Most of Rwandas population belongs to the Hutu ethnic group, who are traditionally agriculturists. For 600 years Rwanda attracted Tutsis – traditionally herdsmen. The two groups shared the business of farming, essential for survival, between them. They all referred to the Tutsi king and shared language, culture, and there were intermarriages.
A wedge was driven between them when the European colonialists entered the scene. It was the practice of colonial administrators to select a group to be privileged and educated ‘intermediaries’ between the Governors and the governed. The Belgians chose the Tutsis: landowners, tall, and to European eyes the more aristocratic in appearance. Some Tutsis began to behave like aristocrats, and the Hutu felt ill treated.
The “Tutsi” and “Hutu” identities were constructed during the era of European colonization from the late 1880s to the 1950s.The Germans were not interested in disrupting social affairs, only in the efficient extraction of natural resources and trade of profitable cash crops. Germany’s defeat in World War I allowed Belgian forces to conquer Rwanda. Belgian anthropologists claimed to identify a distinct “Hamitic race” that was superior to native “Negroid” populations.
In 1933, the colonial administration institutionalized a more rigid ethnic classification by issuing ethnic identity cards; every Rwandan was officially branded Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. This became the key to fomenting Rwanda’s devastating genocide in 1994. In 1956 the Hutu rebellion began, which would cost over 100,000 lives. By 1959 they had seized power and were stripping Tutsi communities of their lands. Many Tutsis retreated to exile in neighboring countries, where they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), trained their soldiers.
After their first delight in gaining power and subsequent independence in 1962, the Hutu government began to face internal conflicts. After a Coup d’État in 1973, thousands of Tutsis were killed. In 1990, RPF rebels in exile attacked and initiated a civil war. A ceasefire was achieved in 1993 followed by a UN-backed effort to negotiate a new constitution; but Hutu leaders fiercely opposed Tutsi participation in government. On April 6th 1994, Rwanda’s President’s plane was shot down, which triggered the Hutus’ “Final Solution”. The Tutsis were accused of killing the president, and Hutu civilians were urged to wipe the Tutsis out.
The UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda), monitoring the ceasefire, watched without intervening as people were killed, claiming they had no mandate. The Canadian Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire (United Nations Mission Commander) made plans for UNAMIR troops to seize arms caches, believing these actions lay within his mission’s mandate. The following day, headquarters prevented him from doing so, referring to Security Council Resolution 872. The French led UN-mandated Operation Turquoise, only managed to maintain a “safe zone” for Hutu refugees in the Southwest, but did not save Tutsis.
Over the radio, the killers were constantly incited to continue the killing. The Government trained civilian militia groups called Interahamwe (meaning “those who stand (fight, kill) together”). Without these killing groups, the genocide would not have been nearly as effective and gruesome. More than a million Tutsis were killed, only few survived. Representatives from every neighborhood were organized nationwide. The planners of the genocide included Government officials, City Mayors, Police and Army. Interahamwe militiamen were even trained in government forces camps by French soldiers.
Out of a population of 7.3 million people, 84% of whom were Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa, the estimated number of victims is 1,174,000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute). Only about 300,000 Tutsi survived the genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are now HIV-positive. There were about 400,000 orphans and nearly 85,000 of them were forced to become heads of families.
In 2000, the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the event that “The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret.” In 2004, the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt also apologized in the name of his country and his people.
Link to Verhofstadt’s apology:
Roméo Dalaire: Shake Hands with the Devil (Random House 2003)
Jacques Morel: La France au cœur du génocide des Tutsi (Izuba/L’Esprit Frappeur2010)