Rwanda : History


By the 17th century Tutsis had established a kingdom in present-day Rwanda where Hutus, Tutsis and Twa were living. Rwanda became part of German East Africa in 1899. After World War I, it came under Belgian administration under a League of Nations mandate, and, from 1920, as part of a UN trust territory, ‘Ruanda–Urundi’.

After World War II, Rwanda continued to be administered by Belgium. In 1959, as the independence movement gathered pace, the ruling Tutsi elite formed a political party, Union Nationale Rwandaise. The Belgian authorities encouraged the Hutu majority also to aspire to political power and, in the same year, a rival party, Parti de l’émancipation du peuple Hutu (Parmehutu), was established.

As the 1960 local elections approached, Parmehutu initiated a Hutu uprising resulting in the death of many Tutsis and forcing King Kigeri V and tens of thousands of Tutsis to flee into exile in Uganda and Burundi. In 1961 the monarchy was abolished and Rwanda became a republic, gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, with Parmehutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda as President; many more Tutsis left the country and those who remained faced continuing state-sponsored violence and institutionalised discrimination. The most serious eruption of violence at this time was triggered in 1963 by an incursion from Burundi of exiled Rwandan Tutsis and resulted in the death of at least 15,000 Tutsis at the hands of Hutu gangs.

Kayibanda was overthrown in 1973 in a military coup led by army chief of staff Juvénal Habyarimana. There then ensued a period of military rule, until 1978, when a new constitution was promulgated and Habyarimana became President.

The Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) was formed in 1979 by Rwandan refugees in exile, to mobilize against divisive politics and genocide ideology, repeated massacres, statelessness and the lack of peaceful political exchange. In 1987, RANU became the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF).

On 1 October 1990, the RPF launched an armed liberation struggle that ultimately ousted the dictatorship in 1994 and ended the genocide which cost more than one million lives. Though predominantly a Tutsi movement, the RPF did win the support of a significant element of moderate Hutus. A new constitution promoting multiparty democracy was introduced in 1991. Peace talks brokered by the UN in August 1993 resulted in a power- sharing agreement between Habyarimana and the RPF, the Arusha Accords.

In April 1994 an aircraft carrying Habyarimana and the Burundian President was shot down on its return from Arusha to Kigali, killing all the passengers. The President’s violent death triggered the co-ordinated massacre of Tutsis – and some Hutus who opposed the government – by Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan army. In response the RPF began a major offensive from the north.A systematic count by the government of Rwanda in collaboration with genocide survivor organisations established that 1,074,017 people were killed, of whom 934,218 have been identified by names: 93.6% were killed because they were Tutsi; the others either because they were Hutus married to Tutsis, resembled Tutsi, had hidden Tutsi neighbours or were Hutus who opposed the killings In July 1994 the RPF took control of Kigali and formed an administration based on the principles of power-sharing and national reconciliation which were the basis of the 1993 Arusha Accords. The administration comprised five political parties: the RPF, Christian Democratic Party, Liberal Party, Republican Democratic Movement and Social Democratic Party. Pasteur Bizimungu was inaugurated as President for a five-year term; the RPF military chief Paul Kagame became Vice-President and Defence Minister. The government’s priorities were security, rebuilding the economy and national reconciliation; it prohibited any official recognition of ethnicity. By February 2007 some 60,000 prisoners accused of genocide had been released.

Shortly after the new government took office, a 70-member Transitional National Assembly was formed, including representatives of the five governing parties and three other smaller parties, the Democratic Union for Rwandese People, Islamic Party and Socialist Party, as well as six representatives of the Rwandese Patriotic Army.

The UN Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in November 1994 to contribute to the process of national reconciliation and to the maintenance of peace in the region. The tribunal was established in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, in February 1995, for the prosecution of those responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda during 1994.

Some two million Hutus followed the Hutu militias into exile in Zaire, where they were accommodated in UN refugee camps. Many other Hutus fled to Tanzania. By 1995 the Hutu militias and Zairean government forces were initiating attacks on Zairean Banyamulenge Tutsis who lived in Eastern Zaire. In October 1996 Rwandan troops and Zairean Tutsis attacked the refugee camps where the Hutu militia were based with the aim of repatriating the refugees. In 1997 the Zairean regime was overthrown, Laurent Kabila became President and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, in 1998, when it was clear that the new government of DRC was not going to return the Hutu militias to Rwanda, Rwanda began to lend its support to forces that opposed Kabila. However, in July 2002 Rwanda and the DRC agreed that Rwanda would withdraw its troops and DRC would work with Rwanda in disarming Hutu militia. By October 2002 Rwanda reported it had completed its withdrawal, and in March 2005 the main Hutu rebel group, Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, announced the end of its armed struggle. . In November 2007 Rwanda signed a peace agreement with the DRC, under which DRC was to hand over those implicated in the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi to Rwanda or to the ICTR.