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A Brief History of the Rwandan Genocide

By Iman Kagimu

Do you believe that it's possible for 800,000 people to be killed in 100 days? Most would say no, and be shocked to learn that such devastation has happened not too long ago.

In 1899, Rwanda was under German control as part of German East Africa; however, after World War 1, when the League of Nations was created, the country came under Belgium's power. When the Belgian colonists arrived, they created "identity cards" and assigned people groups based on physical differences instead of cultural or ethnic identities, by assigning people to groups randomly. The people were never divided like this before or pitted against each other until the Belgains arrived. The groups were the Tutsis, Hutus, and the lesser-known Twa. The Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus, who started to build resentment against the Tutsis as the Belgians provided them with better economic, educational, and political opportunities. The two groups were only against each other because the Belgains gave the Tutsis all the power, as it would be easier for Belgium to rule Rwanda if the people were against each other and not Belgium. At the time in 1959, Tutsi, the current ruling group, created a political party called Union Nationale Rwandaise. The Hutus needed to create a rival political party, so Parmehutu was established. In 1960, when the elections occurred, Paramehutu started a Hutu uprising, and many Tutsi's were killed and exiled or fled to Uganda and Burundi, those who stayed faced violence and discrimination from the Hutu's. Rwanda finally gained independence from Belgium in 1962, and Parmehutu leader Gregoire Kayibanda became the first president of Rwanda. In 1973, Kayibanda was overthrown in a coup by Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu who became the next president in 1978.

The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) was created in 1987, led by Paul Kagame. The group wanted to overthrow Habyarimana and be able to return their homeland without fear of persecution. Habyarimana used this to his advantage and created propaganda saying that all Tutsis living in Rwanda were secret members of RPF. There continued to be attacks and negotiations between the two groups until April of 1994 when Habyarimana, Cyprien Ntaryamira (the President of Burundi), and staff members were shot down and killed in a plane. The country turned into chaos, the RPF blamed the Hutus for shooting down the plane to incite tensions while the Hutus blamed the Tutsis. It was the start of the mass killings.

Immediately, members of the government who were against the Hutus and politically moderate Hutus were killed. The most devastating violence was from the mass slaughters of Tutsis across the country. Militias grabbed their machetes and guns and went on a rampage killing spree, aiming to kill every single Tutsi in Rwanda. It was genocide. The Interahamwe was a private militia group of 30,000 men who played a substantial role in the killings; they set up roadblocks and barricades within an hour of Habyarimana's death. There, they sat and waited for the Tutsis. Civilians were put under immense pressure from the military to expose any Tutsis they knew and even at times were pressured murder their Tutsi neighbors and friends. In three months, 800,000 people were killed because they were Tutsis, married to a Tutsi, hid Tutsis, or were Hutus who opposed the killings.

Although there were UN troops on the ground, they withdrew early on after the murder of 10 soldiers and Rwanda Prime Minister by the Hutus. A notable member of the UN troops was Romeo Dallaire, who was the commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda. Dallaire pleaded with his superiors in New York to provide more troops, however, they turned away and Dallaire was left with very few men to protect a country of 5 million at the time. They were powerless and in dire need of international involvement. The RPF refused to stop fighting and kept pushing until they gained control of a majority of the country, specifically the capital of Kigali. In 1995, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was created and started indicting high ranking members of the government and military for their role in the genocide. This process was complicated because many of them fled and changed their identities. In 2008, three senior military officials were convicted for organizing the genocide. 1,074,017 people were killed, only 934,218 were identified by name. It’s surprising to know that such a massacre was never fully acknowledged by the world, it needs to be remembered not only in Rwanda but across the world. All genocides should.

Sources Cited:,Tutsis%20and%20Twa%20were%20living.&text=After%20World%20War%20I%2C%20it,%2C%20'Ruanda%E2%80%93Urundi'.

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