The German colony of Rwanda fell under Belgian control after World War I and became independent in 1962. But this small country in Central Africa had the sort of tribal tensions that dogged many newly freed African nations. Two main tribal groupings lived in this verdant area, which also encompassed neighboring Burundi. Hutus were in the majority, with Tutsis forming an elite minority.
After independence, Hutus took power in Rwanda and supported fellow Hutus in opposing Burundi’s minority Tutsi government, whose army orchestrated genocidal retribution after a Hutu rebellion in 1972. When a Hutu president was elected in Burundi’s first democratic elections in 1993 and assassinated by the Tutsi-dominated army, civil war erupted. Meanwhile, inter-tribal conflict was also raging in Rwanda, after the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded from Uganda in 1990.
On April 6 1993 Burundi’s replacement Hutu President, Cyprien Ntaiyamira, was flying into Rwanda in company with Rwandan J President Juvenal Habyarimana during yet another attempt to broker a peace deal between warring factions in both countries. But their plane was shot down on the approach to Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, killing all aboard. Blaming Tutsis for the assassination, members of the Hutu Interahamwe (‘Those who stand together’)- and Impuzamugambi (‘Those with a single goal’) paramilitary organizations began the indiscriminate murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Mass genocide continued unabated for four months as neighbor fell upon neighbor with violent savagery. The world watched in horror – and ineffectually protested – as the ongoing genocide was directed by an influential Hutu group known as the Akazu made up of the dead President Habyarimana’s inner circle. It continued alongside a renewed civil war until the Tutsi RPF emerged triumphant, thus ending the genocide and causing two million Hutus to flee from Rwanda to neighboring countries in anticipation of Tutsi revenge.
When: April to Ally 1994
Death toll: At least 500,000, probably 800,000, perhaps one million
You should know: Following the RPF”s victory a government erf national unity was established in Rwanda, which prohibited any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion and now bans any emphasis on Hutu or Tutsi identity in any part of the political process. But the work of reconstruction and reconciliation has been slow.