Rwandan genocide

Published 20 Feb 2017

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African people have very collusive tribal groups. These ethnic groups remarkably distinct where members strongly identify with their own as opposed to the rest. Before balkanization of Africa and subsequent European occupation, these tribes did have interactions either through trade, or intermarriage but mostly it was one of constant incursions and conquests. The stronger tribes usually conquered and condemned the weaker ones to servitude. Those abducted during the conquests were recruited as warriors while the women were assimilated through marriage. Not always did the bigger army win but the more organized one meaning that a small tribe but with a better trained army could conquer a bigger tribe with weak army like the Zulu ( In Rwanda two ethnic groups exist. The Hutu migrated into Rwanda in 1AD displacing the pygmy tribes. They are by far the dominant group in both Rwanda and Burundi.

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Their main economic activity was peasantry in the lush hilly country. They spoke the Kinyarwanda and Kirundi dialects. The Tutsi are tall war like people who descended on Rwanda from Ethiopia people who in the 14th century. They overcame the dominant Hutus and the small enclaves of The Twa (pygmy’s). They were farmers and cattle herders. In a place where cattle symbolize power, the Tutsi controlled the peasant Hutus. In the pre/colonized period the relationship between the two tribes was one of master and a submissive servant. The minority Tutsi formed the ruling class right from king (Mwami) all through to the chiefs. The Hutu peasantry produced food in return for protection. They spoke the same language and even intermarried. It was actually possible to more up the caste system by a Hutu to become a Tutsi through wealth acquisition a process known as ′Kwihutura′. The reverse was also possible through a process known as ′gucupira′. Consequently being a Hutu became synonymous with servitude. (

Number of subjects under him and size of their stock of cattle measured A ruler’s authority. With more subjects one could acquire more wealth. The subjects on their part accepted their role leading to a situation of relative calm. In the advent of colonialism the German established control over Rwanda. After the First World War, the Belgians took over. Belgian occupiers maintained the status quo and even aggravated the tension between the two tribes, through divide and rule tactics. They granted special status to the Tutsi minority issuing identify cards on racial basis. Tutsis were accorded many privileges ranging from recruitment to administrative posts and access to higher education.

The colonialists initiated a registration exercise so as to distinguish one group from the other officially ( thus marked the Tutsi minority from the Hutu majority. This I would say sowed the seed of animosity whose bitter fruits came to would be reaped decades later. This status quo was challenged in 1959 through a social revolution by the Hutu. The Belgians, bulging to pressure form the United Nations had started changes to achieve some balance in power in the colony. They distributed land even to the Hutu and opened up the democratic space. This was highly opposed by the Tutsi elite class and did not amount to much. In fact, the tension reached its limits and a war broke out in 1960 killing thousands. Thousands, of Tutsi fled to neighboring countries but what was remarkable was that the Hutu attacked only the Tutsi in the ruling class and not the ordinary Tutsis. Those exiled Tutsis organized attacks from exile and to settle the score, the Hutu officials now attacked the Tutsi domiciled within the country.

Using those attacks as excuse the Hutu government went on to undermine any Tutsi presence in the country. In 1962, the Belgian colonialists withdrew leaving behind a polarized country with a power vacuum following the abolishment of the monarch. Politically, the government was solely controlled by the Hutu while the Tutsi were disenfranchised, the Hutu with their numbers easily won all elections held in that period where voting was purely along tribal lines. The PARMEHUTU party produced first president and largely controlled the parliament. Tutsi were disenfranchised further when the political parties they belonged to were banned. All through the Sixties, the Tutsi were politically oppressed and continued to flee the country. It was from these refugees that a generation that would later invade Rwanda arose. It was at the onset of the cold war and Rwanda government was a close ally of the West hence all those atrocities went on without the West bating an eyelid. The dominant Catholic Church continued to abet in those crimes and was a strong partner of the government. The Tutsi represented anything wrong that happened to country. Government changes through a coup in 1973 and subsequent abolishment of the ruling party did not at all help to alleviate the plight of the Tutsis. In fact continued oppression heightened the tensions. Cosmetic changes were done on the political front all the way to the 1990s.

On the economic front, after independence the Hutu took over the economic wheels from the Belgians. The economy was largely reliant on cash crop, (tea, coffee). Pressure on cultivation land is great and the obvious losers when the Tutsi minorities ( Employment opportunities rarely came the Tutsi way in a country with rampant unemployment fueling the animosity. On the social cultural front, the independence government opposed intermarriage with ensured the ′purity′ of the dominant group. But what kept on gnawing at the people′s minds to them to commit such recurrent atrocities against each other over such along time is fear that the one you oppress today was previously your oppressor and in future they might regain dominance and it will be pay back time. The vivid memories of the past and fear of the future made a killer out of your average Joe. Only complete wipe out of the ′enemy′ could your future be guaranteed. When there was peace it was an uneasy peace.


