On this section you will find quick facts about Rwanda, as well as the country’s Genocide history including information on key national homegrown approaches such as Gacaca, Peace and Reconciliation and Ndi Umunyarwanda.
The History of Rwanda
Rwanda Country Profile
Rwanda is a small, landlocked country located in east Africa. Bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda has a population of 12.3 million people. The major economic sectors are tourism, mining and agriculture. The three official languages are Kinyarwanda, English and French.
Prior to European colonisation, Rwanda was the site of one of the region’s most complex monarchical systems. The earliest known inhabitants of the region were the Twa, a Pygmy people.
Rwanda is one of the few states in Africa to closely follow its ancestral borders. The Kingdom of Rwanda, controlled by a Tutsi royal family, ruled the region throughout recorded history. While the upper echelons of this society were largely Tutsi, ethnic divisions were not stark. Many Hutu were among the nobility and significant intermingling took place. The majority of the Tutsi, who made up 15-18% of the population, were poor peasants, as were most of the Hutu.
In 1895 Rwanda became a German province. The Germans, however, were at first completely dependent on the existing government. The German authority kept the indigenous administration system by applying the same type of indirect rule established by the British Empire in the Ugandan kingdoms. After Germany’s loss in World War I, the protectorate was taken over by Belgium with a League of Nations mandate. Belgian rule in the region was far more direct and harsh than that of the Germans. However, the Belgian colonisers did realise the value of native rule. Backed by Christian churches, the Belgians used the minority Tutsi upper class to rule over lower classes of Tutsis and Hutus.
Belgian-forced labour policies and stringent taxes were mainly enforced by the Tutsi upper class, whom the Belgians used as buffers against people’s anger, thus further polarising the Hutu and the Tutsi. Many young peasants, in order to escape tax harassment and hunger, migrated to neighbouring countries. They moved mainly to Congo but also to Ugandan plantations, looking for work. After the Second World War, Rwanda became a UN trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority.
In 1959 King Mutara III, who was baptised into the Catholic faith and renamed Charles, was assassinated despite allowing Hutus greater access to positions of authority in his 28 years of rule. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa, known as King Kigeri V. He was overthrown soon after the Hutu revolt, encouraged by the Belgian military, of November 1959 and fled into exile to Uganda.
Through a series of processes the Hutu gradually gained more and more power until, upon Rwanda’s independence in 1962, the Hutu held virtually all power.
In 1961 the victorious Hutu-led Parmehutu party, having been elected to power, proclaimed a republic and abolished the Tutsi monarchy.
In the following year, 1962, Rwanda achieved independence and Grégoire Kayibanda was elected the first president of the Rwandan Republic. Tutsis became the victims of official discrimination in virtually all public services and in political involvement.
Kayibanda was overthrown by his National Defence Minister Juvénal Habyarimana in a coup in July 1973. Habyarimana’s Second Republic claimed to be sympathetic to Tutsis; but this was not borne out in fact. In the years that followed under the leadership of the one party system, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND), Tutsis continued to experience violence, arrests, intimidation and abuse.
Violence was never far from the surface in these times. In 1959 King Rudahingwa of Rwanda had died in mysterious circumstances while under the care of a Belgian doctor. The outbreak of violence that followed marked the beginning of a Rwandan ‘social revolution’, with a peasant revolt that left 20,000 Tutsis dead. Thousands more were forced to flee as refugees, and an estimated 200,000 settled in Uganda. From 1963 to 1967, 100,000 Tutsis were butchered with machetes and dumped in rivers, and in 1973, Tutsi students were massacred in their thousands.
Habyarimana’s regime used ethnicity as a political strategy in order to hold on to power at any cost. Regional divisions increased, with northerners (the president’s henchmen) taking over virtually all economic and political power.
Meanwhile, Rwandans living in exile were pressing to return home, but were met with no response from the government. Finally, on 1st October 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an invasion from Uganda.
A series of agreements backed by the international community was signed between the RPF and the government of Rwanda to ensure a peaceful settlement of the Rwandan crisis.
On 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana signed a final agreement with the RPF, but on his way back from Dar-es-Salaam to Kigali his plane was shot down and he was killed.
