The Kingdom of Rwanda was founded in the 16th century and the ethnic groups who roamed the land were the Tutsi, Hutu and the Twa. In the 1930s, during the Belgian colonization of Rwanda, occupiers used physical anthropology in order to polarize the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes.
Tutsi were taller and were seen as more beautiful, intelligent than the Hutu majority. Furthermore, they had a more delicate nose and a wider forehead. Although the minority tribe, the colonial power saw the Tutsi as a smarter and superior ethnic group.
Due to Hutu suppression during the colonial period, tensions between the two ethnic groups became more and more apparent. In 1957, Hutu intellectuals published the Bahutu Manifesto, in which they demanded the breaking of the political, economic and social monopoly of the Tutsi. Between 1959 and 1962, there was a Hutu revolution, which ultimately led to the independence from Belgium in 1962.
“If the Tutsi refugees attempt to seize power again, they will know that the whole Tutsi race will be destroyed” (President Gregoire Kayabanda [Hutu]; 1964)
Flash forward to the early 1990s, an armed Tutsi militia, called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) began gathering forces along the Rwanda-Uganda border, which included Tutsi from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. After growing in its numbers, the RPF invaded Rwanda. The invasion strengthened the racism of the Hutu, who used the event as proof that the Tutsi were trying to take over the country again.
In response to the attack, the central government increased its efforts to arm its military with weapons, which were supplied primarily by the French. In addition, the regime organised riots against the Tutsi in order to create solidarity among the Hutus.
In 1993, a ‘peace agreement’ was reached between the Rwandan government and the RPF. The conditions of the agreement included a cease-fire, the establishment of a temporary government in Rwanda, a reduction in the size of the Rwandan military and the return of Tutsi refugees to Rwanda. The accords were finally signed in Arusha, Tanzania and it was agreed that the Rwandan military would merge with the RPF, and that a United Nations peacekeeping force would be on the ground in Rwanda in order to oversee the implementation of the accords.
When President Habyarimana signed the agreement, Hutu extremists felt betrayed and decided to establish Hutu Power and enlisted thousands of people. Half a million machetes were imported into Rwanda and served as weapons to the people enlisted. In April 1994, in order to avoid the implementation of the Arusha Accords, the plane carrying the Rwandan President and other officials was hit with a rocket, killing all on board.
Immediately after the news of the plane crash was broadcast to the people of Rwanda, the Hutu militia set up roadblocks and received lists of the name of those who were to be exterminated. Furthermore, members of Hutu Power took control of the government.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” – Nelson Mandela
It began on April 6th, 1994. The day the presidential plane was shot down and for the next 100 days, between 800,000 and 1,000,o00 people were killed, most with machetes. The majority of casualties were Tutsi and Hutu who opposed the genocide. In addition to the genocide, the RPF recommenced its war against the Hutu government.
During the genocide, very limited information was coming out of Rwanda and international media coverage was minimal. Furthermore, the response of the international community was rather slow but in late April, UN troops were sent to Rwanda in order to inspect the situation closely.
On the 22nd of June, the United Nations Security Council allowed France to place troops in neighbouring country Zaire (now the democratic republic of Congo). In addition, Israel sent three humanitarian aid delegations to the same region, which was housing Hutu refugees. During the same time, RPF forces defeated the Hutu regime and ended the genocide. Around 1,000,000 Hutu fled and became refugees in neighbouring countries such as Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire.
Although the Rwandan genocide happened over 20 years ago, its still haunting to see the drastic level of the inhuman behaviour that prejudice and racism brings. The genocide was a conflict that changed how the international community approaches crimes against humanity.
“People talk about history and things like slavery, genocide, and religious persecution as horrors that happened in the past because we were ignorant. But nothing’s changed. We still hate what we don’t understand” – J. Matthew Nespoli
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