The Rwandan genocide, an episode in Rwandan history refers to the outrageous massacre of the Tutsi ethnic group by the Hutu who were in majority in the year 1994. The root cause of the genocide can be traced back to the Belgian colonial era when Belgium spread its colonial influence in Rwanda. Rwanda had always been a peaceful country as the two major ethnic groups; Hutu and Tutsi had a peaceful and cordial relationship between them.  But with the arrival of the Belgian colonialists, they (the Belgians) created an ethnic hierarchy with the Tutsi ethnic group being seen as superior to the Hutus mainly because the Tutsis were thinner and taller than the Hutus. As a result of this unhealthy comparison, the Tutsis then began to see themselves better than the Hutus and this made the Hutus angry thus resulting in a conflict between these two major ethnic groups. A riot broke out between these two ethnic groups in 1959 when the Hutus attacked the Tutsis, killing about 20,000, and forcing 300,00 Tutsis to flee the country making the remainder, a smaller minority.

Following Rwanda’s independence from Belgium in 1962, the rivalry between these two ethnic groups intensified, as a new cycle of ethnic conflict and violence started. The Tutsi refugees that fled to neighboring states formed a force known as the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Force) in an attempt to return back to Rwanda. This made them organize attacks on the Hutu targets and the Hutu led government. From 1962-1967, the RPF attacked the Hutu government about ten times. This led to retaliation by the then Rwandan president, increasing prejudice towards the Tutsis.  After a while, a ceasefire between these hostilities was reached, leading to negotiations between the Hutu led government and the RPF in 1992.

In August 1993, the Rwandan president, Habyarimana signed an agreement at Arusha, Tanzania calling for the creation of a transition government that would include the RPF. The Hutus were not pleased with this agreement and swore to prevent this agreement from becoming a reality, as they believed that it was a concession to enemy demands.

rwandan rwanda rwandan genocide habyarimana
President Habyarimana

On the 6th of April 1994, an airplane carrying President Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down just over the capital city of Kigali, killing everyone on board. No one knows who carried out this attack and for what reason, but it was assumed by the Hutus to be the RPF, while some blamed the Hutus.

rwandan gencide
habyarimana plane crash
Habyarimana Plane Crash

The crash sparked up the 1994 Rwandan genocide as presidential guard, together with members of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe(“Those who attack together”) and Impuzamugambi (“Those who have the same goal”), set up roadblocks and barricades and began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus with impunity. The Tutsis were systematically identified and killed as they searched all holders of the National ID card of Rwanda (which was introduced by the Belgian colonialists) which contained ethnic classifications. Some Hutus allowed their Tutsi friends to hide in their house, however, this was risky as once the Hutu military finds out, both the Tutsi and the Hutu will be killed. Thousands of Tutsi women were tortured and raped while some were kept as sex slaves. However, some Hutu civilians did not want to participate in the killings, but they were pressured to arm themselves with weapons and attack their Tutsi neighbors.  Over 5,000 people seeking refuge in Ntarama church were killed by grenade, machete, rifle, or burnt alive. Just a few Tutsis survived the genocide; the survivors were mostly kids and few adults with major defects.

Meanwhile, the RPF resumed fighting and the civil war raged alongside the genocide. In July 1994, the RPF captured the capital city of Kigali and some other parts of the country and declared a ceasefire. This made over 2 million people (nearly all Hutus) flee Rwanda, crowding into refugee camps in the Congo and other neighboring countries. The RPF then established a coalition government similar to the Arusha Accords with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu as president and Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as vice president and defense minister. The former president Habyarimana’s party was dissolved and a new constitution was adopted in 2003. This constitution eliminated any reference to ethnicity and allowed for Kagame’s election to a 10-year term as Rwanda’s president and the country’s first ever legislative elections.

paul kagame
Paul Kagame
pasteur bizimungu
Pasteur Bizimungu

The genocide may have lasted just 100 days, but the effects were extremely severe especially on the survivors who knew what happened to their families and loved ones, including those who had no idea what happened to their families, not forgetting those that survived major injuries.  An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed and about 70% of the Tutsi population. It is also unfortunate that the International communities knew about the genocide in Rwanda but yet decided to watch helplessly. The president of the United States of America at that time President Bill Clinton received daily news about the genocide but failed to do anything. However, he traveled to Rwanda four years after the genocide, where he apologized.

bill clinton in rwanda
BURERA, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton greets villagers after attending a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital August 2, 2008 in Burera, Rwanda. Former President Clinton is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in four African countries over before heading to Mexico City to give a keynote address at the World AIDS Conference on Monday, August 4th. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foundation)

Belgium was also aware of the killings in Rwanda but didn’t do anything, until after 6 years when Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologized for not intervening in the genocide.

guy verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt
AFP PHOTO / Paul FAITH (Photo credit should read PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images)

 The United Nations also apologized for withdrawing its troops during the genocide after just 10 of its troops were killed.

Victims of the 1994 genocide are engraved in a wall in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center

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