Continuous upheavals in Rwanda had led to a huge number of Tutsis refugees in neighboring countries. They organized themselves under the umbrella of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was based in Uganda. It conducted attacks in 1990s against the Hutu administration. The government on its side launched a hate campaign against the Tutsi domiciled in the country branding them ‘sympathizers’ of the RPF course often going back to historical dominance of Tutsi in pre-independence period. It would take hundreds of thousands of lives before one side would become ′victorious’.
A ceasefire was brokered in August 1993 in Tanzania referred to as the ′Arusha Accords′. The administration was made to relinquish most of its powers to the Transitional Broad Based Government, a coalition government of five parties. But Hutu hand liners under a Coalition pour la Defense de la Republique; CDR could not stand the agreement (Newbury D, et al). They were critical of the moderate Hutu officials who agreed on power sharing with the RPF.

The CDR poured scorn on the Arusha accords and when it was finally was brought around to the moderates’ way of thinking, the RPF now rebuffed the agreement. These were two sides that could not simply eye-to-eye and this only hastened the drive to bloodshed.

The Hutu administration started arming and training the youth formed into two groups namely impazamugambi and interhamwe with the war cry ′Hutu power′ issued at every public place. The two groups rallied youth from the whole country arming them with machetes as rifles and bullets were deemed too expensive and wasteful. They were given training even in government army camps. RPF on its part readied itself for war and continued its encroachment from the north.

It was however the downing of a plane carrying president Habyarimana and Ntaryamira of Burundi on April 6,1994 as they returned from negotiations in Tanzania that hell broke loose. The event has been blamed on both RPF and Hutu extremists. The Hutu moderates were assassinated while the Tutsi population within Rwanda was decimated. UNAMIR force, the UN peacekeeping force, out-numbered with inadequate resources, could only watch helplessly. Blood flowed freely, while church cheered on the killers from the pulpit, chilling messages were sent over the radio and those who could not chop up their Tutsi neighbors were chopped up themselves. This went on unabatedly for one hundred days until the RPF overcame the Hutu forces. The deaths responded to range from over half a million to a million depending on the source were the result of this attempt at ethnic cleansing.


The international community could have done more to avert the Rwandan genocide. In fact there was even great reluctance to recognize the mass murder as genocide. The inaction by the west despite many pleas for action by the people on the ground including General Dallaire of the UN peacekeeping force, have caused many blushes.
The Belgian colonialists had sown the seed of hate which was a historical wrong which they could have been partially righted in stepping the end result of the hate, that is, the genocide. The Belgian also fell into the trap of the Hutu administration by withdrawing its troops after loosing its soldiers in a stage-managed alteration. As it withdrew it left vulnerable refugees seekers who would be quickly wiped away.

The west continued its support of the Hutu administration with economic aid in pre-genocide years only making some noises but not taking any conclusive action. In the 1970s and 80s of the height of cold war the US saw Rwanda as an ally and therefore could do wrong. When it finally ′saw′ the light its intervention failed to take off when they felt the cost was not worthy the effort. Its big brother status that has seen it act elsewhere on less critical situations notwithstanding, it turned the other way. It had in fact negated any references to the situation as genocide until it became obvious.

France on the other hand continued to support the Hutu administration to the time of the genocide in European power games. It sought to stop British and American intervention in a bid to stop encroachment on a Francophone territory. At a point, it considered offering back up to the government forces against the RPF. Together with Belgium it considered Hutu dominance as perfect democracy where the majority has a say. When it cobbled up a peacekeeping force, it had a ulterior motive of abating the genocide while protecting the administrations area of control against RPF′s encroachment. Its force did a dismal job protecting the Tutsis only arriving in time to bury the corpses. After the commencement of the genocide France supplied communication equipment to administration.

The United Nations had a big dilemma one of sitting in its supreme organ; the Security Council, was a representative of the rogue government. It hammered a peace accord between both parties prior to the genocide but could not enforce effectively due to lack of enthusiasm by its major contributors namely UK and US. The organization also failed to act decisively urging for punitive sanctions and usually opted for the easier way out. When it was apparent that the accord was breached, it looked out for the safety of its soldier in a clear admission of helplessness.

