The Twa, the aboriginal Pygmy inhabitants, have probably lived in the region since the first millenium of our era. Currently, the population of Rwanda consists of the Banyarwanda. “Banyarwanda” is Kinyarwanda for “People of Rwanda”. The Banyarwanda share a common culture, language, and geographic space.
At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, there existed a Kingdom of Rwanda that covered modern-day Rwanda and parts of modern-day Congo-Kinshasa around Lake Kivu. It constituted a highly organized society that included its own religion and creation myths. The Banyarwanda were known even then for their military discipline, which enabled them to fend off attacks from outsiders and mount raids into the Kingdom of Burundi and the lands west of Lake Kivu.
All three classes paid tribute to the king in return for protection and various favours. Tutsi, who lost their cattle due to a disease epidemic such as Rinderpest, sometimes would be considered Hutu and likewise Hutu who obtained cattle would come to be considered Tutsi, thus climbing the ladder of the social strata. This social mobility ended abruptly with the onset of colonial administration. What had hitherto been often considered social classes took a fixed ethnic outlook.
A traditional local justice system called Gacaca predominated in much of the region as an institution for resolving conflict, rendering justice and reconciliation. The Tutsi king was the ultimate judge and arbiter for those cases that ever reached him. Despite the traditional nature of the system, harmony and cohesion had been established among Rwandans and within the kingdom.
After signing treaties with chiefs in the Tanganyika region in 1884-1885, Germany claimed Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi as its own territory. Count von Götzen met the Tutsi Mwami (king) for the first time in 1894. However, with only 2500 soldiers in East Africa, Germany did little to change societal structures in much of the region, especially in Rwanda. After the Mwami’s death in 1895, a period of unrest followed. Germans and missionaries then began to enter the country from Tanganyika in 1897-98.
By 1899 the Germans exerted some influence by placing advisors at the courts of local chiefs. Much of the Germans’ time was spent fighting uprisings in Tanganyika, especially the Maji Maji war of 1905-1907. On May 14, 1910 the European Convention of Brussels fixed the borders of Uganda, Congo, and German East Africa which included Tanganyika and Ruanda-Urundi. In 1911, the Germans helped the Tutsi put down a rebellion of Hutus in the northern part of Rwanda who did not wish to submit to central Tutsi control.
During World War I, 1916, Belgian forces advanced from the Congo into Germany’s East African colonies. After Germany lost the War, Belgium accepted the League of Nations Mandate of 1923 to govern Ruanda-Urundi along with the Congo, while Great Britain accepted Tanganyika and other German colonies. After World War II Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations (UN) “trust territory” administered by Belgium. The Belgian involvement in the region was far more direct than German involvement and extended its interests into education and agricultural supervision. The latter was especially important in the face of two droughts and subsequent famines in 1928-29 and in 1943. These famines forced large migrations of Rwandans to neighboring Congo.
In 1933 ethnic identification cards were used to classify one’s ethnicity.
The Belgian colonizers also accepted the prevailing class rule already in place, i.e., the minority Tutsi upper class and the lower classes of Hutus and Tutsi commoners. However, in 1926 the Belgians abolished the local posts of “land-chief”, “cattle-chief” and “military chief,” and in doing so they stripped the Hutu of their limited local power over land. In the 1920s, under military threat, the Belgians finally helped to bring the northwest Hutu kingdoms, who had maintained local control of land not subject to the Mwami, under the Tutsi royalty’s central control. These two actions disenfranchised the Hutu. Large, centralized land holdings were then divided into smaller chiefdoms.
The fragmenting of Hutu lands angered Mwami Yuhi IV, who had hoped to further centralize his power enough to rid himself of the Belgians. In 1931 Tutsi plots against the Belgian administration resulted in the Belgians deposing the Tutsi Mwami Yuhi. This caused the Tutsis to take up arms against the Belgians, but because of their fear of the Belgians’ military superiority, they did not openly revolt.
