Understanding The Conflict

After the Belgian colonizers more deeply divided the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi, the conflict between the two groups only grew worse. Even in the years before the initial event that set off the genocide in 1994, both Hutu and Tutsi citizens had been marginalized and discriminated against, primarily as a result of the ethnic ideology introduced by the colonizers. In many respects, the Hutu and Tutsi were very similar, yet were set against each other in a fight for power.

Although the conflict has a deep history, most agree that an exact date can be pinpointed for the beginning of the genocide in 1994. On April 6, President Habyarimana was assassinated in a rocket attack on his plane. There are various speculations as to who instigated this attack; Le Monde later reported that Paul Kagame, current president of Rwanda but a general in the RPF at the time, gave direct orders for the attack. However, because of the speed with which the genocide was carried out, the attack may have been planned by Hutu extremists who wanted to dispose of the “accommodationist president” (Gendercide Watch) and put in place a solution to the Tutsi “problem in Rwanda.

The genocide officially began on April 7, but the Interahamwe set up roadblocks only an hour after the assassination of the president, and methodically began the slaughter. Those who carried out the slaughter were Hutu who had lived through the misrepresentation of Rwandan history, and they exploited these misconceptions about the Tutsi to encourage the fear and hatred that would make the genocide possible. Nations that were capable of intervening, but did not, based a great deal of their decision on this information that was wrong and out-dated.

The Interahamwe, along with the Impuzamugambi, both Hutu militias, carried out the massacre primarily by machete, and because it was a tiring form of killing, the Hutu did the work in shifts. Radio propaganda was one of the key instruments of the genocide; it encouraged Tutsi to congregate in various public places said to serve as a refuge. The helpless civilians could be more easily targeted this way, and were eventually exterminated with machine guns and grenades. This method, as well as death by machete, allowed the Hutus to kill their victims at nearly three times the rate that the Nazis killed the Jews during World War II.

Machete was one weapon of genocide used by the Hutu, but one weapon that was just as brutal was rape. At the early states of the genocide, the Hutu spared Tutsi women, and would even protect them from being killed. Yet the Interahamwe was not above brutally raping thousands of women in Rwanda. In the months after the genocide, two thirds of 25,000 women tested were found to be HIV-positive. “Soon there will be tens of thousands of children who have lost their fathers to the machete and their mothers to Aids” (Gendercide Watch). Although women and children were spared in the early months, by July, no Tutsi was safe from the machete. In the later stages, women and children were targeted, because the Hutu aimed to prevent Tutsi in future generations.

The genocide officially ended in July 1994 (although violence against the Tutsi continued through 1998). The RPF resumed the civil war and gradually conquered most of the country, toppling the genocidal regime, and a transitional coalition government was established.