History of Rwandan Genocide

At the Berlin Conference of 1884, Germany determined that the Tutsi were more “natural” leaders because of their lighter skin, a mindset that was a result of the racist ideology at the time. Based on their idea of racial superiority, that Europeans were the superior race, they believed that the Tutsi were superior to the Hutu and therefore more capable at leading the country because their lighter skin made them look more European than other Rwandans.

When Germany was defeated in the First World War, Belgium took over colonial control of the region. While the Belgians maintained authority n the country, Europeans created a biased history along with the Tutsi, which claimed that the Twa entered the area first, were then displaced by the more advanced Hutu, until the Tutsi came in from the north to conquer the less intelligent Hutu with their superior political and military abilities. This led to the “Hamitic hypothesis,” or the theory that a “Caucasoid” race from the northeastern region of Africa was responsible for civilization in “Black” Africa.

Belgium gradually sharpened the division between the Hutu and the Tutsi, creating a more defined difference between the two peoples, first by distributing identification cards based on the number of cattle (those with more cattle being Tutsi and those with less being Hutu), later by initiating reforms that replaced the Hutu chiefs with Tutsi chiefs, and appointing a Tutsi king.

In 1959, the Belgian-instated Tutsi king died under suspicious circumstances and later in the year, a Hutu peasant revolt began because they wanted political representation in the government. The Hutu then took this opportunity to overthrow the monarchy. The subsequent civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi cost over 150,000 lives, casualties coming from both sides. Once the Belgian administration restored order, they replaced many of the Tutsi authorities with Hutu, and in 1960, Hutu Gregoire Kayibanda became Prime Minister of the provincial government. What followed is known as the “Hutu revolution”: in September 1961, eighty percent of Rwandans voted to end the monarchy, and this confirmed the republic that had been declared by the Hutu government in January of that year.

Throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, the Tutsi were increasingly marginalized as the Hutu gained more power and felt the need to get revenge for the discrimination against them as a result of the Belgian colonization. Up to a hundred thousand Tutsi were killed in the period before Rwanda became independent from Belgian colonial rule in 1962, and up to five hundred thousand were displaced beyond the border into neighboring countries. In the same year, Hutu rulers began to establish racial quotas in order to limit Tutsi access to education and government employment. From 1963 to 1964, Tutsi continued to be killed and forced beyond the borders of Rwanda.

President Kayibanda declared a one party state in 1965, but less that ten years later, General Habyarimana, a Hutu, seized power through a military coup, and established a government slightly totalitarian in nature. Habyarimana encouraged discrimination against the Tutsi as widespread massacres of Tutsi continued. In the late 1980s, ethnic tension increased due to rising population, pressure on the land, and the collapse of coffee prices, leading to second economic crisis.

A civil war was begun in 1990 by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group formed by the children of exiles from the first significant massacre in 1959. In August of 1993, after almost three years of fighting, Habyarimana and the RPF signed the Arusha Accord to end the civil war and include the RPF in the transitional government that was to be put into place. Habyarimana, however, delayed enforcing the provisions of the Accord because his party did not want to give up power.

In October of the same year, the UN created UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda) in order to assist a peaceful transition of power. The UN presence still existed in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, but it was not felt because the forces at hand were told not to intervene.