Rwanda Genocide Memorial

Rwanda Genocide Memorial

During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. Started by Hutu nationalists in the capital of Kigali, the genocide spread throughout the country with shocking speed and brutality, as ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbors. By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive in early July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead and 2 million refugees (mainly Hutus) fled Rwanda, exacerbating what had already become a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

Rwandan Ethnic Tensions

By the early 1990s, Rwanda, a small country with an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, had one of the highest population densities in Africa. About 85 percent of its population was Hutu; the rest were Tutsi, along with a small number of Twa, a Pygmy group who were the original inhabitants of Rwanda.

Part of German East Africa from 1894 to 1918, Rwanda came under the League of Nations mandate of Belgium after World War I, along with neighboring Burundi.

Rwanda’s colonial period, during which the ruling Belgians favored the minority Tutsis over the Hutus, exacerbated the tendency of the few to oppress the many, creating a legacy of tension that exploded into violence even before Rwanda gained its independence.

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A Hutu revolution in 1959 forced as many as 300,000 Tutsis to flee the country, making them an even smaller minority. By early 1961, victorious Hutus had forced Rwanda’s Tutsi monarch into exile and declared the country a republic. After a United Nations referendum that same year, Belgium officially granted independence to Rwanda in July 1962.

Ethnically motivated violence continued in the years following independence. In 1973, a military group installed Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu, in power.

The sole leader of Rwandan government for the next two decades, Habyarimana founded a new political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD). He was elected president under a new constitution ratified in 1978 and reelected in 1983 and 1988, when he was the sole candidate.

In 1990, forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. A ceasefire in these hostilities led to negotiations between the government and the RPF in 1992. In August 1993, Habyarimana signed an agreement at Arusha, Tanzania, calling for the creation of a transition government that would include the RPF.

This power-sharing agreement angered Hutu extremists, who would soon take swift and horrible action to prevent it.