The Rwandan Genocide

Written by: Team Rwanda – (Precious, Daniel, David, Sharon, Patrick, Frederick)

– What were the conflicts? –

Rwanda has had a long history of internal conflict, stretching from the colonial era till the end of the Genocide in 1994. Between this periods there were three major happenings; first was the Rwandan Social Revolution, followed by the Civil War in 1954 and last the Genocide.

All these different conflicts, put together is ingrained in ethnic lines although the Civil war was a sort of political war, thus was fought between the Government and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) it was still between the two major ethnic groups – the Hutus and the Tutsis. The government was made up of Hutus whiles the RPF was a Tutsi rebel group.   Therefore scholars all over the world have classified these conflict as one and have called it an ethnic conflict.

– Why were the conflicts fought? –

Since there are three separate conflicts this work will pick each one at a time and discuss the reason they happened.

1. The Rwandan Revolution of 1945

Historians have it that this conflict has its roots from the colonial era when Germany, which was the first Western country to colonize Rwanda, favored the Hutus because they were light-skinned compared to the Tutsis. This created some sort of racial class in the country. However, the Berlin conference turned the favors the Hutus enjoyed when Germany lost in the World War I and Belgium took over Rwanda. Belgium became the new colonial master and turned supremacy to the Tutsis through its indirect rule using the Tutsi chiefs. Belgium reinforced this social class discrimination when its introduce cards to label citizens as either Tutsi or Hutu. Hutus who were wealthy were given honorary Tutsi identity. After 1945, a Hutu counter-elite developed, leading to a deterioration in relations between the groups; the Tutsi leadership agitated for speedy independence to cement their hold on power, while the Hutu elite called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu, a stance increasingly supported by the church and the colonial government. In November 1959, the Hutu began a series of riots and arson attacks on Tutsi homes, following false rumors of the death of a Hutu sub-chief by Tutsi activists. Violence quickly spread across the country, beginning the Rwandan Revolution.

2. The Civil War of 1990

With the Rwandan Revolution serving as a background story, the Rwandan Civil War was a conflict within between the government of President Juvénal Habyarimana and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The conflict began on 1 October 1990 when fifty RPF rebels deserted their posts and crossed the border from Uganda into Rwanda, killing a customs guard at the Kagitumba border post. This they did because they felt marginalized by the incumbent president from every of the country’s affairs. Consequently, the RPF demanded from the government an end to ethnic segregation and the system of identity cards. Again, the RPF requested the government to instigate political and economic reforms that portrayed the RPF as a democratic and tolerant organization seeking to depose a dangerous and corrupt regime. The government in response to these attacks, retaliated with that help of colonial masters – France and Belgium. The war continues until 1993 when the two groups signed the Arusha Accords to create a power sharing government between the Hutu government And the RPF in attempt to end the war.

3. The Genocide of 1994

Just a year after the peace accord had been signed to end the civil war another conflict ensured between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Those who supported of the Hutu supremacy were not satisfied with the agreement. As such they were conspired and assassination president Habyarimana, who was a moderate Hutu in April 1994. This started the Rwandan Genocide, which claimed about 800,000 lives and displaced many, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The RPF, which regrouped and started its offensive attacks on the Hutu government from exile eventually took control of the country. The Hutu government, which also went into exile used refugee camps in neighboring countries to destabilize the new RPF government. Some literature has it that the war ended in 1994 when the RPF captured Kigali or with the disbanding of refugee camps in 1996.

– Major players –

The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as Akazu, many of who occupied positions at top levels of the national government; basically, the Hutu led government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the national police( gendarmerie), government backed militias including the interghamwe and impuzamugambi. Other major players included the moderate Hutus and extremist Hutus. The Hutus were the attacked while the Tutsis on the otherhand were the attackers. They were also being employed by the perpetrators and government to attack any Hutu or moderate Hutu. However this changed overtime.

– Timeline of main events  –

From April to July 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. Begun by extreme Hutu nationalists in the capital of Kigali, the genocide spread throughout the country with staggering speed and brutality, as ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbors. By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive in early July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead and many more displaced from their homes. The RPF victory created 2 million more refugees (mainly Hutus) from Rwanda, exacerbating what had already become a full-blown humanitarian crisis.



By the early 1990s, Rwanda, a small country with an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, had one of the highest population densities in Africa. About 85 percent of its population is Hutu; the rest is Tutsi, along with a few Twa, a Pygmy group who were the original inhabitants of Rwanda. Part of German East Africa from 1894 to 1918, Rwanda came under the League of Nations mandate of Belgium after World War I, along with neighboring Burundi. Rwanda’s colonial period, during which the ruling Belgians favored the minority Tutsis over the Hutus, exacerbated the tendency of the few to oppress the many, creating a legacy of tension that exploded into violence even before Rwanda gained its independence. A Hutu revolution in 1959 forced as many as 300,000 Tutsis to flee the country, making them an even smaller minority. By early 1961, victorious Hutus had forced Rwanda’s Tutsi monarch into exile and declared the country a republic. After a U.N. referendum that same year, Belgium officially granted independence to Rwanda in July 1962.

