The 1994 genocide in Rwanda

Rwanda History

The 1994 genocide

Rwanda experienced genocide from April to July 1994, which is considered the largest genocide since the Holocaust. To this day, every development activity worth mentioning, be it in political, economic or socio-cultural areas, is still strongly shaped by genocide and its effects.

According to cheeroutdoor, the genocide in Rwanda, one of the bloodiest tragedies in the world, took place before the eyes of the world. It was planned well in advance and was carried out with unspeakable brutality. In less than three months – according to official Rwandan figures – more than a million people (according to UN data approx. 800,000), i.e. every 7th of the 7 million residents at the time, were murdered.

In order to develop a sound understanding of the genocide, the path of causal research leads through all stages of the country’s history. The ethnic polarization in Hutu and Tutsi that emerged from the colonial historical context and its adoption by post-colonial national governments, which pursued an ethnically and regionally based discriminatory policy, play an important role. On the other hand, the controversial role of foreign countries and changes in world politics came to fruition. Last but not least, the socio-economic aspects in the country (poverty pressure, low literacy, population explosion etc.) and the resulting vulnerability of the population to manipulation were of great importance.

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda

The main historical epochs

Rwanda has centuries of history as a hereditary monarchy based on a Tutsi aristocratic class while most of the simple population was Hutu. A differentiated consideration of these ethnic names is expressly recommended. “(Ba) Hutu” or “(Ba) Tutsi” are not completely different tribes, as can be inferred from numerous literature. Both population groups speak the same language “Kinyarwanda”, share religious beliefs and form a common national culture. A separate residential territory is not assigned to any of the groups.

Originally, the differences lay more in the affiliation to social categories, the determination of which was in turn based on the ownership relationship, particularly with cattle. Cattle meant real economic power and were at the same time a status symbol. According to oral tradition, the actual group identification in the pre-colonial period was based on family associations, clans and lineages. The relations between Tutsi and Hutu, on the other hand, were characterized by a kind of feudal suzerainty, in which Hutu mostly performed tribute as arable farmers and performed labor for influential Tutsi cattle owners. As a result, the possibility of transition between Hutu and Tutsi was basically given, for example by accumulating cattle with ascending or descending status change.

It is likely that it was only German researchers who traveled to Rwanda at the turn of the century (end of the 19th century) and established ethnic groups from Hutu and Tutsi. According to the ethnological, strongly racist theories of the time, Tutsi were members of a “higher developed” population group who immigrated from present-day Ethiopia and who, due to “racial characteristics”, were better suited than the Hutu majority for management tasks.

A consistently ethnically oriented colonial policy, as well as the historiography brought with them from Europe, which tried to justify the differences ethnologically and historically, within a few decades until shortly before independence created a split in society into a declassified Hutu majority and a privileged Tutsi minority.

In recent history, the most important events in recent history have been colonization, which the country only reached shortly before 1900, independence in 1962 and the genocide of 1994.

The Berlin Congo Conference in 1884/1885 ushered in the colonial era. Today’s Rwanda was assigned to the German colonial empire. It was not until the first European expeditions, which advanced to Central Africa in the second half of the 19th century to solve the thousand-year-old mystery of the Nile springs, that the first indications of the previously completely unknown area of today’s Rwanda were brought.

Rwanda, together with Burundi, was initially part of German East Africa. In 1916, Belgian troops occupied the country from the Belgian Congo. After the First World War, Belgium received the mandate to administer Rwanda-Urundi, first from the League of Nations and later from the UN.

After independence on July 1, 1962, a first (1962-1973) and then a second republic (July 1973-1994) followed. The first republic in particular was accompanied by massacres, expulsions and refugee movements by Tutsi. Since then they have lived in neighboring countries and around the world. From there they organized a political opposition to Rwanda’s government and built the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel army.

On October 1, 1990, the RPF attacked the country from Uganda to militarily force the return of refugees. Internationally mediated negotiations initially led to a ceasefire in July 1992. After the Arusha peace treaty in January 1993, however, the implementation of the peace treaty was more or less politically blocked. Radical forces were not willing to cooperate with their opponents in transitional structures (government, parliament and army).

On April 6, 1994, the plane of then President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down while approaching the capital Kigali. This gave a group of regime hardliners from the immediate environment of the murdered president the opportunity to carry out the plan for mass murder that had already been worked out. Through established propaganda media, above all through the notorious radio station “Radio Milles Collines”, the call for mass murder against the Tutsi and the opposition Hutu was heard.

From April 7 to June 1994, a genocide of Tutsi was committed, accompanied by the liquidation of dissident Hutu. The RPF resumed fighting against the genocide organizing regime. It conquered the north, east and south-east as well as the capital by July, and then also the central and north-west of the country. French troops, coming from eastern Congo, temporarily occupied the south-west of the country.

The clashes resulted in a flow of two million refugees to neighboring countries, including many of the militia officers and genocide. The international community and its aid agencies are about to make the next mistake. Instead of supporting the peaceful return of Hutu refugees from the Congo to Rwanda, they set up refugee camps at the border – an action in the sense of emergency aid, which was necessary but also controversial because it created a situation that led to the destabilization of the throughout the Great Lakes region.


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