The Roman Catholic Church and Belgian colonial authorities considered the Hutus and Tutsis different ethnic races based on their physical differences and patterns of migration. However, because of the existence of many wealthy Hutu who shared the financial (if not physical) stature of the Tutsi, the Belgians used an expedient method of classification based on the number of cattle a person owned. Anyone with ten or more cattle was considered a member of the aristocratic Tutsi class. From 1935 on, “Tutsi”, “Hutu” and “Twa” were indicated on identity cards.
The Roman Catholic Church, the primary educators in the country, subscribed to and reinforced the differences between Hutu and Tutsi. They developed separate educational systems for each. In the 1940s and 1950s the vast majority of students were Tutsi. In 1943, Mwami Mutari III became the first Tutsi monarch to convert to Catholicism.
The Belgian colonialists continued to depend on the Tutsi aristocracy to collect taxes and enforce Belgian policies. It maintained the dominance of the Tutsi in local colonial administration and expanded the Tutsi system of labor for colonial purposes. The United Nations later decried this policy and demanded a greater self-representation of the Hutu in local affairs. In 1954 the Tutsi monarchy of Ruanda-Urundi demanded independence from Belgian rule. At the same time it agreed to abolish the system of indentured servitude (ubuhake and uburetwa) the Tutsis had practiced over the Hutu until then.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, a wave of Pan-Africanism swept through Central Africa, with leaders such as Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. Anti-colonial sentiment stirred throughout central Africa, and a socialist platform of African unity and equality for all Africans was forwarded. Nyerere himself wrote about the elitism of educational systems, which Hutus interpreted as an indictment of the elitist educations provided for Tutsis in their own country.
Encouraged by the Pan-Africanists, Hutu advocates in the Catholic Church, and by Christian Belgians (who were increasingly influential in the Congo), Hutu sentiment against the aristocratic Tutsi was increasingly inflamed. The United Nations mandates, the Tutsi overlord class, and the Belgian colonialists themselves added to the growing unrest. The Hutu “emancipation” movement was soon spearheaded by Gregoire Kayibanda, founder of PARMEHUTU, who wrote his “Hutu Manifesto” in 1957. The group quickly became militarized. In reaction, in 1959 the UNAR party was formed by Tutsis who desired an immediate independence for Ruanda-Urundi, to be based on the existing Tutsi monarchy. This group also became quickly militarized. Skirmishes began between UNAR and PARMEHUTU groups. Then in July 1959, the Tutsi Mwami (King) Mutara III Charles was believed by Rwandan Tutsis to have been assassinated when he died following a routine vaccination by a Flemish physician in Bujumbura. His younger half-brother then became the next Tutsi monarch, Mwami (King) Kigeli V.
In November 1959, Tutsi forces beat up a Hutu politician, Dominique Mbonyumutwa, and rumors of his death set off a violent backlash against the Tutsi known as “the wind of destruction.” Thousands of Tutsis were killed and many thousands more, including the Mwami, fled to neighboring Uganda before Belgian commandos arrived to quell the violence. Several Belgians were subsequently accused by Tutsi leaders of abetting the Hutus in the violence. Tutsi refugees also fled to the South Kivu province of the Congo, where they called themselves Bunyamalengi. They eventually became a primary force in the First and Second Congo Wars.
In 1960, the Belgian government agreed to hold democratic municipal elections in Ruanda-Urundi, in which Hutu representatives were elected by the Hutu majorities. This precipitous change in the power structure threatened the centuries-old system by which Tutsi superiority had been maintained through monarchy. An effort to create an independent Ruanda-Urundi with Tutsi-Hutu power sharing failed, largely due to escalating violence. The Belgian government, with UN urging, therefore decided to divide Ruanda-Urundi into two separate countries, Rwanda and Burundi. Each had elections in 1961 in preparation for independence.
In 1961, Rwandans voted, by referendum and with the support of the Belgian colonial government, to abolish the Tutsi monarchy and instead establish a republic. Dominique Mbonyumutwa, who had survived his previous attack, was named the first president of the transitional government. Burundi, by contrast, established a constitutional monarchy, and in the 1961 elections leading up to independence, Louis Rwagasore, the son of the Tutsi Mwami and a popular politician and anti-colonial agitator, was elected as Prime Minister. However, he was soon assassinated. The monarchy, with the aid of the military, therefore assumed control of the country, and allowed no further elections until 1965.
