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The Captivating history of the African Country Rwanda; its Culture and People Part II


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In continuation of our previous article, there are many, who do not know that in Rwanda, there was a civil war in which many lives were lost before the genocide that happened in 1994.

The civil war before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda

When you see the giant strides that Rwanda has made today, you can hardly imagine that they had serious divides across their nation that resulted in a Genocide.

So Mwami Mutara took steps to end the destabilization and chaos he saw in Rwanda. He made useful changes such as sharing the land between the Hutu and Tutsi. He agreed to abolish the system of indentured servitude that the Tutsi had practiced over the Hutu until that time.


The strife that led to independence

However, In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a wave of Pan-Africanism swept through central Africa. This was expressed by leaders such as Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.

There was deep anti-colonial sentiment all through central Africa and there was the promotion of African unity and equality for all Africans.

Nyerere wrote about the elitism that he noticed in the educational systems. The support of the Pan-Africanists, advocates in the Catholic Church, and Christian Belgians encouraged Hutu resentment of the Tutsi.

The mandates by the United Nations, the Tutsi elite class, and the Belgian colonialists increased the unrest.

A man called Grégoire Kayibanda who founded PARMHUTU was the leader of the Hutu emancipation movement. He wrote what is called the “Hutu Manifesto” in 1957. His party became militarized very fast.

In response to this, in 1959, the Tutsi formed a party called the UNAR party and lobbied for independence for Ruanda-Urundi. They wanted it to be based on the existing monarchy. This group was also militarized. There were many clashes between both groups.

Tutsi Mwami Mutara III Charles died after a routine vaccination. Many Tutsi rumored that he had been assassinated. His half-brother, Mwami Kigeli V, became the next Tutsi monarch.

In 1959, Tutsis attempted assassinating Kayibanda. The rumors that the Hutu politician, Dominique Mbonyumutwa died at the hands of Tutsis, who beat him up, set up violent retaliation. It was called the wind of destruction.

Hutus Killed Tutsis

Hutus killed about 20,000 to 100,000 Tutsis. Thousands of Tutsis and the Mwami fled to Uganda. Belgian commandoes arrived to contain the violence. The Tutsi leaders accused the Belgians of colluding with the Hutus. A UN special commission reported this incident as something close to Nazism against the Tutsi minorities, and the discriminatory actions by the government and Belgian authorities.

This revolution of 1959 led to marked changes in political life in Rwanda. About 150,000 Tutsis were exiled to surrounding countries. The Tutsis who remained were excluded from political power and the state became more centralized under Hutu power. Tutsi fled to South Kivi and they were known there as Banyamalenge.

In 1960, the Belgian government agreed to hold democratic elections in Ruanda-Urundi. Hutu majority selected Hutu representations. These changes ended the Tutsi monarchy that had existed for centuries.

A Belgian effort to create an independent Ruandi-Urundi with Tutsi-Hutu power sharing failed. The violence was a problem. The UN then urged the Belgian government to divide Ruanda-Urundi into two countries. They thus became Rwanda and Burundi.

Independence for Rwanda in 1962

A referendum held on 25 September 1961 was held to determine if Rwanda should remain a kingdom or become a republic. After the parliamentary elections that were held on the same day, the first Rwandese republic was declared. Kayibanda was made prime minister. Mbonyumutwa was the first president of the transition government.

During 1961-62, Tutsi guerilla troops staged attacks on Rwanda from the surrounding countries. The Hutu-based troops from Rwanda responded and thousands were killed in the skirmishes.

Belgium with UN oversight decided on 1 July 1962 to grant independence to both countries. Rwanda was selected as a republic governed by the majority MDR-Parmehutu. They had gained full control of national politics.


In 1963, a Tutsi guerilla invasion into Rwanda from Burundi unleashed a fresh wave of anti-Tutsi hostilities by the Hutu government. Their allied forces were 14,000 in all.

The economic tie between Rwanda and Burundi was dissolved and tensions between both countries grew worse. Rwanda became a Hutu-dominated one-party state. More than 70,000 people were killed.


Kayibanda becomes first elected president in Rwanda

Kayibanda became the first elected president. He was leading a government chosen by the membership of the directly elected unicameral National Assembly.

Some of the ideals of his government were the peaceful negotiation of international problems, the social and economic elevation of the masses. He also included the integrated development of Rwanda. He established formal relations with 43 countries, that included the United States in the first decade.

Despite the progress made, there was a lot of inefficiency and corruption in his government ministries in the mid-1960s.

The Kayibanda administration created quotas to increase the number of Hutu citizens in schools and the civil service. This effort ended up castigating the Tutsi. They were only allowed to have 9% of secondary and university seats. This was their proportion of the total countries population. The quotas extended to the civil service and the high rate of unemployment led to ethnic tensions between both groups.

The Kayibanda government continued the Belgian government policy of requiring identity cards and the discrimination-discouraged mixed marriages.

After the violence in 1964, the government suppressed their political opposition by banning other parties (UNAR and RADER) they also executed Tutsi members. Hutu militants described the Tutsi rebels as cockroaches (inyenzi), a derogatory term to describe the Tutsi infiltration of the country. Hundreds of thousands more refugees moved to neighboring countries.

