Human occupation of Rwanda is thought to have begun shortly after the last ice age. By the 16th century, the inhabitants had organized into a number of kingdoms. In the 19th century, Mwami (king) Rwabugiri of the Kingdom of Rwanda conducted a decades-long process of military conquest and administrative consolidation that resulted in the kingdom coming to control most of what is now Rwanda. The colonial powers, Germany and Belgium, allied with the Rwandan court.

A convergence of anti-colonial, and anti-Tutsi sentiment resulted in Belgium granting national independence in 1961. The current government of Rwanda was founded in 1994. Direct elections resulted in a representative government dominated by the majority Hutu under President Grégoire Kayibanda. Unsettled ethnic and political tensions were worsened when Juvénal Habyarimana, who was also Hutu, seized power in 1973.

The assassination of Habyarimana was the catalyst for the eruption of the 1994 genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were killed. The Tutsi RPF conquered Rwanda, and there was a counter-genocide of Hutus by Tutsis. Millions of Hutu fled as refugees, contributing to large refugee camps of Hutu in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there were already refugees from other countries. These were disbanded by an RPF-sponsored invasion in 1996 that replaced the new Congolese president as the result of the First Congo War. A second invasion to replace the new Congolese president initiated the Second Congo War, the deadliest war since World War II and one involving many African nations including Rwanda

Many exiled refugee Rwandan Tutsis in Uganda had joined the rebel forces of Yoweri Museveni in the Ugandan Bush War and had then become part of the Ugandan military upon the rebel victory in 1986. Among these were Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, who rose to prominence in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Rwandan rebel group largely consisting of Tutsi veterans of the Ugandan war. On October 1, 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda from their base in neighboring Uganda. The rebel force, composed primarily of ethnic Tutsis, blamed the government for failing to democratize and resolve the problems of some 500,000 Tutsi refugees living in diaspora around the world.

The Tutsi diaspora miscalculated the reaction of its invasion of Rwanda. Though the Tutsi objective seemed to be to pressure the Rwandan government into making concessions, the invasion was seen as an attempt to bring the Tutsi ethnic group back into power. The effect was to increase ethnic tensions to a level higher than they had ever been. Nevertheless, after 3 years of fighting and multiple prior “cease-fires,” the government and the RPF signed a “final” cease-fire agreement in August 1993, known as the Arusha Accords, in order to form a power sharing government, a plan which immediately ran into problems.

The situation worsened when the first elected Burundian president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, was assassinated by the Burundian Tutsi-dominated army in October 1993. In Burundi, a fierce civil war then erupted between Tutsi and Hutu following the army’s massacre. This conflict spilled over the border into Rwanda and destabilized the fragile Rwandan accords. Tutsi-Hutu tensions rapidly intensified. Although the UN sent a peacekeeping force named the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), it was underfunded, under-staffed, and largely ineffective in the face of a two country civil-war. The UN denied Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s request for additional troops and changes to the rules of engagement to prevent the coming genocide.

The Rwandan Genocide (1994)

On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying Juvénal Habyarimana, the President of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu President of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land at Kigali. Both presidents were killed when the plane crashed. Military and militia groups...

The 1959 Genocide in Rwanda

One of the most contested version of a genocide was the event of 1959 in Rwanda. Was it genocide against Tutsi or was it a genuine national peasant revolution? When the Hutu rebelled against the Belgians and Tutsi elites that resulted in the death of about 20,000...