Grégoire Kayibanda was President of the First Rwandan Republic. Born on May 1, 1924, in Tare, in the neighborhood of Kabgayi, to a catechist father, he attended the small seminary of Nyakibanda (Paternostre de la Mairieu, 1994: 39-66). This enabled him to become a teacher at Classe Institute near Kigali, where he taught until 1952 (Paternostre de la Mairieu, 1994: 75). At the same time, he was involved in community life and became Secretary of the Rwandan Literary Committee and the Belgian-Rwandan Friendship Society.In 1952, Kayibanda was a seminarian at Kabgayi and then, two years later, editor of the journal l’AMI , which ceased publication in 1956. The same year, he became President of the management committee of the Trafipro collective, editor-in-chief of Kinyamateka, personal secretary to Monseigneur Perraudin and a member of the Marangara Chefferie Council. He used these three positions to set out his ideas, attract the backing of the Church and win supporters.
In June 1957, he created the Muhutu Social Movement, based on the program outlined by the Bahutu Manifesto of March 1957 which he helped to write (Lemarchand, 1970: 150-151). In September of the same year, he was sent by the White Fathers on a journalism course in Belgium (Linden, 1999: 325). After his return to Rwanda, on September 26, 1959, he created the Party for the Emancipation of the Hutu People (PARMEHUTU) on the bases of the Muhutu Social Movement. Under his guidance, PARMEHUTU broke definitively with the monarchy following the Rwandan All Saints Day of 1959 and transformed itself into the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR-PARMEHUTU) on June 6, 1960 (Paternostre de la Mairieu, 1994: 158). Kayibanda was charged with forming a provisional government on October 26, 1960, after the victory of PARMEHUTU in the elections for the communal councils (Paternostre de la Mairieu, 1994: 158).
On January 28, 1961, following the Gitarama Coup (see above), he became Prime Minister of the Rwandan Republic (Munyarugerero, 2003: 86). The strong man of the new republican regime, on October 26, 1961, he acceded to the supreme post of President following the legislative elections, and directed the country’s transition to independence on July 1, 1962. In the space of a few years, the young republic became an authoritarian regime based on ethnicity. In 1965, MDR-PARMEHUTU became the de facto single party, holding all the seats in the National Assembly, and Grégoire Kayibanda was re-elected in the presidential election of 1965 with 98.03 percent of the vote and again in 1969 with 99.6 percent of the vote (Reyntjens, 1985: 408). After the 1963 massacres, the President reacted to the UNAR’s vague attempts to retake Kigali by threatening ‘the complete and rapid termination of the Tutsi race’ (Chrétien, 2003: 268; Sémelin, 2005: 96). We still do not know the exact role he played during the purges of February 1973.
Weakened and worn out by his years in power, he was relieved of his duties by Juvénal Habyarimana on July 5, 1973. Placed under house imprisonment and condemned to death on June 29, 1974, he was pardoned and died on December 15, 1976 (Munyarugerero, 2003: 144). The Second Republic rehabilitated him in 1979 (Munyarugerero, 2003: 165).