Rwanda is a small land-locked nation, about 26,338 square kilometres in size, bordered by Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Tanzania. Though mainly flat, the country has a large mountain range on its northwest coast – the Virunga Mountains – that are home to the famous Rwandan Mountain Gorillas. In 1994, this seemingly insignificant country put itself on the world map, but for all the wrong reasons.
Over a period of just one hundred days, over 800,000 Rwandans were killed in one of the worst genocides of the 20th Century. Tutsis and their Hutu supporters (the two ethnic groups in Rwanda) were massacred by Hutu militias, who encouraged ordinary citizens to kill their Tutsi neighbours. Between April and July 1994, while Europe and America looked on, this African nation was plunged into a state of severe panic and fear.
Ethnic Tension: Tutsis and Hutus
Though considered two different ethnic groups, the Tutsis and Hutus speak the same language, inhabit the same regions, have the same customs and traditions, and have intermarried for generations. In fact, there are very little physical differences between the two groups at all. In 1916 when Belgian colonists arrived in Rwanda, they distinguished between the two groups and consequently began to treat them differently. They believed that the minority Tutsis were superior and offered them better jobs and education, leading to ethnic tension. It is believed by some historians that the two were never defined by ethnicity, but by class or caste. Traditionally, the Hutu herded cattle and grew crops, whereas the Tutsi herdsmen became the landowners, a leading position that may have led to the belief held by the Belgians.
Ethnic tension grew, culminating with the loss of over 100,000 Tutsis during a Hutu rebellion from 1956 to 1959. During the early sixties, after independence was achieved in 1962, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries and were refused return by the Hutu governments. The desire to return to their homeland led to the formation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) by Tutsi exiles in Uganda.
Build Up to Genocide
In 1973, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a northern Hutu, seized power in Rwanda. He attempted to overcome ethnic divisions, but failed due to the introduction of several anti-Tutsi measures such as their exclusion from secondary schools and universities. Discontent increased among the Rwandan people as many became impatient with the governments corrupt favouritism to northern Hutus. The post-1987 collapse of international coffee prices led to a severe economic decline in Rwanda, as coffee was their main exporter. These factors led to the 1990 Civil War, when the RPF invaded and fought against Habyarimana’s regime. In March 1992, a Transitional Coalition Government was formed, a cease-fire declared, a peace accord signed by Habyarimana and the RPF invasion halted with the assistance of the French military. Rwanda’s problems were not over however, and on April 6th 1994 a plane flying over Kigali (the nation’s capital), carrying Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira (also a Hutu), was shot down. Both men were killed.
Almost immediately political opponents of Habyarimana were murdered and the Akuza (Presidential Guard) launched a campaign of mass slaughter. Military officials, businessmen and politicians began organizing massacres. The Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (a private radio station) called publicly for Tutsis to be killed wherever possible. Most killings were carried out by two unofficial all-Hutu militia groups – the Interahamwe (National Revolutionary Movement for Development) and the Impuzamugambi (Coalition for the Defense of Freedom). At its peak, the Interahamwe had 30,000 members united by a commitment to wiping out the Tutsis.
As well as Tutsis of all ages and backgrounds,...