At the height of the infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide, Théodore Sindikubwabo, a trained physician, was installed as interim president by the Crisis Committee controlled by Colonel Théoneste Bagosora.
Sindikubwabo became the head of state of Rwanda during the genocide and ruled for only three months. But he is widely believed to have been a puppet of the group of military officers who held the real power in the country for his statements that incited the Hutus against the minority Tutsi ethnic groups.
Born in the town of Butare in the south of Rwanda, Sindikubwabo trained as a physician and rose to become the Minister of Health in the administration of President Grégoire Kayibanda, the first elected president of Rwanda.
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This followed the takeover of power by Juvénal Habyarimana, the 2nd President of Rwanda, who remains the country’s longest serving president to date – from 1973 until 1994. He was nicknamed “Kinani”, meaning “invincible”.
On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana was assassinated alongside president Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu leader of neighbouring Burundi, as they were returning from ongoing peace talks between the Hutu and the Tutsi.
Théodore Sindikubwabo was then installed as interim president in his place, but his rule made him more and more unpopular for many reasons.
On 19 April 1994, Sindikubwabo made a now-infamous speech at the ceremony appointing a new Préfet (Governor) of Butare – the colonial capital of Rwanda – that was broadcast live on national radio. In his speech, he made insulting comments at those he thought were not “working”, a euphemism for killing Tutsis, and told them to “get out of the way and let us work”.
He later returned to Butare on April 29 and told the populace that he was there to supervise the killing of Tutsi. On an 18 May visit to the Kibuye Prefecture, he made an even further regrettable move when he congratulated the people on how well they had done their “work”.
Later, the Rwandese Patriotic Front took control of the country and ended the genocide. Following the invasion, Sindikubwabo fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where he lived in exile in Bukavu.
He was interviewed there for the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and he was quoted as saying: “The moment has not yet come to say who is guilty and who is not guilty.”
He was initially reported to have been killed in the Rwandan government attack on Bukavu in November 1996 at the beginning of the First Congo War, but subsequent reports put him in Kinshasa.
He died in exile in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s and was never charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.