The Rwandan Genocide – I

Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies in  July 19, 1994  (Pic from 'Baltimore Sun')

Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies, in July 19, 1994 (Pic from ‘Baltimore Sun’)

Formulating racist assumptions and dangerous hypothesis has always been the primary divisional tool used by European colonialists on their colonial subjects. Creation of artificial races and castes in the African continent by Europeans, in the past hundred or so years has led to genocides and inherent prejudices. One such grievous, ridiculous myth, known as ‘Hamitic hypothesis’, contrived in the late 19th century fostered unbridled hate between two African communities that once shared a common past.

The African people when first settled in Rwanda raised cattle. People who raised more cattle were called “Tutsi” and those who didn’t were known as “Hutu”. Either through marriage or by acquisition of cattle, the positions are interchangeable. Historians note that the terms were not used to showcase one’s dominance over the other. But, when Germans colonized East Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, the terms ‘Hutu’ & ‘Tutsi’ were encouraged by Europeans to look through racial lens. The so-called European anthropologists & explorers of that century saw in ‘Tutsi’ people, what they thought to be as ‘European characteristics’. Whenever the European colonialists came across a civilized culture, they try very hard to find this ‘European influence’.

Belgian King visiting Rwanda during Colonial times

Belgian King visiting Rwanda during Colonial times

As per the ‘Hamitic Myth’, the Europeans announced that ‘Tutsi’, the superior race, should have come from ancient Egypt or Abyssinia. Such prejudiced fabrication naturally put Tutsi in the roles of responsibility, while the ‘Hutu’ were stamped as inferior race. Later, when Germans lost many parts of East African colonies during World War I, Belgium started to administer authority in the area, from 1924 to 1962. Both Belgians and Germans used Tutsi chiefs (the population of Tutsi was only 10 percent compared to the Hutu’s) to rule over Rwanda, which gradually led to resentment in the minds of ‘Hutu’. The Belgian colonizers also solidified these two categories and forced each person to carry identity card (introduced around 1933), in which they were labeled as Hutu or Tutsi.


Nevertheless, when Rwandan people strove for independence (through a revolution), the colonizing nation easily switched up their position and allowed the majority Hutu’s to take charge of new government. The colonizers made sure that the animosity between the two groups of people declines even after their freedom. During the independence struggle, nearly 130,000 Tutsi people fled to the neighboring countries like Burundi, Congo and Uganda. Later, in 1963, the Tutsi refugees launched unsuccessful attacks into Hutu-led Rwandan government. The Hutu government used the attacks as the reason to repress Tutsi’s remaining in Rwanda. Some 10,000 Tutsi people in Rwanda were slaughtered, including prominent Tutsi politicians.

In the 1970’s inner conflicts between Hutu politicians led to a bloodless military coup and Juvenal Habyarimana became Rwanda’s president (in 1973). In the next few years, President’s security forces eliminated high-ranking supporters of the former President. Habyarimana’s relatives and wives captured prominent positions in military and government. Rwanda gradually came under the throes of single-party dictatorship. The President brought in new regulation like prohibiting the military men to marry Tutsi, while also strictly maintained the ethnic quota systems & identity cards. Rwandan refugees in Europe and North America raised their voice in 1980’s to make way for their return. President Habyarimana simply stated that Rwanda is too poor to accommodate all its refugees’ population.

President Juvenal Habyarimana

President Juvenal Habyarimana

Tutsi refugees banished to Uganda in the early 1990’s joined together with displaced Rwandan Hutu refugees to form Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF-led attacks were unsuccessful and Habyarimana retaliated by increasing the repression against the Tutsi (killed at least 2,000 Tutsi in the early 1990’s). Around this time, France & other EU nations pressurized Rwandan government to admit press & political parties. However, the domestic press only instigated anti-Tutsi extremism (supremacist ideology ‘Hutu Power’ came into existence) . But, President Habyarimana, to everyone’s surprise, authorized the formation of multiparty political system and also series of agreements with RPF, which insisted on ‘power-sharing government’. If the agreements were to be followed, 40 percent of integrated military forces should be constituted to RPF.

The leaders of ‘Hutu Power’ raised cries of treason on Habyarimana. If the new accords were carried out, many of the Hutu elitists would lose their coveted positions, both in government and military. On August 3, 1993 Rwandan President signed the accords – known as ‘Arusha Accords’. On April 6th 1994, President Juvenal Habyarimana was returning from conference of African Leaders, when his airplane crashed. Before the official announcement of President’s death, Hutu militiamen announced through radio and began to set up road-blocks, all over the capital city of Kigali, to search for Tutsi people. Habyarimana was said to be struck by a RPF-sent missile. Although the details of President’s assassination were never made public, many of the foreign observers believe that Habyarimana was killed by Hutu extremists, from his own military force.


The Presidential guards started the killing of Tutsi civilians in Kigali. Soon, the extremists ordered Interahamwe (militiamen) and Hutu civilians were imparted with machetes, clubs & knives to use it on Tutsi. The announcement in the radio was simple: “Kill Tutsi and eat their cows”.


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