Little of Rwanda's history is written down but
generally the country has a rich oral traditional
history. However a few historians who have ventured
into this aspect have established it that Rwanda's
first group of inhabitants were the Twa (meaning
indigenous hunters or gatherers). These very people
still form part of the population today and still
much known for their skill in pottery.
Around the 700BC, the Twa were joined by a group
of Bantu speaking farmers that had traversing
across central Africa searching for fertile land
to cultivate. Indeed fertile Rwanda began a destination
for the present day Hutu whose presence, devoid
to say, was agony for the Twa that saw the new
comers as enemies coming to annex their hunting
The next group of people to enter into Rwanda
was the tall and slander Hamites migrating from
the horn of Africa, present day Ethiopian Highlands.
They were particularly cattle keepers who crossed
into central Africa searching for greener pastures
for their animals.
Forerunners of the people who are now known as
Hutu and Tutsi settled in the region over a period
of two thousand years. Originally organized in
small groups based on lineage or on loyalty to
an outstanding leader, they joined in building
the complex state of Rwanda. They developed a
single and highly sophisticated language, Kinyarwanda,
crafted a common set of religious and philosophical
beliefs, and created a culture which valued song,
dance, poetry, and rhetoric and celebrated the
For a long time period of time, the three different
ethnic groups lived harmoniously. The accepted
their different forms of responsibilities as kings
and herdsmen (Tusti), servants and agriculturists
(Hutu) and the far more distanced Twa.
Although it was not usual, Hutu and Tutsi sometimes
intermarried. The practice declined in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the
gap widened between Tutsi elite and Hutu commoners,
but rose again after Tutsi lost power in the 1959
revolution. With the increase in mixed marriages
in recent decades, it has become more difficult
to know a person's group affiliation simply by
looking at him or her. Some people look both "Hutu"
and "Tutsi" at the same time.
The Twa, a people clearly differentiated from
Hutu and Tutsi, formed the smallest component
of the Rwandan population, approximately 1 percent
of the total before the genocide. Originally forest
dwellers that lived by hunting and gathering,
Twa had in recent decades moved closer to Hutu
and Tutsi, working as potters, laborers, or servants.
Physically distinguishable by such features as
their smaller size, Twa also used to speak a distinctive
form of Kinyarwanda. While the boundary between
Hutu and Tutsi was flexible and permeable before
the colonial era, that separating the Twa from
both groups was far more rigid. Hutu and Tutsi
shunned marriage with Twa and used to refuse even
to share food or drink with them. During the genocide,
some Twa were killed and others became killers.
They remain so dew in number with limited data.
As years went by, gradually whether by conquest
or by assimilation a hierarchy class emerged in
Rwanda in which the cattle raisers (Tutsi) were
superior to the farmers (Hutu) and the minority
Twa. A monarchy system emerged and a Tusti king
ruled for as long as the monarchy existed.
The origin of the ethnic divisions between the
Hutu and the Tusti is quite debatable. However
oral history portrays a feudal system with one
group, the Tusti occupying a superior status with
the social and political structures and the groups,
Hutu, serving as serfs to Tusti chiefs.
It should be noted that the king (Mwami) was
an absolute monarch, deeply revered and seen to
embody Rwanda physically. The hierarchy below
him was complex with different categories of chiefs
in charge of different aspects of administration.
His power covered most of Rwanda, although some
Hutu enclaves in the North, northwestern and South
Western of the country clung to their independence
until the 20th century.
The colonial era and its impact
During the Berlin conference of 1885 that sought
to demarcate Africa into smaller portions for
Europeans to colonize, Rwanda and Burundi then
under the names of Ruanda and Urundi were assigned
to Germans as part of the German East Africa.
The Germans, -the very first of colonizers of
Ruanda, and the Belgians, who replaced them after
the First World War, ended the occasional open
warfare that had taken place within Ruanda and
between her neighbors. Both Germans and Belgians
sought to rule Rwanda with the least cost and
the most profit. At the time of colonization the
Kingdom was larger than the present Rwanda. It
stretched from as far as lake Edward in the north
and beyond lake Kivu in the west and reduced to
the present day after the 1910 Brussels conference.
