The History of Rwanda
Growing up: Childhood & Life as a Young Man
Hotel Mille Collines & the Rwandan Genocide
Aftermath, Contemplation and Reaction
'Hotel Rwanda'
Rusesabagina: The Humanitarian
History of Rwandan Genocide/Background

The Roots of the Conflict:

''History is serious business in my country. You might say that it is a matter of life and death.''
-Paul Rusesabagina, The Ordinary Man

''He who controls the past, controls the future.''
-George Orwell

The earliest inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were believed to be a people called the Twa. Various peoples supplanted the Twa over many years, including the Hutu. The last wave was probably that of the Tutsi. There are many disputes as to how big these migrations were and how many occurred, but at any rate, this constant influx of peoples would inevitably lead to social conflict, causing an overpopulation of sorts for the area.

In the 15th century, numerous Tutsi clans joined forces, merging to form the Kingdom of Rwanda, all under the banner of a dynastic king that everybody called the mwami. The Hutus, however, were the majority. In a way, the Tutsi had become the social elites of Rwanda, while the Hutu (meaning ‘one who works’) inherited the role of farmer and common follower.

In 1863, British explorer John Hanning Speke, the first white man who ‘’discovered’’ Lake Victoria, wrote a book titled Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile. It was in this book that the theory of a supposed difference between Hutu and Tutsis was first introduced. It was a bizarre premise, one which connected the origin of the Tutsi to a lost tribe of Christians who migrated from the deserts of the Middle East, and that of the Hutu to distant descendants of Noah’s son, Ham, who was cursed by his father for having looked upon him naked in a tent when he was drunk on homemade wine (according to the Bible). So, the Tutsi were of a royal bloodline, a lost part of a grand race, while the Hutus were cursed just for being descendants of the doomed biblical character, Ham. While the reasoning seems somewhat comical, this book and the theory that it introduced had a direct influence at the Conference of Berlin some 22 years later.

When Germany gained Burundi and Rwanda during 1884-85 as a result of the highly flawed imperialistic policy derived at the Berlin Conference, the Germans let the Tutsi remain as rulers of the area. This was for two reasons: (1) Germany already realized that the Tutsis held a great deal of power and (2) the Tutsis had lighter skin and European characteristics, for which reason they were thought “more fit to rule” (according to the ideals of Social Darwinism). Ultimately, Germany had little interest in ruling Rwanda, as German agents took nine years to arrive, and another four just to establish an administrative office.

After World War I, Germany lost all of its overseas possessions and Rwanda became a protectorate of Belgium. The Belgians took more of an interest than the Germans had, and immediately employed the clever and ancient ‘’divide-and-conquer’’ tactic. In 1933, Belgian scientists were deployed to measure the local Rwandans length of nose, to determine who was Tutsi or Hutu (traditionally, according to Speke’s theory, the Tutsi had longer noses). Identity cards, known as books, were issued after the findings, and in the future, children were either Tutsi or Hutu depending on what identity their fathers were. The foundations of a major ethnic clash had been set.

The Hutu had come to resent the Tutsi for numerous other reasons as well, many of which had already taken place centuries before the 1994 mass genocide. For example, the Tutsi had chosen to divide land among individuals rather than to allow hereditary inheritance, which had been the norm for ages. As a result, many of the Tutsi gained land that had belonged to the Hutu.

In 1959, the Tutsi were allowed independent self-government. A nationalist Hutu party, called the Parmehutu, responded angrily to this, knowing that the Tutsi would retain control after the Beglians would leave. Tensions could only increase as this social conflict continued and an impending power struggle ensued. In July, the king died, amid rampant rumors that he was assasinated by the Belgians, because they had become disgruntled with Tutsi rule. The Hutis soon wrestled control from the Tutsi, and the pent-up fury of the Hutus was completely unleashed. Thousands of innocent Tutsis perished in a smaller, but equally tragic predesesor of the 1994 genocide. The conflict had now been brought out into the open, and the hypothetical match had been lit.


Various expressions of extreme dislike for the Tutsi occurred after the Hutu Revolution of 1959, in the form of isolated rapes and killings throughout the 1960s. Many of the Tutsi fled to places such as Uganda. In this area, many of them began to complain about the fact that Uganda had not yet received its freedom. As a result, Rwandans and Ugandans became very close. The Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed in 1985 under Paul Kagame as a means for them to argue for Tutsi rights. Civil war in Rwanda between the surging RPF and the Hutu-dominated government would soon follow.

The signing of the Arrusha Accords in 1993 supposedly ended this conflict. This agreement significantly reduced the powers of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana. During this period Hutu nationalism also increasingly grew. Many argue that intentions toward violence and perhaps even genocide was prepared and planned for well in advance, by collecting arms and machinery (UNAMIR Rwandan Force Commander, Romeo Dalliare, had even warned UN headquarters in New York via a detailed telegram of this impending arms buildup by the Hutus, just under three months before the genocide had begun).

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, and Cyprien Ntaryamira (the Hutu president of Burundi) was shot down by a missile. The Hutu blamed the RPF for the incident, labeling it as an attempted takeover and conspiracy. Mere hours later, roadblocks were created, machetes were unloaded, the Interahamwe (Rwandan militia/terror squads) took to the streets, and thus, the quickest and most efficient genocide of our time was officially underway.