The Vatican also failed avert situation while ministry in Rwanda continues to abet in the genocide. The Catholic Church in Rwanda used to co-run the country with the Hutu administration. Priest issued war cries from the pulpit while luring the victims who fell for their Christian talk, to their deaths while The Vatican slumbered on (Hennig Rainer,2007). When finally woken to the reality, their action came in just time to offer last respects to the departed.
In pursuit of their own interests, the west turned the other way where a little thought for the victims could have saved the situation. Economic sanctions imposed elsewhere would have also worked in this situation to entrench democracy. The minority could have been guaranteed their right. The West could also have cut military support or sale of military equipment to the rogue administrations. More resources should have been availed to the peacekeeping mission as well as more peacekeepers. The West in providing the interventions could have looked beyond the race of victims to act promptly as it deed in the Serb-Croat conflict. The church should have ensured its Rwandan ministry played the role of a unifier and not a divider.

While all the developments in genocide were well documented the international community so no point to act even chose not to talk about it. Some feel that catalyst to western intervention, oil, was lacking in Rwanda ( History continues to judge the international community harshly for their in-action to date.


The international community did enough to avert the crisis as per the situation. The two communities had a long history of animosity and it was only time before it became fully blown with heart shredding results.
The African people have a history of looking up to the West for solutions of their own homegrown problems but the West can only do so much. Strong identification with the tribe creates strong sentiments among members against others who they see as their enemies and at best competitors who are out overtake them (Bains Erik, 2003.) The us versus them mentality continue to cause many conflicts. The west can only play on these sentiments and where they do not exist it would be hard impart them on the people.

The immediate neighbors of Rwanda also fueled the genocide either actively of passively. Ugandan army, NRM, supported the RPF in its incursions providing them with a base and resources together with expertise. When the Hutu officials imported tones of crude weapons, it was through foreign ports and by road or rail via neighboring countries to the landlocked country. It must have been done with full knowledge of governments but they didn’t act.
The country groupings in Africa present at the time should also have taken action. They should have tried to actively reconcile the Rwandan people long before the genocide reared its horns. Such bodies as the OAU has an emphasis on unity get had little to show of if.

The Rwandan people put greedy corrupt divisive leaders at the helm and continued to carry out their wishes however heinous blindly once the tribal tag was applied. The west too have their commitments and cannot afford to continue playing the pacifier in every African misunderstanding and can only act voluntary. Let Africa seek solutions to African problem. Africans should aspire to gain knowledge and only then will their eyes open to the real problems facing them. Why should a country miles away comment on an issue while regional powers remain mum?


Both the International Community, and the African people had an obligation to avert the genocide. None of them can wash their hands off the blame of what transpired. The Rwandans should have been more united and realize that they had more similarities than differences while the Western powers should not have played on these sentiments and fueling them further aggravating on already bad situation.
The international community coordinating with Rwanda’s neighbors should have cut supply of weapons to both parties. They should also have moved fast to control the conflict as soon as it escalated.
The International Community and the African nations should have stayed neutral in the conflict not taking sides and not trying to further their interests in Rwanda. Without French backing the Hutu administration would have been more diplomatic with an RPF without Uganda support. This would have forced them to the negotiation table. When the parties signed the accord, insistence on compliance from all sides would have seen it come to fruitation.
The International Community and African nations should have quickly appreciated the seriousness of situation and give it a genocide status instead they buried their heads in the sand.


The Rwanda genocide provides society today with an opportunity for self-assessment, to realize the potency of division whether along ethnic, racial, religious or even economic lines. A big emphasis on what differentiates us rather than our similarities poses a great risk to humanity itself. If eight hundred crude deaths would be carried out in 100 days in a rather small nation it goes to show how human beings can loose their humanness. Other genocides are slowly developing all over the world and if not nipped in the bud, we will experience the Rwanda Experience many times over. While the world may not have learnt their lesson, the Rwandans sure did. With constant reminders in place, it would be hard to forget. Their brothers in Burundi and Zaire, however, continue to slaughter each by the day in meaningless warfare.


  • Newbury D, N.C Rwanda: The politics of Turmoil.
  • Rwanda: How the Genocide Happened (2004). Retrieved from on 19/09/07
  • HRW report (1999) Leave none to tell the story: Genocide in Rwanda.
  • Bains Erik k (2003) Third World: Body Politics and the Rwandan Crisis. pg 479
  • Rwandan Economy and Development (2005)
  • Rwandan History (2005) Retrieved from on19/09/07
  • Hennig Rainer (2007) The Cross-and the Genocide.
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