By: Rachel Lyle, July 7th, 2017

The Rwandan genocide was an awful and horrific event that should never have happened and should be prevented from ever happening again. As the experience of one reporter while standing outside of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is explained,

“The US Holocaust Memorial museum was opened in Washington, D. C., in April 1993. While standing in line to visit the museum one year later, journalist Phillip Gourevitch “tried to read a local newspaper” to pass the time. “But I couldn’t get past a photograph on the front page: bodies swirling in the water, dead bodies, bloated and colorless, bodies so numerous that they jammed each other and clogged the stream.” Looking up from the newspaper’s ghastly image from the ongoing Rwandan genocide, Gourevitch “saw a group of museum staffers arriving for work. On their maroon blazers, several wore the lapel buttons that sold for a dollar each in the museum shop, inscribed with the words ‘remember’ and ‘never again’”. (151).

The Rwandan genocide could be easily described in this way,

In “the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” somewhere between 500,000 people were killed in barely one hundred days in this small east-central African nation. Most victims were members of the Tutsi minority, a group that lost half its population. Nearly all surviving Tutsi “both witnessed a killing and lost at least one family member.” (151-52).


Today Rwanda is a part of the “Great Lakes” region of central and eastern Africa, two of the other countries in this region are Burundi, which in its history is closely connected with Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda’s population consisted and still consists of three social statuses, the Tutsi, who were those who owned cattle and held higher offices, the Hutu, who were of a lower social status than Tutsi and owned very few possessions, and the Twa, who were of the lowest social standing and were indigenous land and wood dwelling people so in other words a Hutu could become a Tutsi and vice versa. In the sixteenth century Rwanda came under the control of Tutsi king. By the late 1800s, it had become the Kingdom of Rwanda under King or “mwami” Kigeli IV, who reigned from 1853 to 1895, stray after his death the country leadership fell into disarray and the Germans invaded and took over leadership by adding Rwanda and Burundi to German East Africa, now Tanzania. During WWI Germany lost control of its African colonies and shortly after the war Burundi and Rwanda were given by the League of Nations to Belgium.

Belgium decided to figure out who were Tutsi, who were Hutu, and who were Twa based on what they looked like, mainly things like nose, head, and ear size and shape, and so on and they denoted them by making the people carry ID cards saying whether they were a Tutsi, a Hutu, or a Twa based on whatever denotation the Belgians gave them. They then started to call the Tutsi Racially superior to the Hutu and the Twa and started telling them this, thus they created and inflated egos in the Tutsi and cultivated a racism, and a hatred for the Hutu and the Twa in the minds of the Tutsi. The Belgians did this because they believed that the Tutsi were the people who originally inhabited Rwanda and that the Hutu had come and invaded and settled on their land and they wanted the Tutsi to get rid of the Hutus in order to get their land when in actuality the indigenous people who originally lived in Rwanda were the Twa, who only made up one one percent of the countries population, and no cared or did anything about them.


Shortly after WWII Rwanda started to fight for and gain independence from Belgium, “Independence movements gained strength throughout the continent after World War II, and most African nations won their self-determination between 1956 and 1964.” (157). Rwanda specifically gained its independence in 1959,

Belgium recognized it would have relinquish its rule; the Tutsi elite and its political party, the Rwandan National Front, attempted to cling to power, resorting to violence against Hutu as well as Tutsi dissidents; Belgian administrators reversed their long-standing support for the Tutsi, and in November 1959 they backed the emerging Hutu movement and mounted a military operation on its behalf, helping to overthrow the monarchy; and a Hutu- dominated government was consolidated. (157).

Shortly after this Belgium relinquished control of both Rwanda and Burundi and they both became independent countries, Rwanda specifically becoming a Hutu democracy. The Tutsi did not like this new government and so they started the events which led up to the genocide,

The new government purged Tutsi from regional power structures and encouraged anti-Tutsi violence, which broke out in several deadly episodes between 1959 and 1964. The best known incident occurred in Gikongoro in southern Rwanda, where government troops killed 5,000 to 10,000 Tutsi in January 1964. (157).


Shortly after this in July 1973 there was a presidency established and the government was mostly stabilized, “Rwandan politics entered a new era with a July 1973 coup d’état led by Juvénal Habyarimana, who then proclaimed the Second Republic while instituting a one-party state.” (158). Later in the 80s and 90s Habyarimana’s government started to decline,

Several factor converged to destabilize the Habyarimana regime in the late 1980s and early 1990s: a severe economic crisis from 1985 onward, instigated by the precipitous fall in prices on the word market for coffee beans, the country’s chief export; the resulting increase in poverty, fueling discontent among Hutu as well as Tutsi; and, in response, the emergence of a stronger Hutu political opposition, which criticized the government’s inept handling of the deepening crisis and also exploited public dismay over the indiscreet displays of wealth by the president and his coterie. (158)

This destabilization led to a downfall and decline the government which caused riots and violence to occur. Shortly after this a civil war broke out between those who were with the government, and Anti-Tutsi and the Tutsi themselves which resulted in many Tutsi being exiled and forced to leave their homes and the country.

Because of this civil war President Habyarimana was forced to make treaties with other countries and organizations of countries in order to ensure the country was protected and safe and the government was stable,

In July 1993 Nabyarimana’s government began negotiations in Tanzania mediated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and diplomats from France and the United States. In August the parties announced the Arusha Accords, which stipulated power- sharing between the Habyarimana and the RPF and the merger of government and RPFtroops. (162).

These negotiations also led to the formation of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda or UNIMAR. But the fact that he did these negotiation and formed the Arusha Accords did little to help the government and he was short thereafter assassinated, “The temporary hope raised by the Arusha Accords was destroyed by the assassination of President Habyarimana on the evening of April 6, 1994.” (163). This was officially the start of the Rwandan genocide. A temporary government was then set up by one of the president’s second in command officials, “Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, who at the time of the president’s death was Cabinet Director in the Ministry of Defense, led a group of zealots that formed a Provisional Government, set up by military leaders the day after the plane crash.” (164). He then initiated mass murders and killings which started the Genocide. From this time to July 16, 1994 about 800,000 to 100 million Tutsis and some Hutus were genocidally mass murdered. This was when a “Genocide Fax” sent out forcing the UN to take action and send in troops stop the killing and set up a temporary government until a new stable one could be made. All of the governmental leaders that were involved in the initiation of the killings were convicted and punished for their crimes. A Gacaca an indigenous dispute resolution mechanism translated to “small grass” was used to convict about 1.2 million people of crimes having to do with the genocide but most of them got off with only hours of community service.


Many factors contributed to this genocide and Rwanda has attempted to face this and move along through history to move past the effects and the murders that happened during this time but has had a hard time doing so because the hatred and prejudice still exists today between the two groups of people known as the Hutu and the Tutsi. This atrocity of the rwandan Genocide should always be remembered for the horror and genocide that it truly was. It should be made sure that a monstrosity and atrocity of this size does not happen ever again in the future.