The Catholic Church worked closely with Parmehutu and shared networks and resources. Via the church, the government maintained links with their Belgian and German supporters. The country’s two newspapers were Catholic publications and supported the government.


Rwanda in 1973

Defence Minister Maj. Gen. Juvénal Habyarimana overthrew Kayibanda on July 5, 1973. He dissolved the National Assembly, suspended the constitution, and banned all political activity. These acts won him favor among the Tutsi but they did not last. In 1974, public outcry developed over Tutsi over-representation in the professional fields.  They complained about the fields89iy such as medicine and education.

The Hutus forced the Tutsis to resign their positions and were sent into exile. More violence followed and hundreds more Tutsis were killed. Slowly, Habyarimana imposed his predecessor’s policies that favored Hutu over Tutsi.

In 1975, he formed a party whose goals were to promote peace, unity, and national development and called it the National revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND).

They were organized and included elected and appointed officials. Under the MRND, a constitution was formed making the country totalitarian. The constitution was approved in a referendum along with the one-party state in December 1978.

Shortly after presidential elections were held and Habyarimana as the president of the MRND and the only candidate won. He was reelected in 1983 and again in 1988. He was always the sole candidate.

In a minor concession to democracy, they gave voters a choice of two MRND candidates in elections to the national assembly.

In July 1990, the president responded to public pressure for political reform and announced his intention to make Rwanda into a multi-party democracy.


Inter-relation with happenings in Burundi

Circumstances in Rwanda were influenced by circumstances in Burundi. The two countries had a Hutu majority. In Burundi, the Tutsi controlled the army and this continued for decades.

After Rwagasore was assassinated, his UPRONA party split into Tutsi and Hutu factors. The monarch chose a Tutsi prime minister but about 12 months later, they were forced to appoint a Hutu prime minister. This was done to satisfy the growing Hutu unrest.

Nonetheless, the monarch replaced him again with a Tutsi prince. In the first elections following Burundi’s independence in 1965, Ngendandumwe was elected Prime Minister. A Tutsi extremist assassinated him immediately and he was succeeded by a Hutu, Joseph Bamina.

Hutu won 23 of the 33 seats in the national elections months later. The monarch nullified the elections.

Bamina, the Prime Minister, was assassinated. The Tutsi monarch installed his secretary Leopold Biha as Prime Minister in his place. This led to a Hutu coup and the Mwami fled the country. Biha was shot but left alive.

The Tutsi-dominated army led by Michel Micombero responded brutally and killed almost all the Hutu politicians. Micombero assumed total control of the government and dethroned the new Tutsi monarch, then obliterated the role of the monarchy.

He threatened to invade Rwanda. The military dictatorship remained in Burundi for 27 years until they held a free election in 1993.

More Violence in Burundi

There were another seven years of sporadic violence in Burundi (1965-1972) between the Tutsis and the Hutus. Then in 1969, another purge of Hutus by the Tutsi military occurred. Then a localized Hutu uprising in 1972 was fiercely answered by the Tutsi-dominated Burundi army in the largest Burundi genocide of Hutus. The death toll was near 200,000.

Wave after wave of violence led to cross-border refugees into Rwanda of Hutus from Burundi. There were large numbers of both Hut and Tutsi refugees in both countries and the tensions kept increasing.

In 1988, Hutu violence against Tutsis throughout northern Burundi reemerged. The Tutsi army responded by carrying out a massacre of 20,000 Hutu. Thousands of Hutu were forced into exile in Tanzania and Congo to flee the genocide of Hutu.

Rwandan Civil War

Many exiled refugee Rwandan Tutsis in Uganda joined the rebel forces of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in the Ugandan Bush War. They became a part of the Ugandan military upon the rebel victory in 1986. Among these were Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame. They rose to prominence in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). This Rwandan group consists of Tutsi veterans of the Ugandan war.


On October 1, 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda from their base in surrounding Uganda. The rebel force was made up of ethnic Tutsis and they blamed the government for failing to democratize and solve the problems of 500,000 Tutsi refugees who were living in diaspora all over the world.

The Tutsi diaspora misjudged the response to its invasion of Rwanda. Their objective seemed to be to simply apply pressure on the Rwandan government and force them to make concessions.

rwandan refugees

Increased Tensions among ethnic groups

The Rwandan government saw the invasion as an attempt to bring the Tutsi ethnic group back into power. This increased the ethnic tensions much higher. However, after three years of fighting and multiple prior “ceasefires”, the government and the RPF signed a “final” cease-fire agreement in August 1993, and it was known as the Arusha Accords. In a bid to form a power-sharing government, their plan ran into problems.

The circumstances worsened when the Burundian Tutsi-dominated army assassinated the first elected Burundian president, Melchior Ndadaye, who is Hutu, in October 1993.

In Burundi, a fierce civil war broke out between Tutsi and Hutu shortly after the army’s massacre. This conflict spilled over into Rwanda and undermined the fragile Rwandan accords.

Tutsi-Hutu tensions rapidly intensified. The UN sent a peacekeeping force named United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) but it was underfunded, understaffed, and ineffective. It was no match for a two-country civil war. The UN denied Lieutenant Roméo Dallaire’s appeal for additional troops and they changed the rules of engagement to prevent the expected genocide.

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