In 1994, the world opened its eyes to the crisis in Rwanda. The genocide that occurred there let many know that all has not been well in Rwanda following the Belgian colonization of the country. Many believed that the sole reason of the genocide was the division of power among the Hutu and Tutsi. Yet, was that the only contributing factor? One must look at the history of Rwanda to find the true reasons for the genocide and to understand the events that led to such heinous acts.
In 1890, Germany was awarded with control of Rwanda during a conference in Brussels. However, until the time of World War I, there was virtually no foreign influence in Rwanda. Following WWI, Germany awarded Belgium with control of the country. Immediately, the Belgians began altering the class system of Rwanda. At the time there were three different classes: the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa. The Belgians decided that the Tutsi should rule over the Hutu who should rule over the Twa. This class hierarchy was set up because the Belgians felt that the Tutsi looked more “white” because they tended to have thinner noses and thus viewed them as superior to the “blacker” looking Hutu.
Using force, the Belgians installed only Tutsi into government positions. Shortly after, the Tutsi began to feed into the belief that they were superior to the Hutu as they began oppressing the Hutu. For decades, the Tutsi were able to secure better jobs and better education than the Hutu as they were viewed as the privileged class. Identity cards were created for all Rwandans solely for the purpose of distinguishing Tutsi from Hutu.
Not only did the Belgians place only Tutsi officials in power, they also changed the structure of the Rwandan government.
“In the 1920s, the Belgians began to alter the Rwandan state in the name of administrative efficiency. Always professing an intention to keep the essential elements of the system intact, they eliminated the competing hierarchies and regrouped the units of administration into “chiefdoms” and “sub-chiefdoms” of uniform size. They used force to install state officials in the autonomous enclaves, destroying the power of the heads of lineages and of local small states. They fixed and made uniform the goods and services that local officials could demand, thus—they thought—reducing the burdens on the population.
Rwandan officials were not helpless pawns but rather real players in the game of administrative reform. Politically astute, they understood how to evade the intent of European orders even while apparently conforming to them. Chiefs and sub-chiefs seemed to accept the reduction in numbers of officials, but in fact kept on using unofficial representatives out on the hills who continued living off the local people. As a result, the density of administration and consequent customary burdens on the people diminished little, if at all, in the central part of the country, while in the north and southwest, they actually increased because of the installation of resident officials. At the same time, the chiefs and sub-chiefs—and later other administrative agents—enforced a series of wholly new demands imposed by the colonialists as part of their effort to integrate Rwanda into the world economy. They often found ways to turn these new requirements, such as building roads or planting cash crops, to their personal profit.
The elite profited not just from direct European backing but also from the indirect and unintended consequences of the administrative changes. Under the old system of multiple officials, power-holders ordinarily limited demands on subordinates, knowing that those who felt unreasonably exploited could seek protection from rivals or could move elsewhere, even clearing new land in the forest, if need be, to escape exactions. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Belgians made it far harder for the weak to escape repressive officials; not only did they eliminate the multiple hierarchies but they also restricted changes in residence from one region to another and they prohibited new settlement in the forests. The one avenue of escape still possible was migration abroad and thousands took that route beginning in the 1920s. But those who preferred not to leave Rwanda had little choice but to submit to increased exploitation of officials now freed from the constraints that once limited their demands.”1
Although the Belgians ensured a Tutsi monopoly for the next few decades, setting up future conflict among the people of Rwanda was not their intent. They just believed that because the Tutsi looked more European than the Hutu that it was just easier to see them as closer to true Europeans in the cultural hierarchy. The Tutsi, of course, welcomed the idea of superiority.
This Tutsi rule, however, was not to last. In the 1950’s, the Belgians were being pressured by the United Nations to give independence to Rwanda. Just before doing so the Belgians began evening the power in the country between the Tutsi and the Hutu. They appointed several Hutu to administrative positions and even began admitting Hutu to secondary schools and higher education. A division was present between conservative Tutsi and radical Hutu. Conservative Tutsi were hoping that the Belgians would leave before the majority Hutu gained power. Radical Hutu hoped to gain power of the political system before the Belgians left.