Ethnically motivated violence continued in the years following independence. In 1973, a military group installed Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu, in power. The sole leader of Rwandan government for the next two decades, Habyarimana founded a new political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD). He was elected president under a new constitution ratified in 1978 and reelected in 1983 and 1988, when he was the sole candidate. In 1990, forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. A ceasefire in these hostilities led to negotiations between the government and the RPF in 1992. In August 1993, Habyarimana signed an agreement at Arusha, Tanzania, calling for the creation of a transition government that would include the RPF. This power-sharing agreement angered Hutu extremists, who would soon take swift and horrible action to prevent it.


On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over Kigali, leaving no survivors. (It has never been conclusively determined who the culprits were. Some have blamed Hutu extremists, while others blamed leaders of the RPF.) Within an hour of the plane crash, the 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. Among the first victims of the genocide were the moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her 10 Belgian bodyguards, killed on April 7. This violence created a political vacuum, into which an interim government of extremist Hutu Power leaders from the military high command stepped on April 9.

The mass killings in Rwanda quickly spread from Kigali to the rest of the country, with some 800,000 people slaughtered over the next three months. During this period, local officials and government-sponsored radio stations called on ordinary Rwandan civilians to murder their neighbors. Meanwhile, the RPF resumed fighting, and civil war raged along the genocide. By early July, RPF forces had gained control over most of country, including Kigali. In response, more than 2 million people, nearly all Hutus, fled Rwanda, crowding into refugee camps in the Congo (then called Zaire) and other neighboring countries.

After its victory, the RPF established a coalition government similar to that agreed upon at Arusha, with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as vice president and defense minister. Habyarimana’s NRMD party, which had played a key role in organizing the genocide, was outlawed, and a new constitution adopted in 2003 eliminated reference to ethnicity. The new constitution was followed by Kagame’s election to a 10-year term as Rwanda’s president and the country’s first-ever legislative elections.









– Why the Rwanda War was so difficult to resolve 

The war was difficult to solve because according to the UN charter “nothing shall authorize the UN to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State. With this in mind, the UN had almost no say when it came to solving the Rwandan war. However, the only way the UN could intervene was based on humanitarian grounds. For instance, the establishment of The United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to aid in providing protection for the population at large. This was not targeted at solving the war, but rather protecting the people from the effects of the war.

Also, there was the involvement of external forces which made it difficult to solve the war. These external forces also came into the country as humanitarian ones. Top government officials and ruling parties equally played a role as well as the Rwanda’s neighbouring countries. Eventually, the countries that were involved became a lot. These countries also had its own problems making it difficult to pin point the exact country to tackle first.



Attempted solutions:

The Conflict of Genocide in Rwanda came to an end in mid of July 1994, four months after the first Genocide outbreak that saw many Tutsis killed by the hands of Hutus. The end was achieved by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) capturing the elite, extremist Hutus base Kigali and earlier in May capturing the presidential palace. However direct military intervention by neighboring countries or the United Nations Security council was not clear. Though, France established a safe-zone in the southwest on 5th July after most of the fighting had been decided by the RPF. The main reason for no outside intervention, was due to the United States of America have suffered severe loss the year before in “the Battle for Mogadishu” and with it affecting the decision of Britain and Belgium.

However after the war there was another dispute that needed solving, which was that of trying the responsible and prevention of a similar incident. The UN after then fighting established a tribunal to discuss such issues. However their “No-Death-Penalty” did not sit well with the new Rwandan Government. The UN managed to only try 18 of the suspected two million involved. The Rwandan Government set up the Gacama-Council to deal with lurking problems in the community but was mainly targeted to try those involved with the Genocide. Within a year the same time span as the UN tribunal they managd to try 489 people from which roughly 20 percent received the death penalty regardless of the UN take.



2 thoughts on “The Rwandan Genocide”

  1. Based on some readings i did on Rwanda, I realized that there were significant signs that forces in Rwanda were preparing the climate and structures for genocide as well as political assassinations but was given a deaf ear by the international community which clearly gives an indication of their unwillingness to intervene. Hence would it be right to say that key actors in the international community allowed the genocide to occur?

    Andrews Osei Bonsu

  2. I think the international community should share in the blame, but not so much. The OAU for instance couldn’t have done much to resolve the situation as member states were not authorized to interfere in the affairs of other member states. Second, the West have been criticized heavily for putting their noses in to the affairs of the African continent. Consequently, they cannot be blamed that much. Besides, the bureaucratic nature of the UN and the “Shadow of Somalia” made it difficult for the UN to intervene. Thus, at this point in time the UN was facing a peacekeeping fatigue.

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