Rwanda Genocide



Genocide is a process that does not take place overnight. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was a culmination of unresolved tensions and conflicts in Rwandan society, mainly between the majority Hutu population and the Tutsi minority. Tension between the Hutu and Tutsi was pronounced after Germany colonized Rwanda and Burundi from 1885 to 1919 and became worse when the two countries were Belgian colonies from 1922 to 1961.

Before being colonized, Rwanda had a well-established Tutsi-led monarchy. In order to conquer and rule over the masses, the Belgian government incorporated results of anthropometric studies by Belgian scientists into official government policy. These studies were based on peoples’ physical features and claimed that the Tutsi were more intelligent than the Hutu. This was the beginning of dividing Hutu and Tutsi based of physical characteristics. Previously, being Tutsi or Hutu was a social class based on wealth. Under Belgian rule, the Tutsi were given leadership positions as chiefs, given the opportunity to attend school, and were appointed to the best government positions. The colonial government, and by extension the Tutsi chiefs, thus became very unpopular with the Hutu masses.

In the late 1950’s, the Hutu started to clamor for independence. In 1959, the Catholic Church aligned itself with the Hutu, who in turn murdered and expelled a large population of the Tutsi. Those who survived fled and were exiled in neighboring countries.  After gaining independence in 1962, the first republic of independent Rwanda wanted to undo years of Hutu exclusion. It put in place policies that excluded the Tutsi by placing quotas on how many could have access to education and to government jobs.

In the early 1990’s, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was a Tutsi led rebel group operating in Uganda, mobilized Tutsi in diaspora and launched an armed attack on Rwanda.  The war went on for several years culminating in negotiations for a peace accord that took place in Tanzania.  This period also gave rise to a plurality of hate media such as Kangura newspapers and radio RTLM that later encouraged Hutu to massacre the Tutsi. At the same time, the country was also facing other major challenges including famine that had ravaged the country and the devaluation of the Rwandan franc.

On the evening of April 6, 1994, the plane carrying President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down as it was approaching Kigali. The two presidents were coming from Tanzania where they had attended peace talks with the rebel group, RPF. After the assassination of the two presidents was announced to the public, the Tutsi and moderate Hutu were targeted by Interahamwe (meaning “hunting together”) militia for extermination.  Close to one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were exterminated in a span of 100 days. This is why the Rwandan genocide became known as the most efficient genocide in history.