Bagosora, Théoneste

1 March, 2010
Viret Emmanuel

Théoneste Bagosora is regarded as the brains behind the 1994 massacres and their main organizer. Born on August 16, 1941, in Giciye (Bushiru), of which Juvénal Habyarimana was also a native, the son of a teacher, Théoneste Bagosora spent his whole career in the Army. Leaving the Officers’ School of Kigali with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in 1964, possessing a diploma in higher military studies from the Ecole de Guerre in (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 16), he was first appointed Second-in-Command of Kigali Higher Military School and then commanded the important Kanombe military base until 1992 (TPIR, ICTR-96—7-I, 1999: 16). The establishment of a multi-party system represented a setback to his career; the advent of the coalition government led in 1992 to an alteration in the organization of the Army. Colonels Laurent Serubuga and Pierre-Célestin Rwagafilita, close to the Akazu , were pushed into retirement and Juvénal Habyarimana was not able to place Théoneste Bagosora, who held the rank of Colonel, as FAR General Chief of Staff.

From December 4, 1991, Bagosora led a military commission set up by the President with the task of answering the following question: ‘What must be done to defeat the enemy at a military, media and political level?’ (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 19). In 1992, he requested the preparation of lists of persons identified as representing ‘the enemy and his accomplices’ (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 27). Despite his retirement from the Army on September 23, 1993, Théoneste Bagosora finally became staff director at the Ministry of Defense – a position whose harmless character was only apparent, since it served for the surveillance of the Minister, James Gasana, who was opposed to the Akazu of which Bagosora was one of the most important contacts in the Army (Reyntjens, 1995: 52). He was to hold this post until his departure from Rwanda in July, 1994. Opposing the Arusha Accords, the Colonel left the negotiating table and indicated that he was returning to Rwanda to ‘prepare the apocalypse’. Over the following months, he publicly declared on several occasions, in particular on April 4, 1994, that a solution to the war consisted in the extermination of Rwandan Tutsis (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 20-22). On several occasions he organized the distribution of weapons, particularly to the bourgmestres of Gisenyi prefecture in February 1993 (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 25).

However, Théonoste Bagosora was not only Juvénal Habyarimana’s man. The latter distrusted someone who reckoned himself capable of ruling Rwanda on his own and, to that end, could count in particular on the support of his younger brother Pasteur Musabe, director of the African Continental Bank. On April 6, 1994, Théoneste Bagosora directed the meeting of the ‘Crisis Committee’ organized at staff headquarters. While he succeeded in politically eliminating Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, firmly refusing to have any contact with her some hours before her assassination, he was not able to impose his intimates, Akazu members Laurent Serubuga and Pierre-Célestin Rusatira, at the head of the general staff because of the opposition of Léonidas Rusatira. He finally proposed the appointment of Marcel Gatsinzi (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 32; Reyntjens, 1995: 52-53). During the same meeting, he gave the first orders by telephone for the massacre of Tutsis in Gisenyi as well as to the INYANGE Interahamwe group in Remera (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 41; Reyntjens, 1995: 57-58). In the following days, he took part in the appointment of the new President of the Republic, Théodore Sindikubwabo, and the establishment of a temporary government (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 35). Possessing a parallel radio network in direct contact with members of the general staff and numerous figures, including the prefect of Kigali Tharcisse Renzaho, Théoneste Bagosora seems to have assumed effective power in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Thus, he decided on the transfer of the National Bank’s funds from Kigali to Gitarama and on arms purchases throughout the month of April, as well as the conduct of the massacres in the same period (TPIR, ICTR-96-7-I, 1999: 50-52).

Arrested on March 9, 1996, in Yaounde (Cameroon), transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda at Arusha on January 23, 1997, his trial for genocide, complicity, incitement, and conspiracy to commit genocide began on April 2, 2002. Théoneste Bagosora entered a plea of not guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 18, 2008.

Cite this item

Viret Emmanuel, Bagosora, Théoneste, Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 1 March, 2010, accessed 17/02/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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