Rwanda Genocide

What Exactly Happened in Rwanda?

Author: Russell Shortt

The Hutu were some of the earliest inhabitants of Rwanda, after the arrival of the Tutsi around the sixteenth century, the Hutu were forced into servitude in a Tutsi-dominated feudal state. Rwanda was one of the last places in Africa to be swallowed up by the European powers during the Scramble for Africa. The Europeans found a state that was divided between Tutsis and Hutus, the divide was described as one of class, where the Tutsis as herders were the upper class and the Hutus as farmers were the lower class. The region of Rwanda and Burundi was given to the German Empire at the Brussels conference of 1890 in return for them renouncing all claims to Uganda. The Germans held back for a number of years, seizing their opportunity during a succession battle for the Rwanda throne, they moved into the region claiming the area in the name of the Kaiser and subsuming it into German East Africa. The German rule was one of little or no control, depending completely on the courts of various local rulers in which they placed agents who attempted to influence proceedings. Germany did not encourage either modernisation or centralisation and favoured the ruling Tutsi class, thinking them more adaptable to European ways and thus granted them ruling positions over the Hutu class. Belgium occupied the territory in 1916, during World War One and was awarded a mandate known as the Ruanda-Urundi (present day Rwanda and Burundi) by the League of Nations in 1923. In 1925, the Belgians formed an administrative area between Ruanda-Urundi and the Belgian Congo. Belgium retained the German policy of strengthening the position of the Tutsis over the Hutus.

Belgium were adamant that the colony would turn a profit, forcing each farmer to plant coffee and installing draconian measures to ensure that it was done, they were assisted in implementing this policy by their Tutsi allies. This alliance had the effect of solidifying the already existing racial divide between the Hutus and Tutsis and it was further exacerbated after eugenic researchers began to produce papers stating that Tutsis had Caucasian heritage and were thus superior to Hutus. Each citizen was issued with an identity card which defined them as legally Hutu or Tutsi. The Belgians gave almost complete political power to the Tutsis who exploited their power over the Hutu majority. In 1946, Ruanda-Urundi became a UN trust territory under Belgian administration . Changes across Africa, post World War II led the Hutus to begin demanding the abolition of political equality and oppression against them. The Belgians encouraged reforms as they feared Hutu unrest would destabilise the region but the Tutsis refused to countenance any change to their ascendant position. An increasingly restive Hutu population encouraged by the Belgian military staged a revolt in November 1959. Massacres ensued with wide ranging reports of between 20,000 and 100,000 Tutsis being killed by Hutus. A UN report stated that the massacres had being engineered in collusion with the Belgian authorities. The 1959 revolution completely transformed the political and social fabric of Rwanda, over 150,000 Tutsis had being sent into exile and those who remained were excluded from all positions of political power. In 1962 the Belgians pulled out and Rwanda became an independent country with the Hutus in the ascendancy.

In December 1963, following an abortive invasion by Tutsi refugees from Burundi, a massive crackdown was launched against the resident Tutsi population which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 12,000. Tutsis began fleeing in their tens of thousands into the neighbouring states of Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Congo. A horrendous regime of repression was administered against those who remained behind, resulting in Tutsi militants beginning to organise, labelling themselves as inyensi or cockroaches alluding to their intention to infiltrate the country. In 1973, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, staged a coup and took control of the country, heralding a new era of relaxed measures towards the Tutsi population. However the regime was corrupt and popular discontent grew throughout the 1980s forcing Habyarimana to implement some political reforms. But the greatest threat to his regime came in October 1990 when over 1,000 Tutsi refugees, calling themselves the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded from Uganda, scoring notable successes before eventually succumbing to government forces bolstered by French, Belgian and Zairian troops. The invasion was used as a pretext for a heightening of repression against the Tutsi population. Habyarimana's government began to recruit Hutu youth militias knows as Interahamwe which contributed to an escalation of ethnic violence. However, Habyarimana began to push for reform and an ending to repressive measures against the Tutsi population, eventually leading him to sign the Arusha Accords in August 1993 which sought to merge the RPF with the national army, the right of return for all Rwandan refugees and the holding of fair elections leading to a democratic government. For his efforts he was assassinated, most likely by Hutu extremists, however the blame was placed upon the Tutsis. A huge propaganda machine was unleashed which encouraged a genocide against the Tutsis and Tutsi sympathisers.

Tragically, it worked and arguably the worst genocide in the history of the world was conducted in Rwanda from April to July 1994 with over 800,000 people being murdered. Hordes of the Interahamwe militia and rebels named the Inkotanyi roamed the country massacring Tutsis and anyone who sympathised with them. There was a RPF battalion stationed in the capital Kigali under the agreements reached at Arusha, they fought their way out of the city and linked up with RPF units in the north. Paul Kagame, the RPF leader organised forces from Tanzania and Uganda to invade the country. Even though aware of the horrific scale of killing, the United Nations refused to get involved, however the RPF successfully took control of the country. Almost two million Hutu refugees fled into neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. They gathered in over thirty camps, many of which were infiltrated by Hutus who had orchestrated the genocide and became extensions of Hutu power in exile. They established brutal control in the camps which were dogged by epidemics of cholera and diarrhoea. An international humanitarian mission was created in an attempt to restore order and stabilise the crises in the camps. Initially, they were quite successful but aid workers began to raise concerns about the presence of armed elements in the camps and the relief operation began to be accused of harbouring the perpetuators of the genocide. Aid organisations began to leave, requesting the UN to intervene and disarm the camps, however their reaction was minimal. The Hutu militants expanded their activities, constantly raiding Rwanda and attacking Tutsis in eastern Zaire. In response, Rwanda began smuggling arms into Zaire to arm the Tutsis residing there. This heightening of tensions led to the First Congo War which led to the fall of Mobutu and the re-naming of Zaire as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The war in Zaire had the immediate effect of emptying the camps and the refugees began returning to Rwanda in their droves.

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About the Author

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt, http://www.exploringireland.net http://www.visitscotlandtours.com