Between 1961 and 1962, Tutsi guerrilla groups staged attacks into Rwanda from neighboring countries. Rwandan Hutu-based troops responded and thousands more were killed in the clashes.
Conflict between the two ethnic groups broke out when the Tutsi started calling for independence from the Belgium colonial rule in the 1950s. This upset the Belgians who then looked to the Hutu because they believed that the Hutu would be easier to control. Therefore, they began replacing the Tutsi chiefs with Hutus. This created the civil unrest between the two groups. The Belgians allowed the Hutu to commit violent acts against the Tutsis such as burning down the Tutsis’ houses.
On July 1, 1962, Belgium, with UN oversight, granted full independence to the two countries. Rwanda was created as a republic governed by the majority Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU), which had gained full control of national politics by this time. In 1963, a Tutsi guerrilla invasion into Rwanda from Burundi unleashed another anti-Tutsi backlash by the Hutu government in Rwanda, and an estimated 14,000 people were killed. In response, a previous economic union between Rwanda and Burundi was dissolved and tensions between the two countries worsened. Rwanda also now became a Hutu-dominated one-party state. In fact it was thought that in excess of 70,000 people had been killed, this certainly was the figure published in British newspapers at the time, it was thought for a while that British Royal Marines then stationed in Tanzania might be sent to Rwanda to stop the horrific loss of life there.
Gregoire Kayibanda, founder of PARMEHUTU (and a Hutu) was the first president (from 1962 to 1973), followed by Juvenal Habyarimana (who was president from 1973 to 1994). The latter, also a Hutu (from the northwest of Rwanda), took power from Kayibanda in a 1973 coup, claiming the government to have been ineffective and riddled with favoritism. He installed his own political party into government. This occurred partially as a reaction to the Burundi genocide of 1972, with the resultant wave of Hutu refugees and subsequent social unrest. Rwanda enjoyed relative economic prosperity during the early part of his regime.
Inter-relationship with events in Burundi
The situation in Rwanda had been influenced in great detail by the situation in Burundi. Both countries had a Hutu majority, yet an army-controlled Tutsi government in Burundi persisted for decades. After the assassination of Rwagasore, his UPRONA party was split into Tutsi and Hutu factions. A Tutsi Prime Minister was chosen by the monarch, but, a year later in 1963, the monarch was forced to appoint a Hutu prime minister, Pierre Ngendandumwe, in an effort to satisfy growing Hutu unrest. Nevertheless, the monarch soon replaced him with another Tutsi prince. In Burundi’s first elections following independence, in 1965, Ngendandumwe was elected Prime Minister. He was immediately assassinated by a Tutsi extremist and he was succeeded by another Hutu, Joseph Bamina. Hutus won 23/33 seats in national elections a few months later, but the monarch nullified the elections. Bamina was soon also assassinated and the Tutsi monarch installed his own personal secretary, Leopold Biha, as the Prime Minister in his place. This led to a Hutu coup from which the Mwami fled the country and Biha was shot (but not killed). The Tutsi-dominated army, led by Michel Micombero brutally responded: almost all Hutu politicians were killed. Micombero assumed control of the government and a few months later deposed the new Tutsi monarch (the son of the previous monarch) and abolished the role of the monarchy altogether. He then threatened to invade Rwanda.A military dictatorship persisted in Burundi for another 27 years, until the next free elections, in 1993.
Another 7 years of sporadic violence in Burundi (from 1965 – 1972) existed between the Hutus and Tutsis. In 1969 another purge of Hutus by the Tutsi military occurred. Then, a localized Hutu uprising in 1972 was fiercely answered by the Tutsi-dominated Burundi army in the largest Burundi genocide of Hutus, with a death toll nearing 200,000.
This wave of violence led to another wave of cross border refugees into Rwanda of Hutus from Burundi. Now there were large numbers of both Tutsi and Hutu refugees throughout the region, and tensions continued to mount.
In 1988, Hutu violence against Tutsis throughout northern Burundi again resurfaced, and in response the Tutsi army massacred approximately 20,000 more Hutu. Again thousands of Hutu were forced into exile into Tanzania and Congo to flee another genocide of Hutu.
