The Rwandan Genocide

In the small country of Rwanda, located in Southeast Africa, a colossal genocide took place in 1994. It was brought about due to racial tension amongst two tribal groups; Tutsi and Hutu. At the time of the genocide, the Hutus made up more than of the population, with the Tutsis following after. The ethnic rivalry of the Hutus and the Tutsis had been going many years before the genocide took place, but these 100 days of massacre after massacre drew the line. Starting in 1895, colonial rule was the main force behind finding the Rwandan national identity.

First it was the German authorities, but they were then replaced by the Belgians in 1916. The Belgians were actually the ones who separated the people into the three national groups. But with this came “a greater identification with the Rwandan national state for all groups, even as they also created greater ethnic identification and polarization” (Countries and Their Cultures p. 1874). The three groups came about through immigration and social and economic differences.

It is believed that the Twa were first or the “original inhabitants” (Countries and Their Cultures p.1874), the Hutu came second from the west, and the Tutsi came later on from the northeast. On the contrary, research did by archaeologists and anthropologists states that the migration of these groups was a lot more complex, being that many people moved into Rwanda over a long period of time. In fact, the differences between the three groups grew only during the time of colonial rule and also from European ideas on race and identity, rather than from historical backgrounds. Colonial authorities believed “power in Rwanda to be organized primarily along ethnic lines” (Countries and Their Cultures p.1874).

They began to make policies that controlled the Hutu and benefited the Tutsi, who they believed were the born rulers. Europeans believed that the Tutsi looked the most identical to themselves than any other Rwandan, and they were placed closer to Europeans in the hierarchy. They found it reasonable for the Tutsi to control the Hutu and the Twa; similar to how they thought it was reasonable for them to rule the Africans. The Europeans were not informed about how big of a contributor the Hutu were to the country of Rwanda, and only focused on the Tutsi to be the supreme rulers.

From this point, the Belgians decided to give higher education and higher-ranked jobs to only Tutsis, but they had one problem. How could they decide who was actually Tutsi? They used a general physical similarity to distinguish them, but it did not help to identify all. Genealogy was the easiest way to determine a person’s status, but it was sometimes inaccurate due to the fact that some people could change category depending on if their fortune rose or fell. So instead, an individual’s group affiliation was put on record and anyone born after this point would have theirs recorded at the time of their birth.

This was put into effect around the 1930s. “Some 15 percent of the population declared themselves Tutsi, approximately 84 percent said they were Hutu, and the remaining 1 percent said they were Twa” (Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda). Belgium continued to support the Tutsis until the 1950s. Then, with the end of colonial rule approaching and pressure from the UN, the authorities began to let the Hutu become more involved in the public life. Hutus began to receive higher positions in the administration and get admitted into secondary schools.

Although these changes were minor, they still frightened the Tutsis. The conservative Tutsi planned to have the Belgians gone before majority rule was in effect. On the other hand, radical Hutus wanted to gain power of the political system before the Belgians withdrew. In 1959, an exclusive party of Hutus and a royalist party of Tutsis both gained strength. “In November 1959, several Tutsi assaulted a Hutu sub-chief. As the news of the incident spread, Hutu groups attacked Tutsi officials and the Tutsi responded with more violence. Several hundred people were killed before the Belgian administration restored order.

The Belgians then replaced about half the Tutsi local authorities by Hutu. With the help of many of these local administrators, the Parmehutu easily won the first elections in 1960 and 1961. In September 196l, some 80 percent of Rwandans voted to end the monarchy, thus confirming the proclamation of a republic the previous January 1961 by the Parmehutu-led government. These events became known as the “Hutu Revolution”” (Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda). After Rwanda won its independence in 1962, the Hutu began to take over and caused about 400,000 Tutsi to flee to Uganda and other places.

Receiving help from countries like Uganda, the United States, and the United Kingdom, these Tutsi refugees created an army called the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1985. Five years later in 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda. To end this constant back and forth, France and the United States came about with a peace deal in 1993 called the Arusha Accords. Hutu leaders agreed to the deal and it gave the RPF more power. To make sure that peace was actually kept, a small UN force, along with an RPF battalion were sent to station in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.

In April of 1994, Hutu President Habyarimana “was flying back from peace talks in Tanzania… The plane was shot down when it was landing in Kigali”. (Ilibagiza, p. 43). In the novel Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, she explains what announcements on the radio were like after the plane crash. She says, “I hesitate to use the word reported because the man on the radio sounded more like a cheerleader for the killers than a journalist…

He made the killings sound justified. He made it sound like dragging entire families into the street and murdering them was perfectly reasonable” (p.44). In fear of a Tutsi takeover, the Hutu extremists began on their reign of terror in vengeance of the president’s death. They immediately began killing Tutsi politicians, leaders, and also innocent civilians. During the reign of attacks, 10 of the UN troops were captured, tortured, and murdered. The UN then removed around 90% of their force out of Rwanda. Who would help the Tutsis now? During the first days of the genocide in Kigali, individuals who opposed to the president were sought out and murdered. After a few weeks, the assailants’ strategies changed.

Instead of seeking out individuals, groups of Tutsis were brought out of their homes into public places such as schools and churches. Here, they would be killed in masses. Most women were raped and tortured, and even mutilated before they were actually murdered. Towards the end of the month, most large massacres had ended. Also, problems had arisen within the army. Some militants began to abuse their license to kill. They began to kill Hutus that they had personal problems with. Also, some militants were letting Tutsis escape in return for favors.

By the middle of May, authorities ordered for the final straw, and that was to find and kill every Tutsi left. They searched for those who were hidden away or who had been spared because of their status, such as priests and medical workers. They also looked for any survivors who may be used to testify on the massacre. Civilians took any risk in order to survive. Tutsis, even the Hutus that they knew, worked together to save their lives. Many people escaped to nearby countries. Many also stayed in the country of Rwanda, fearing that even taking a step outside could prove fatal.

They hid in places such as ceilings of houses, holes in the ground, forests, and swamps. Some people bought their lives off, and others paid weekly with money or services. In the end, more than 500,000 Tutsis were killed in the genocide that lasted for about three months. The genocide ended when a Tutsi rebel army gained control over the government. This genocide affected the lives of many people. Immaculee states that, “And that’s as it should be, for what happened in Rwanda happened in Rwanda happened to us all- humanity was wounded by the genocide… I believe that we can heal Rwanda- and our world- by healing one heart a time”

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