over their weapons just before 9 am.

Seeing the stand-off outside her home, Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her family took refuge in the Kigali U.N. volunteer compound around 8 am. Eyewitnesses to the inquiry on U.N. actions say that Rwandan soldiers entered the compound at 10 am, and searched it for Agathe Uwilingiyimana. Fearing for the lives of her children, Agathe and her husband emerged, and they were shot and killed by the presidential guard on the morning of 7 April 1994. Her children escaped and eventually took refuge in Switzerland. In his book, Me Against My Brother, Scott Peterson writes that the U.N. troops sent to protect Uwilingiyimana were castrated, gagged with their own genitalia, and then murdered.

In his book Shake Hands with the Devil, U.N. commander Roméo Dallaire writes that Uwilingiyimana and her husband surrendered themselves to the genocidaires to save their children, who stayed successfully hidden in the adjoining housing compound for employees of the United Nations Development Programme. The children survived and were picked by Captain Mbaye Diagne, a UNAMIR military observer, who smuggled them into the Hôtel des Mille Collines.[2] They were eventually resettled in Switzerland.

Major Bernard Ntuyahaga was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the murder of Uwilingiyimana and the U.N. peacekeepers, but the charges were dropped.[3] [4] He was eventually convicted of murder of the peacekeepers.[5] On December 18, 2008, the ICTR found Colonel Théoneste Bagosora guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced him to life imprisonment, in part due to his involvement in the murders of Uwilingiyimana and the Belgian peacekeepers.[6][7][8]


Though short, her 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.


  1. ^ Frederik Grünfeld, Anke Huijboom (2007). The Failure to Prevent Genocide in Rwanda: The Role of Bystanders.  
  2. ^ Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil, Carroll & Graf: New York, 2003, ISBN 0-7867-1510-3, pp. 245-246, 268
  3. ^ "'"Genocide suspect 'likely to be tried. BBC News. 20 March 1999. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  4. ^ "Rwanda genocide adjournment". BBC News. 12 May 1999. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "Bernard Ntuyahaga indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda". 
  6. ^ Polgreen, Lydia (2008-12-18). "Rwandan Officer Found Guilty of 1994 Genocide".  
  7. ^ Chhatbar, Sukhdev (2008-12-18). "Planner of Rwandan massacres convicted of genocide".  
  8. ^ Nyakuiru, Frank (2008-12-18). "Rwanda's Bagosora sentenced to life for genocide".  
  • Hill, Kevin A. (1996). "Agathe Uwilingiyimana". In Salokar, Rebecca Mae; Volcansek, Mary L. Women and the Law: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook (ill. ed.). Westport, CT:  
  • Gunhild Hoogensen and Bruce O. Solheim (2006) 'Agathe Uwilingiyimana', page 48-50, "Women in power - women leaders since 1960", Westport, CT: Praeger ISBN 0-275-98190-8
  • Torild Skard (2014) 'Agathe Uwilingiyimana', page 291-2, "Women of power - half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide", Bristol: Policy Press ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0

External links

  • A complete biography from FAWE (Since the Forum for African Women Educationalists has created an award in her honour it is to be expected that this contains no criticism of Agathe Uwilingiyimana.)
  • Report of the independent inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda - containing the complete findings of the inquiry about the morning of the assassination in the section "The crash of the Presidential plane; genocide begins". Although Lt Lotin, the blue beret commander, had been ordered not to surrender his weapons, his orders also included the U.N. directive not to fire unless fired upon, and by the time his commander told him to negotiate (rather than surrender) four of his men were already disarmed.
Political offices
Preceded by
Dismas Nsengiyaremye
Prime Minister of Rwanda
Succeeded by
Jean Kambanda
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