Civil War & Rwandan Genocide
In 1986, Yoweri Museveni’s guerrilla forces in Uganda had succeeded in taking control of the country, overthrowing the Ugandan dictatorship of Milton Obote. Many exiled refugee Rwandan Tutsis in Uganda had joined its rebel forces and had then become part of the Ugandan military, now made up from Museveni’s guerrilla forces.
However, Ugandans resented the Rwandan presence in the new Ugandan army, and in 1986 Paul Kagame, a Tutsi who had become head of military intelligence in Museveni’s new Ugandan army, founded the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, together with Fred Rwigema. They began to train their army to invade Rwanda from Uganda, and many Tutsis who had been in the Ugandan military now joined the RPF. Kagame also received military training in the United States. In 1991, a radio station broadcasting RPF propaganda from Uganda was established by the RPF.
In 1990, the Tutsi-dominated RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda. Some members allied with the military dictatorship government of Habyarimana responded in 1993 to the RPF invasion with a radio station that began anti-Tutsi propaganda and with pogroms against Tutsis, whom it claimed were trying to re-enslave the Hutus. Nevertheless, after 3 years of fighting and multiple prior “cease-fires,” the government and the RPF signed a “final” cease-fire agreement in August 1993, known as the Arusha accords, in order to form a power sharing government. Neither side appeared ready to accept the accords, however, and fighting between the two sides continued unabated. By that time, over 1.5 million civilians had left their homes to flee the selective massacres against Hutus by the RPF army. They were living in camps, the most famous of them was called Nyacyonga.
The situation worsened when the first elected Burundian president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, was assassinated by the Burundian Tutsi-dominated army in October 1993. In Burundi, a fierce civil war then erupted between Tutsi and Hutu following the army’s massacre, and tens of thousands, both Hutu and Tutsi, were killed in this conflict. This conflict spilled over the border into Rwanda and caused the fragile Rwandan Arusha accords to quickly crumble. Tutsi-Hutu hatred rapidly intensified. Although the UN sent a peacekeeping force named the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), it was underfunded, under-staffed, and largely ineffective in the face of a two country civil-war, as detailed in Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s book Shake Hands with the Devil.
During the armed conflict in Rwanda, the RPF was blamed for the bombing of the capital Kigali. On April 6, 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda and the second newly elected president of Burundi (also a Hutu) were both assassinated when their jet was shot down, allegedly by missiles from the Ugandan army, while landing in Kigali. A French tribunal has blamed this action on Kagame’s RPF forces. Kagame and several members of Habyarimana’s government, however, have claimed that disgruntled Hutus killed their own Hutu president, as well as the Hutu president of Burundi, to justify the upcoming genocide.
In response to the April killing of the two state presidents, over the next three months (April – July 1994) the Hutu-led military and Interahamwe militia groups killed about 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in the Rwandan genocide. The Tutsi-led RPF continued to advance on the capital, however, and soon occupied the northern, eastern, and southern parts of the country by June. Thousands of additional civilians were killed in the conflict. UN member states refused to answer UNAMIR’s requests for increased troops and money. Meanwhile, although French troops were dispatched during Opération Turquoise to “stabilize the situation,” they were only able to evacuate foreign nationals and in some cases the genocide continued in zones they occupied while many high-profile Hutu war criminals escaped the RPF though French-controlled areas.
Between July and August, 1994, Kagame’s Tutsi-led RPF troops first entered Kigali and soon thereafter captured the rest of the country. Over 2 million Hutus then fled the country, causing the Great Lakes refugee crisis. Many went to Eastern Zaire (notably Northern Kivu province). Between 1994 and 1996, the Tutsi-controlled RPA government of Paul Kagame continued its retribution against Hutu in Rwanda. It destroyed the Nyacyonga camp for internally displaced people with heavy artillery. The RPF killed thousands of fresh returnees from Zaire in Kibeho camp. To continue its attacks against the Hutu Interahamwe forces, which had fled to Eastern Zaire, Kagame’s RPF forces invaded Zaire in 1996, following talks by Kagame with US officials earlier the same year.
