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Essay: The History of Rwanda Before & During the Genocide

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  • Published: 26 February 2023*
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  • Words: 846 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)
  • Tags: Genocide essays

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Coming into this project I had little knowledge of the tiny African country called Rwanda. All knew that my cousin Lucy had done a service trip there during high school, after which, she brought back the hottest hot sauce known to anyone in my family at the time. Honestly, that stuff was dangerous! (intro not done)

There are many things that led to the Rwandan Genocide but first, some background. In the mountainous great lakes region around Rwanda, there are three apparent ethnic groups, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. They all share many similarities including the Bantu language, culture, and religion. The two largest groups are the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Another uniting factor is that they intermarried, creating shared bloodlines. However, over time a split in power was created, with Tutsis comprising the elite upper class, and the Hutus representing the lower classes. The economic separation was only based on the fact that Hutus were pastoralists and made less money than their cattle owning, wealthier Tutsi counterparts.

In 1894, European explorers arrived in the area of Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They then proceeded to divide up the land, resulting in Belgium gaining control of the new country called “Rwanda.” The Belgian government didn’t see the  saw only that Tutsi tended to be taller, had paler skin and more “European” facial features than the Hutu. (White). These physical characteristics, and the fact that Tutsi had a history of dominance in government, led the Europeans to favour the minority group and in 1926 this favoritism was codified by the introduction of new laws that would have long-term ramifications. The Réformes Voisin required all Rwandans to carry identity cards stating whether they were Hutu or Tutsi; a previously unnoticeable difference was now written on paper. Additionally, Tutsi were given positions of power in local government and land was confiscated from Hutu. Tutsi were also educated at missionary schools and were trained as Catholic priests. From 1926 on, Hutu became effectively and legally second-class citizens.

This situation continued until 1959, by which time it was clear that

Belgium would soon grant Rwanda its independence. When Belgian officials realized the inevitable domination of the majority Hutu in post-independence Rwanda, the Belgian administrators suddenly switched their support from Tutsi to Hutu (White 40). Hutus then formed political parties and began to exert their power as the country's majority group and, when in November  of 1959, rumours circulated that Tutsi youths had murdered a leading Hutu politician, Hutus reacted angrily and the first wave of ethnic violence swept across the country. In two weeks 300 Tutsi were killed. Rwanda then gained independence on July 1st, 1962. Hutu took a majority of the seats in parliament and had bulk of power in the new government. In what continued to be an ethnically charged environment the persecution of Tutsi heightened, forcing thousands of them to flee the country. When in 1964 a group of Tutsi exiles launched an armed raid on Rwanda, the government responded viciously and tens of thousands of Tutsi were killed in retribution by the army and Hutu militias. As a direct result of the violence, around 550,000 Rwandans, predominantly Tutsis, fled to neighboring Burundi and Uganda, fearing for their lives (The Rwandan Refugee Crisis).

Radical Hutu supporters established a radio station that broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda and spread rumors that Tutsi were looking for revenge after years in exile. These extremists also formed Hutu militias, which were trained to 'protect' their homes and communities from Tutsi invaders. By early 1994 there was genuine Hutu fear of Tutsi and the possibility of ethnic violence was growing.

On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Habyarimana flew to the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam to meet other African leaders, who disagreed with his continued efforts to stall the peace agreement. The presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi all called for immediate progress. Feeling attacked, Habyarimana flew home but, as his airplane, prepared to land in the capital Kigali, two missiles were fired into the night sky, hitting the plane, and the plane crashed. Everyone on board died. Who shot down the plane is still not known; what seems most likely is that Habyarimana's allies orchestrated the attack, hoping the president's death would trigger an ethnic war that would allow them to finally defeat the Tutsi enemy. The Hutu officials were quick to blame the Rwandan People’s Federation, a militia organization formed by exiled Tutsis.

This set a series of events into place that would change the lives of millions of people.

The army and militia established roadblocks, the presidential guards began rounding up opposing politicians, and Hutu militias began to attack and kill Tutsi wherever they were found. The RPF's initial response was for peace; a plea that was ignored. After two days of extraordinary violence, the RPF army, at this stage camped in the north of the country, again began to march on Kigali. For 100 days war raged across Rwanda and at the same time the Hutu militia hunted down and murdered innocent Tutsi civilians. The killing would only end when the RPF finally captured Kigali.

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