In 1959, Mutara Rudahigwa, the ruler of Rwanda and a Tutsi, unexpectedly passed away. Although he was replaced by a conservative Tutsi, the Hutu began gaining power. A Hutu nationalist party called the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) was brought to power in many sects of Rwanda. Many of the government officials were now Hutu and the Hutu people were gaining power.
In response to the rapid shift in power, Tutsi began attacking Hutu officials. This began with of a Hutu sub-chief by several Hutu. The Hutu, however, were not to remain quiet. They retaliated by attacking Tutsi officials and the Tutsi responded with more violence. This power struggle would occur for several decades. Around 20,000 Tutsi would be killed and another 200,000 would flee to neighboring countries.
Rwanda gained independence in 1962. Following gaining independence, the PARMEHUTU decided to change the political structure. They established a one party rule system based around Hutu nationalism. They even organized programs to rid the country of the Tutsi. In 1964 and 1974, programs were organized by the PARMEHUTU to kill many Tutsi and force others into exile. The Tutsi population that was once 17.5% of the total population in Rwanda dropped to 8.4% during this period.
At this same time, angered Tutsi refugees who were forced to flee the country began attacking Rwanda. This would occur 10 times over the next 6 years. These events led to the Hutu attacking the Tutsi who still remained in the country, accusing them of aiding the refugee invaders. The Hutu, as a means to gain and sustain control in Rwanda, used these attacks to proclaim all Tutsi as “the enemy.” They also used the attacks to encourage Hutu solidarity and patriotism. The Tutsi, who once were seen as being the superior class because they looked more European than the Hutu were now seen as inferior and were discriminated against by the Hutu because they looked too European. The Hutu claimed that the Tutsi were not true Rwandans because they looked too foreign.
In 1973, the PARMEHUTU were ousted from power as Juvenal Habyarimana gained power of a military coup. Habyarimana, however, relied on Hutu nationalism to remain in power. In 1975, he officially made the country a single party state. This was done under the National Revolutionary Movement for Development. Every Rwandan regardless of age was automatically made a member of this party.
Economic Prosperity Short Lived Under Habyarimana
Between 1970 and 1980, Rwanda received a substantial amount of foreign aid. With such aid the country was able to build a good infrastructure of roads, telephone lines and electric services. The country’s economy was able to improve with this foreign assistance. Many saw potential for Rwanda’s economy to continue rising because in the 1970’s the economy was improving and even doing better than some of the other economies in the region.
During this period, some Rwandans were able to prosper and became rich. These people tended to be government officials or state employees. However, the majority of Rwandans remained poor and even got poorer. Even more so, the population of Rwanda grew, yet the land didn’t so regions of the country became even more dense. This land was not shared equally amongst the people. The richest 16% of landowners owned over 43% of all the land. The poor were forced to try to make ends meet in rundown shacks or holdings that would range from one quarter of a hectare to three quarters of a hectare.
Rwanda was a farming nation. Over 90% of the land was cultivated. Coffee was Rwanda’s major export as it accounted for nearly 75% of Rwanda’s foreign trade. However, in the late 1980’s the price of coffee dropped dramatically on the foreign market. This hit the economy of Rwanda hard as the country became in debt to many nations and even the World Bank. A drought that hit the nation in 1989 further hurt the economy as it reduced harvest for a country that gained its sustenance from farming. All of a sudden, there was an extreme food shortage in the nation. But President Habyarimana refused to recognize this shortage. This same attitude was shared by the country’s elite. They were not the least bit concerned about the well being of the nation’s poor, even though the poor made up the majority of the country.
In response to the declining farming prosperity, the government called for many reforms. The country began shifting to mining as copper, tin and gold became major exports. Rwanda also expressed mining interests in other nations as well, such as neighboring Burundi and Congo.