The 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda
The 1994 Genocide in Rwanda was the slaughter of an estimated over 1 million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus, during a period of 100 days from 7th April to 13th July 1994.
The genocide had been in planning for a number of years, and was mostly carried out by two extremist Hutu militia groups, the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi, against Tutsi and some moderate Hutus across Rwanda. Nowhere was left unaffected.
For many, the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda stands out as historically significant, not only because of the sheer number of people that were murdered in such a short period of time, but also because of the way many Western countries responded to the atrocities. Despite intelligence provided before the killing began, and international news media coverage reflecting the true scale of violence as the genocide unfolded, virtually all first-world countries declined to intervene.
The United Nations refused to authorise its peacekeeping operation in Rwanda at the time to take action to bring the killing to a halt. Despite numerous pre and present-conflict warnings by Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, the UN peacekeepers on the ground were forbidden from engaging the militias or even discharging their weapons.
In the weeks prior to the attacks, the UN ignored reports of Hutu militias amassing weapons and rejected plans for a pre-emptive interdiction. It has been claimed that this failure to act became the focus of bitter recriminations towards individual policymakers, such as Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, as well as the United Nations and countries such as France and the United States more generally and President Clinton specifically. It has also been suggested that Clinton was kept informed on a daily basis by his closest advisors and by the U.S. Embassy of Rwanda.
The genocide was brought to an end only when the Tutsi-dominated expatriate movement known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by General Paul Kagame, overthrew the Hutu government and seized power. Trying to escape accountability, hundreds of thousands of Hutu “genocidaires” and their accomplices fled into eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).
The violence and its memory continue to affect the country and the region.
Rwanda After the Genocide
On 4th July 1994, Kigali fell to the RPF. The genocide finally ended in mid-July. In the resulting refugee crisis over two million Hutus fled the country.
Most have since returned, although some Hutus remained in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including some militia members that became involved in wars in the Congo. Incursions into the country by the exiled Hutu radical militia remains a concern for the government of Rwanda.
Following the end of the genocide, the RPF organised a coalition government similar to that established by President Juvénal Habyarimana in 1992. Called The Broad Based Government of National Unity, its fundamental law is based on a combination of the constitution, the Arusha accords, and political declarations by the parties. The MRND party was outlawed.
The first post-war presidential and legislative elections were held in August and September 2003, respectively. Paul Kagame received 95% of the vote in the national election which had a voter turnout of 96%. The Coalition, which includes the RPF, received 73% of the vote. The second presidential election was held in August 2010, and Paul Kagame was re-elected for a second seven-year term with 93% of the vote.
The biggest government preoccupation has been the reintegration of more than two million refugees returning to Rwanda, some for the first time since 1959; prosecuting more than 40,000 individuals detained for crimes relating to the 1994 genocide; prosecuting the many more individuals scheduled to be tried under the gacaca system; preventing the recurrence of insurgency and counterinsurgency among ex-military and Interahamwe militia; and the shift away from crisis to medium and long-term development planning.
The prison population continues to be an urgent problem, and the release of prisoners back in to the community has caused problems for survivors who face intimidation, and in some cases even murder, in reprisal action against them giving evidence at gacaca trials.
22 Years After The Genocide
Today, Rwandans continue to struggle with the legacy of genocide and war. Rwandan genocidal leaders have been on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with 93 people indicted, 61 sentenced and 14 acquitted. Many more have also been trialed in the Rwandan national court system, and through Gacaca traditional courts. However survivors still seeking restorative justice for the atrocities committed against them. The current Rwandan government prohibits any form of discrimination by ethnicity, race or religion. The government has also passed laws prohibiting emphasis on Hutu or Tutsi identity in most types of political activity.
The Country of Thousands Hills and Thousands Smiles!
Today, Rwanda is peaceful and the reconciliation process has brought people together. It is a vibrant and forward-looking country. No longer divided into three tribes, Rwandan people are now part of a single nation, working as one. The country has made huge leaps in terms of improved education, health, social security and encouraging individual entrepreneurship.
Visitors say they are surprised by little things like the cleanliness of the streets or the standards of many of the roads … but most of all, you will hopefully fall in love with the smiling people and the laughter from the children.