The First & Second Congo Wars
In this invasion Kagame allied with Laurent Kabila, a marxist revolutionary in Eastern Zaire who had been a foe of Zaire’s long-time dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Kagame was also supported by Yoweri Museveni’s Ugandan forces, with whom he had trained in the late 1980s, which then invaded Eastern Zaire from the northeast. This became known as the First Congo War.
In this war, militarized Tutsi refugees in the South Kivu area of Zaire, known as Banyamulenge to disguise their original Rwandan Tutsi heritage, allied with the Tutsi RDF forces against the Hutu refugees in the North Kivu area, which included the Interahamwe militias.
In the midst of this conflict, Kabila, whose primary intent had been to depose Mobutu, moved his forces to Kinshasa, and in 1997, the same year Mobutu Sese Seko died of prostate cancer, Kabila captured Kinshasa and then became president of Zaire, which he then renamed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With Kabila’s success in the Congo, he no longer desired an alliance with the Tutsi-RPF Rwandan army and the Ugandan forces, and in August 1998 ordered both the Ugandans and Tutsi-Rwandan army out of the DRC. However, neither Kagame’s Rwandan Tutsi forces nor Museveni’s Ugandan forces had any intention of leaving the Congo, and the framework of the Second Congo War was laid.
During the Second Congo War, Tutsi militias among the Banyamulenge in the Congo province of Kivu desired to annex themselves to Rwanda (now dominated by Tutsi forces under the Kagame government). Kagame also desired this, both to increase the resources of Rwanda by adding those of the Kivu region, and also to add the Tutsi population, which the Banyamulenge represented, back into Rwanda, thereby reinforcing his political base and protecting the indigenous Tutsis living there, who had also suffered massacres from the Interhamwe.
In the Second Congo War, Uganda and Rwanda attempted to wrest much of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Kabila’s forces, and nearly succeeded. However, due to the personal financial stakes of many leaders around Southern Africa in the Congo (such as Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma), armies were sent to aid Kabila, most notably those of Angola and Zimbabwe. These armies were able to beat back Kagame’s Rwandan-Tutsi advances and the Ugandan forces.
In the great conflict between 1998 and 2002, during which Congo was divided into three parts, multiple opportunistic militias, called Mai Mai, sprang up, supplied by the arms dealers around the world that profit in small arms trading, including the US, Russia, China, and other countries. Over 5.4 million people died in the conflict, as well as the majority of animals in the region.
Laurent Kabila was assassinated in the DRC (Congo) in 2001, and was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. It is claimed by many in the Congo that Joseph Kabila was the son of a Rwandan Tutsi mother and his real father was a friend of Laurent Kabila’s; he was adopted by Laurent Kabila only when Laurent took Joseph’s Rwandan mother as one of his many wives. Joseph speaks fluent Kinyarwanda and was trained in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and China. After serving 5 years as the transitional government president, he was freely-elected in the Congo to be president, in 2006, largely on the basis of his support in the Eastern Congo.
Ugandan and Rwandan forces within Congo began to battle each other for territory, and Congolese Mai Mai militias, most active in the South and North Kivu provinces (in which most refugees were located) took advantage of the conflict to settle local scores and widen the conflict, battling each other, Ugandan and Rwandan forces, and even Congolese forces.
Ironically, it was the Banyamulenge, the large Tutsi refugee group in the Congo, that appeared to have ended the war. Tired of the prolonged war, they rebelled against Kagame’s Rwandan troops and forced them to return to Rwanda, allowing Kabila to retake control of the Eastern Congo with the aid of the Angolan and Zimbabwean forces.
Rwandan RPF troops finally left Congo in 2002, leaving a wake of disease and malnutrition that continued to kill thousands every month. However, Rwandan rebels continue to operate (as of May 2007) in the northeast Congo and Kivu regions. These are claimed to be remnants of Hutu forces that cannot return to Rwanda without facing genocide charges, yet are not welcomed in Congo and are pursued by DRC troops. In the first 6 months of 2007, over 260,000 civilians were displaced. Congolese Mai Mai rebels also continue to threaten people and wildlife.Although a large scale effort at disarming militias has succeeded, with the aid of the UN troops, the last militias are only being disarmed in 2007. However, fierce confrontations in the northeast regions of the Congo between local tribes in the Ituri region, initially uninvolved with the Hutu-Tutsi conflict but drawn into the Second Congo War, still continue.