Prelude to Genocide
In 1985, the Rwandese Patriotic Front was formed and it consisted mainly of Tutsis. Their leader was future Rwandan president Paul Kagame. The number of Rwandans that were forced to flee the country had grown to over 600,000. Many of these refugees resided in the neighboring country of Uganda. In 1990, they invaded Rwanda from neighboring Uganda. They invaded the country with demands that they receive recognition of their rights as Rwandans. The president of Rwanda responded to the invasion by repressing Tutsis and Hutus who supported the Tutsi cause. The Hutu government used these invasions to promote an anti-Tutsi belief across the country. The Hutu government claimed that the Tutsi were trying to regain control in Rwanda so that they can enslave the Hutu.
One account of the attack recounts:
“On October 4, the RPF had advanced a considerable distance into Rwanda but was still forty-five miles from Kigali. That night, however, heavy firing shook the capital for several hours. In the morning the government announced that the city had been attacked by RPF infiltrators who had been driven back by the Rwandan army. Under the pretext of assuring security, the government began making massive arrests in Kigali and elsewhere in the country, eventually imprisoning some 13,000 people. The detainees would be held without charge, thousands of them for months, in deplorable conditions. Many were tortured and dozens died. The last of them were finally liberated in April 1991.
Many Rwandans and apparently all foreign observers believed the government account of the battle and the infiltration. In fact, the attack had been faked. Habyarimana staged the event to have credible grounds for accusing Tutsi of supporting the enemy. He disclaimed any such intention, declaring on October 5 that there was no question of considering ‘our brothers and sisters of whatever ethnic group’ responsible for what had had happened. But certainly he knew and approved of the plan as well as of the arrests that resulted from it. The minister of justice spoke more openly. In the first use in the 1990s of the term that was to become so famous, he declared that the Tutsi were ibyitso, ‘accomplices’ of the invaders. He continued that ‘to prepare an attack of that scale required trusted people [on the inside]. Rwandans of the same ethnic group offered that possibility better than did others.’
In accusing the Tutsi, the authorities reverted to the tactics of the 1960s, but in a departure from the earlier practice, they included Hutu as well among the ‘accomplices.’ Unwilling to wait for the scapegoating of the Tutsi to produce solidarity among the Hutu, they sought to hasten the effect by imprisoning Hutu opponents, hoping to silence and perhaps even eliminate some while at the same time intimidating others into rallying to the president.
The faked attack served another purpose: to ensure help from friendly foreign nations. When asked the reason for all the firing on the night of October 4, one Rwandan army officer is reported to have replied, ‘It was fireworks to welcome our friends, the French,’ who did, in fact, arrive that night. Pretending that even the capital was at risk, Habyarimana was able to enlist immediate support from Belgium and Zaire as well as from France. The Belgian forces stayed only a month and the Zairian soldiers were sent home for indiscipline, but the French soldiers remained to become a solid support for the Rwandan army and the Habyarimana regime.
With the help of foreign troops, Rwandan soldiers drove the RPF back towards the Ugandan border. As they advanced through the region called Mutara, the Rwandan forces killed between 500 and 1,000 civilians. The unarmed victims were Bahima, a people usually identified with Tutsi, and they were accused of having aided the RPF.”2
The conflict continued for 2 years. Finally, on July 31, 1992 a cease-fire took effect. In 1993, political talks began. The media all the while, however, was still promoting an anti-Tutsi belief. They portrayed them as sub-human and began a campaign to strike fear and hate into the Hutu. The media was calling for violence. With support from the media Hutu nationalism grew. The Rwandan militia was growing substantially.
