Naudia Brown Jayla Coley
In just 100 days in 1994, 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists. They were targeting members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
Ethnic Tensions in Rwanda
By the early 1990s, Rwanda had one of the highest population densities in Africa. About 85% of its population is Hutu; the rest is Tutsi, along with other smaller groups who were original inhabitants of Rwanda. Rwanda came under the League of Nations under the approval of Belgium after WWII. The Belgians seemed to favor the minority Tutsi over the Hutus, creating a legacy of tension that exploded into violence even before Rwanda gained its independence.
In 1959, a Hutu revolution overthrew the Tutsi monarchy causing 300,000 Tutsis to flee toUganda. In 1990, forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. A ceasefire in these hostilities led to negotaitons between the government and the RPF in 1992. In August of 1993, Habyarimana (Hutu general that was the sole leader of the Rwandan government), signed an agreement calling for a creation of government that would include the RPF. This power-sharing agreement angered Hutu extremists, who would soon take rapid and awful action to prevent it.
The Genocide Begins
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi's president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over Kigali, leaving everyone on the plane dead. Within an hour of the plane crash, the Presidential Guard together with members of the Rwandan armed forces, Hutu militia known as Interahamwe ("Those Who Attack Together") & Impuzamugambi ("Those Who Have the Same Goal") barricade and block roads and began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutu.
How was the Genocide Carried Out?
Lists of government opponents were handed out to militias who went and killed them, along with all of their families. Neighbors killed neighbors and some husbands even killed their Tutsi wives. The husbands would be killed if they refused to kill their wives. At the time, ID cards had people's ethnic group on them. Militias set up roadblocks where Tutsis were slaughtered, often with machetes which most Rwandans kept around the house. Thousands of Tutsi women were taken away and kept as sex slaves.
Did anyone try to stop the Genocide?
The UN and Belgium had forces in Rwanda but the UN mission was not given a mandate to stop the killing. A year after US troops were killed in Somalia, the US was determined not to get involved in another African conflict. The Belgians and most UN peacekeepers pulled out after 10 Belgian soldiers were killed. The French, who were allies of the Hutu government, sent a force to set up a supposedly safe zone but were accused of not doing enough to stop the slaughter in that area. Rwanda's current president has accused France of taking part in the massacres - a charge denied by Paris
Why was the Genocide so cruel?
The then governing party, MRND, had a youth wing called the Interahamwe, which was turned into a militia to carry out the slaughter. Weapons and hit-lists were handed out to local groups, who knew exactly where to find their targets.The Hutu extremists set up radio stations and newspapers which broadcast hate propaganda, urging people to "weed out the cockroaches" meaning kill the Tutsis. The names of those to be killed were read out on radio. Even priests and nuns have been convicted of killing people, including some who sought shelter in churches.
How did the Genocide end?
The organized RPF, backed by Uganda's army, gradually seized more territory, until July 4th, when its forces marched into the capital, Kigali. Some two million Hutus - both civilians and some of those involved in the genocide - then fled across the border into DR Congo, at that time called Zaire, fearing revenge attacks.
What Happened in DR Congo
The genocide in Rwanda has directly led to 20 years of unrest in DR Congo, which have cost the lives of about five million people. Rwanda's government, now run by the RPF, has twice invaded DR Congo, accusing its much larger neighbour of letting the Hutu militias operate on its territory. Rwanda has also armed local Congolese Tutsi forces. In response, some locals have formed self-defence groups and the civilians of eastern DR Congo have paid the price.
Modern Day Rwanda
RPF leader and President, Paul Kagame, has been hailed for overseeing rapid economic growth in the tiny country. He has also tried to turn Rwanda into a technological hub and is very active on Twitter. But his critics say he does not tolerate dissent and several opponents have met unexplained deaths. Almost two million people were tried in local courts for their role in the genocide and the ring-leaders at a UN tribunal in neighboring Tanzania. It is now illegal to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda - the government says this is to prevent more bloodshed but some say it prevents true reconciliation and is just putting a lid on tensions, which will only boil over again in the future.