History of Rwanda

1. The Land & Her People

The Republic of Rwanda, known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, is a landlocked country located in the Great Lakes region of eastern-central Africa, bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

The earliest known inhabitants of Rwanda were pygmies hunter-gatherers, ancestral to the modern Twa people who today comprise only 0.25% of the national population. Some 2,000 years ago, agricultural and pastoralist migrants from the west settled in the area. Oral traditions recall that prior to the 15th century a ruler named Gihanga forged a centralized Rwandan state with similar roots to the Buganda and Bunyoro Empires in neighboring Uganda. (1506, Kingdom of Rwanda). Comprised of a cattle-owning nobility and agriculturist serfdom majority – the precursors respectively of the modern-day Tutsi and Hutu – this powerful state was able to repel all early attempts at European penetration.

Rwanda became a German colony following the 1885 Berlin Conference, although it would be full decade before a permanent German presence was established there. (1884 a German, Count Gustav Adolf von Götzen, arrives in Rwanda). The Germans did not significantly alter the societal structure of the country, but exerted some influence by supporting the existing hierarchy. They also observed and perpetuated the ethnic divisions of the country, favoring the Tutsi as the ruling class.

1900 the missionaries of Africa, White Fathers, found their first mission in Rwanda. 1907 the first post in Kigali, and a prominent explorer, Richard Kandt, is appointed the first president of Rwanda.

1910 the frontiers of Belgian Congo, British Uganda, and German East Africa, including Rwanda-Urundi, are fixed in a conference in Brussels.

1916 Belgian troops chase out the Germans and occupy both Rwanda and Urundi.

In 1918, Rwanda was mandated to Belgium, which implemented a system of indirect rule that exploited and intensified the existing divisions between Tutsi and Hutu.

1931 King Musinga is deposed by the Belgian administration and replaced with one of his sons. The Belgian authorities considered the Hutus and Tutsis different races and in 1933 introduced identity cards labeling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu or Twa. This classification was often based arbitrarily on physical characteristics; borderline cases were decided on cattle ownership with those owning ten or more cattle labeled Tutsi and others as Hutu. This further cultivated ethnic and social prejudices, deepening the roots of divide and hate among the inhabitants of the territory.

1945 transfer of the Belgium mandate to a UN Trust Territory.

1957 publication of the Hutu Manifesto.

1959 King Mutara Rudahigwa dies in suspicious circumstances. The Hutu’s rebel, supported by Belgium, and thousands of Tutsi flee for their lives to Burundi.

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. Belgium then split the territory into two countries; Rwanda and Burundi.

1961 The monarchy is formally abolished by a referendum and a republic is proclaimed. A new wave of violence against Tutsi’s. More people flee the country.

On July 1, 1962, Belgium granted full independence to the two countries. Rwanda was created as a republic under Prime Minister Gregoire Kayibanda, governed by the majority Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (Parmehutu), which had gained full control of national politics by this time. That was a start of frequent clashes between the newly dominant Hutu majority and historically more powerful Tutsi minority, culminating in the slaughter of an estimated 10,000 Tutsi civilians in late 1963.

In 1963, a Tutsi guerrilla invasion into Rwanda from Burundi unleashed a anti-Tutsi backlash by the Hutu government in Rwanda, and an estimated 14,000 people were killed. Rwanda now became a Hutu-dominated one-party state. Gregoire Kayibanda, founder of Parmehutu was the first president from 1962 to 1973, until Juvenal Habyarimana took power from Kayibanda in a 1973 coup, claiming the government to have been ineffective and riddled with favoritism. 1967-1973 many Tutsi’s were killed. In 1972 Hutu’s in Burundi as well.

In 1973, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana ousted the repressive Kayibanda regime, and over the next 20 years, the country’s political situation became ever more complicated due to simmering ethnic tensions exacerbated by events in neighbouring states, several of which harboured significant numbers of Rwandan refugees.

1975 creation of the one party MRND. 1979 the Rwandan Alliance for National Unity (RANU) is created in Kenya.

1983 re-election of President Juvénal Habyarimana with 99.98% of the vote.

1986 the government in Kigali announces that Rwandan refugees will not be allowed home because the country is not big enough.

1988 International conference held by Rwandan refugees in Washington, DC. The RPF is created in Uganda.

2. Rwanda in Civil War

Rwanda’s economic struggles through the late 70s and early 80s led to dissidence among the Hutu majority who were expecting more from their leader. At the same time, Tutsi refugees in Uganda – supported by some moderate Hutus – were forming the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Their aim was to secure their right to return to their homeland and threatened to wage an armed struggle. President Habyarimana chose to exploit this threat as a way to bring dissident Hutus back to his side, and Tutsis inside Rwanda were accused of being RPF collaborators.

In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed mostly of the Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from Uganda. Paul Kagame became the leader of the RPF after the death of the founding leader Fred Rwigema. The Rwandan Civil War, fought between the Hutu regime and the RPF vastly increased the ethnic tensions in the country and led to the rise of Hutu Power, an ideology that asserted that the Tutsi intended to enslave Hutus and thus must be resisted at all costs. During 1991 and 1993 there was a querrilla war. Egypt and South-Africa sell arms to Rwandan government. Despite continuing ethnic strife, including the displacement of large numbers of Hutu in the north by the rebels and periodic localized extermination of Tutsi to the south, pressure on the government of President Habyarimana resulted in a cease-fire in 1993 and the preliminary implementation of the Arusha Accords.

3. The Rwandan Genocide

On April 6, 1994 Rwandan President Habyarimana and the Burundian President were killed when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down near Kigali Airport. Hutu extremists, suspecting that the Rwandan president was finally about to implement the Arusha Peace Accords, are believed to have been behind the attack.

The shooting down of the plane served as the trigger for the Genocide. In the course of the next few months the Hutu majority in Rwanda organized and implemented the mass slaughter of the Tutsi minority. Hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis were killed on the orders of the Hutu-dominated government under the Hutu Power ideology. Over the course of approximately 100 days, from April 6th through mid-July, at least 1,000,000 were killed. Once the genocide began the Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, eventually defeating the genocidal government army and seizing control of the country. After its military victory in July 1994, the RPF organized a coalition government called The Broad Based Government of National Unity. Pasteur Bizimungu, a deputy leader of the RPF, was instituted as president and Paul Kagame became the Vice President.

4. Post-Genocide Rwanda

Approximately two million Hutus, participants in the genocide, and the bystanders, with anticipation of Tutsi retaliation, fled from Rwanda, to Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Paul Kagame was elected to a 7-year Presidential term in 2003.

5. Today

Rwanda has been on a upward trajectory for the last decade, economic reform has led to a massive increase in GDP, and primary education is now fee-free. Despite these advances, 90% of the population lives on less then $2 a day and only 2% of students ever make it to college. Furthermore, many of the cultural and social stress points of Rwanda’s history still exist. There is still a great need for social and economic investment in Rwanda.