By 1994, the Rwandan militia had grown to over 30,000 members. Some members were even able to acquire AK-47 assault rifles. The genocide was at least partly funded by the World Bank and the IMF under what was called a Structural Adjustment Program. $134 million was spent on genocide preparations. $4.6 million was spent on weapons for the militia, ranging from machetes to hoes, axes, razors and hammers. The genocide was openly discussed in Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda’s cabinet members. One cabinet member was quoted to have said that she was “personally in favour of getting rid of all Tutsi… without the Tutsi all of Rwanda's problems would be over.”3
The initial attacks were made in mid 1994. On April 6, 1994 an airplane carrying both the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi was shot down. It remains a mistery as to the exact individuals responsible for this attack. In recent years informants have told the United Nations that they were part of a strike team that was responsible for killing the president of Rwanda. Mr. Rene Degni-Ségui was instructed by the United Nations to research the assassinations. In front of the Belgian senate, he said:
“Concerning the attack of the presidential plane, it is the Gordian knot of this story. As soon as I took my duties, I went to Geneva. I had in audience the ambassador of France because my mandate specified well that I was to investigate this subject. I asked whether France could place at my disposal the black box of the presidential plane. He said to me:"I understand, I will refer about it to my government" Thereafter, he indicated to me that the government did not have this black box. I then went to Kigali, where I met the military staff. I asked them: "Can I have the black box?"There were four soldiers, the head of staff and others. The head of staff said to me: "the black box is with the military" I said to him: "But yourselves, you are the military" And finally, he said to me: "We do not have it, ask France" I was thus returned one with the other, and finally, there was a certain Baril captain (sic: misspelled for Captain Paul Barril) who claimed to have the box — and I asked the United Nations to place at my disposal a board of inquiry with an expert in ballistics, in order to make research. Indeed, meanwhile, it was said that the ICAO could not make the investigation, because the plane was not a civil aircraft, but a military aircraft. And one thus needed a board of inquiry. I requested it from the United Nations, and it was answered me that there was no budget for that. The Rwandan government had also asked me to investigate this subject. And in one of my reports, I precisely recall, I draw the alarm bell, for saying to make quickly before it is too late. I even fear that it is too late now. So that, up to now, I did not achieve this task before I have to leave.”4
This was supposedly a sign to all Rwandan Hutu to begin killing the Tutsi. The killings began in Kigali but swiftly moved to all parts of the country. The Rwandan military and militia were rounding up all Tutsis they could find and killing them. Many of the Tutsi were killed by their own neighbors or fellow villagers.
The response by the United Nations was very weak. Many downplayed the violence that was occurring in Rwanda. The French and Belgians alike said that what was occurring in Rwanda was being blown out of proportion by the media. A Rwandan official affirmed these beliefs. Because of this, the United Nations didn’t give a lot of support in Rwanda. UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping for in Rwanda, wasn’t strong enough to suppress the rebel forces or the militia. Even after repeatedly hearing of the genocide, the United Nations failed to bring in reinforcements.
Finally on May 17, 1994 the United Nations admitted that genocide was taking place in Rwanda. Immediately the United Nations gave their support to resolving the situation in Rwanda. Although the genocide only last a couple of months, in the end a total of 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had lost their lives during the genocide. UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until 1996.
The effects of the genocide were one of the main causes of the first and second Congo Wars. This was due to the large number of displaced Rwandans in neighboring countries, including a large percentage in Congo. When the Tutsi were allowed back into Rwanda without concern of violence, there was a large shift of people out of Congo and the population of Congo became very unbalanced.
Contributing Factors to the Genocide
Although many believe that the cause of the genocide was solely due to the cultural division between the Hutu and the Tutsi, there were many other factors that contributed to the genocide. The spiralling economy was a large reason for the conflict among the population of Rwanda. Rwanda’s land and it’s resources were scarce. Since the Tutsi tended to be wealthier than the Hutu because of when they were in power during Belgian colonization, they controlled most of the land and its resources. Many Rwandans were motivated to kill their wealthier neighbors just so seize their land.