In Burundi, the Burundi Civil War from 1993 to 2006 coincided with the First and Second Congo Wars. At least 300,000 Burundians were killed, and refugees into Tanzania and Congo contributed to the region’s major population displacements. In August 2005, a Hutu born-again Christian, Pierre Nkurunziza, was elected as Burundi president. At least three cease-fires between rebel groups and Burundi forces, in 2003, 2005, and September 2006, have been signed.
Rwandan stability is undoubtedly dependent both on stability in Eastern DRC (Congo) and in Burundi.
After the Tutsi RPF took control of the government, Kagame installed a Hutu president, Pasteur Bizimungu, in 1994. Many believed him to be a puppet president, however, and when Bizimungu became critical of the Kagame government in 2000, he was removed as president and Kagame took over the presidency himself. Bizimungu immediately founded an opposition party (the PDR), but it was banned by the Kagame government. Bizimungu was arrested in 2002 for treason, sentenced to 15 years in prison, but released by a presidential pardon in 2007.
After it took control of the government in 1994 following the civil war, the Tutsi-dominated RDF party then wrote the history of the genocide and enshrined its version of events in the current constitution of 2003. It made it a crime to question the government’s version of the genocide. In 2004, a ceremony was held in Kigali at the Gisozi Memorial (sponsored by the Aegis Trust and attended by many foreign dignitaries) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the genocide, and the country observes a national day of mourning each year on April 7. Hutu Rwandan genocidal leaders are on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in the Rwandan National Court system, and, most recently, through the informal Gacaca village justice program. Recent reports highlight a number of reprisal killings of survivors for giving evidence at Gacaca.
Some have made claims that the memorialisation of the genocide without admission of the crimes by the Tutsi-RDF are one sided, and is part of ongoing propaganda by the Tutsi-led Rwandan government, which is essentially a one-party government at this time.The author of Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, has demanded that Paul Kagame, the current Rwandan president, be tried as a war criminal.
The first elections since the invasion of Rwanda by Kagame’s forces in 1990 (and the subsequent creation of a military government by Kagame in 1994) were held in 2003. Kagame, who had already been appointed president by his own government in 2000, was then “elected” president by over 95% of the vote, with little opposition. Opposition parties were banned until just before the 2003 elections. Following the elections, in 2004, a constitutional amendment banned political parties from denoting themselves as being aligned with “Hutu” or “Tutsi.” However, the RPF, a primarily Tutsi political organisation, was not disbanded and therefore continues its dominance. Most observers therefore do not believe the 2003 elections to have been fair nor representative. Elections have been compared to the “fair elections” of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe. The next presidential elections are due to be held in 2010.
Rwanda today struggles to heal and rebuild, but shows signs of rapid development. Some Rwandans continue to grapple with the legacy of almost 60 years of intermittent war. One agent in Rwanda’s rebuilding effort is the Benebikira Sisters, a Catholic order of nuns whose ministry is dedicated to education and healthcare. Since the genocide, the Sisters have housed and supported hundreds of orphans, and created and staffed schools to educate the next generation of Rwandans.
The major markets for Rwandan exports are Belgium, Germany, and China. In April 2007, an investment and trade agreement, 4 years in the making, was worked out between Belgium and Rwanda. Belgium contributes €25-35 million per year to Rwanda. Belgian co-operation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry continues to develop and rebuild agricultural practices in the country. It has distributed agricultural tools and seed to help rebuild the country. Belgium also helped in re-launching fisheries in Lake Kivu, at a value of US$470,000, in 2001.
In Eastern Rwanda, The Clinton Hunter Development Initiative, along with Partners in Health, are helping to improve agricultural productivity, improve water and sanitation and health services, and help cultivate international markets for agricultural products.
Since 2000, the Rwandan government has expressed interest in transforming the country from agricultural subsistence to a knowledge-based economy, and plans to provide high-speed broadband across the entire country.