Another issue regarding the economy of Rwanda was that it was a very poor nation. It’s national debt is currently $1.4 billion. The majority of the people living in Rwanda lived below the poverty line. This caused many to be frustrated and angered, especially the Hutu who many blamed their poverty on the colonization by the Belgians where Hutu were not allowed to secure good jobs or get a good education.
Another contributing factor had to do with the state in which Belgium left Rwanda when they gave Rwanda it’s independence. Belgium colonized neighboring Burunding at the same time as Rwanda and gave Burundi its independence at the same time as Rwanda. Burundi had a similar history to Rwanda and since its independence has has a similar type of turmoil. The Belgians have a history of not preparing their colonies well for independence, as evident by the conflicts in Rwanda and Burundin and even in the Congo.
The Belgians during colonization creating many of the divisions that existed among the people even at the time of the genocide. And because of the favoritism they showed toward the Tutsi and by making the Tutsi the elite class and superior to the Hutu, it cause great conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi.
Since the genocide, many countries have been providing aid to assist Rwanda in rebuilding the nation. Among the leading contributers is the United States. The government of Rwanda is also being restructured. In 2003 Rwanda had it’s first multiparty elections since being an independent nation. Tutsi Paul Kagame (the former leader of the RPF) was elected as president. Although many claimed that the elections were unfair due to some last minute events that occurred, these elections showed that the country had still made progress.
Legislative elections were also held in 2003. Many Tutsi took office as 40 out of 53 positions were filled by former RPF members. Those responsible for the genocide have either been killed, imprisoned or are currently awaiting trial for war crimes.
Another change in the government is that the need for a new constitution was recognized and a new constitution was approved by the majority of the electorate. This new constitution has made significant progress for Rwanda. It proclaims equality among men and women, removes all references to ethnicity, makes substantial progress towards human rights for its citizens and contains measures that are meant to prevent any future genocide. It also includes a number of checks and balances for those in legislative positions in the government and for the president. Although many believe that this new
constitution is helping Rwanda make a lot of progress, some in the international community are a little bit reluctant to applaud it just yet. They believe that the constitution serves the purpose of just reinforcing the ruling RPF regime’s power.
To fully understand the genocide that occurrend in Rwanda during 1994, one must understand Rwanda’s history. The country’s beginning was plagued by unfair class structures and hierarchies and unfair treating of group of its people during the days of it being a colony. Division and conflict was created between its people by the country that colonized it and these divisions remained and grew more and more evident over the years until it eventually overflowed into genocide. These were not the only reasons, however, for the genocide. Rwanda has historically been a rather poor nation and the decline in its economy left its people disastisfied and frustrated. Many were willing to take any measure to see prosperity in their lives. This even included killing their own neighbor.
The genocide that occurred was devastating not only to the people of Rwanda, but also to the economy and government as well. And even though Rwanda has made a lot of progress in the years following the genocide to try to make things right and to bolster its economy and revamp its government, there is still a lot more that needs to be done in order for Rwanda to be a prospering nation. Rwanda needs to be more democratize and more freedoms need to be given to its citizens. Also, it needs to see economic growth. It cannot rely on one product to be such a large percentage of its foreign trade. When the drought hit the country in 1989, it devastated the economy because the product that accounted for 75% of its foreign trade came from farming. The economic market of Rwanda needs to be more balanced in the future so that this situation will not occur
again. Again, substantial progress has been made in Rwanda, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done for Rwanda to see any kind of prosperity and for its people to feel safe and free.
Works Cited http://hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/Geno1-3-09.htm#P224_96559 , Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide#Colonial_history , Rwandan Genocide, Wikipedia
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/shows/rwanda/handbook4.html , Handbook: Rwanda’s Challenges (Reconstruction and Transformation)
1 http://hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/Geno1-3-09.htm#P224_96559 , Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch
2 http://hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/Geno1-3-09.htm#P224_96559 , Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide#Colonial_history , Rwandan Genocide, Wikipedia
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide#Colonial_history , Rwandan Genocide, Wikipedia