The Germans were surprised to find that their
new colony was a highly organized country, with
tight, effective power structures and administrative
divisions. Making use of the impressive indigenous
state was the obvious way to do so, but the colonialists
found its complexities troublesome. The multiple
hierarchies that had allowed the ruler to maximize
his control by playing off rival officials now
permitted both ruler and his subordinates to evade
control by the colonialists. The dense administration
within central Rwanda-with the least important
representatives of the ruler sometimes governing
only a few hundred people-required a relatively
high proportion of local goods and labor for its
support. The colonialists preferred to have these
resources at their own disposal, to cover their
expenses and to pay the costs of building an infrastructure
to link Rwanda to the world economy. At the same
time, the Belgians saw the autonomous enclaves,
where central control was light, as anomalies
potentially disruptive of good order.
Germany had little time to make its mark on the
colonies in 1916, Belgium invaded Ruanda-Urundi
and occupied the territories until the end of
world war1. The Belgians began to alter the Rwandan
State in the name of administrative efficiency.
Always professing an intention to keep the essential
elements of the system intact, they eliminated
the competing hierarchies and regrouped the units
of administration into "chiefdoms" and
"sub-chiefdoms" of uniform size. They
used force to install state officials in the autonomous
enclaves, destroying the power of the heads of
lineages and of local small states. They fixed
and made uniform the goods and services that local
officials could demand, thus-they thought-reducing
the burdens on the population.
Rwandan officials were not helpless pawns but
rather real players in the game of administrative
reform. Politically astute, they understood how
to evade the intent of European orders even while
apparently conforming to them. Chiefs and sub-chiefs
seemed to accept the reduction in numbers of officials,
but in fact kept on using unofficial representatives
out on the hills who continued living off the
local people. As a result, the density of administration
and consequent customary burdens on the people
diminished little, if at all, in the central part
of the country, while in the north and southwest,
they actually increased because of the installation
of resident officials. At the same time, the chiefs
and sub-chiefs-and later other administrative
agents-enforced a series of wholly new demands
imposed by the colonialists as part of their effort
to integrate Rwanda into the world economy. They
often found ways to turn these new requirements,
such as building roads or planting cash crops,
to their personal profit.
The beginning of categorization.
By assuring a Tutsi monopoly of power, the Belgians
set the stage for future conflict in Rwanda. They
believed Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa were three distinct,
long-existent and internally coherent blocks of
people. Unclear whether these were races, tribes,
or language groups, the Europeans were nonetheless
certain that the Tutsi were superior to the Hutu
and the Hutu superior to the Twa-just as they
knew themselves to be superior to all three. Because
Europeans thought that the Tutsi looked more like
themselves than did other Rwandans, they found
it reasonable to suppose them closer to Europeans
in the evolutionary hierarchy and hence closer
to them in ability. Believing the Tutsi to be
more capable, they found it logical for the Tutsi
to rule Hutu and Twa just as it was reasonable
for Europeans to rule Africans.
Belgians were intrigued by the sharply differing
physical characteristics of their colony inhabitants
and enthusiastically measured, recorded and commented
on the facial and bodily proportions of Rwanda's
three ethnic groups. In the early 1930s, the Belgians
embarked on a census to identify all the indigenous
inhabitants on the basis of physical appearance
as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa and subsequently issued
them with identity cards.
From 1950s as the number of educated Hutu increased,
their voice grew stronger. The elite among them
like Gregoire Kayibanda (Rwanda's first post independence
President) pressed for recognition.
In 1957, a Hutu manifesto drawn up by a group
of Hutu intellectuals was presented to the vice-governor
Jean Paul Harroy. It called for political power
to be placed in the hands of Hutu majority, pointed
out injustices and inequalities. It was at this
very time that a pro-catholic party APROSOMA (Association
pour la Promotion Sociale des Masses) was formed
with Gregoire Kayibanda as the leader. It was
purely sectarian championing Hutu interests strongly.
The social revolution
Belgium continued its support for the Tutsi until
the 1950s. Then, faced with the end of colonial
rule and with pressure from the United Nations,
which supervised the administration of Rwanda, the
colonial administrators began to increase possibilities
for Hutu to participate in public life. They named
several Hutu to responsible positions in the administration,
they began to admit more Hutu into secondary schools,
and they conducted limited elections for advisory
government councils. Hardly revolutionary, the changes
were enough to frighten the Tutsi, yet not enough
to satisfy the Hutu. With independence approaching,
conservative Tutsi hoped to oust the Belgians before
majority rule was installed. Radical Hutu, on the
contrary, hoped to gain control of the political
system before the colonialists withdrew.
| In 1959, Mwami (King)
Mutara Rudahigwa died in hospital in circumstances
that remained mysterious. A young half-brother,
Kigeri Ndahindurwa, who appeared to be heavily influenced
by the most conservative Tutsi group, succeeded
him. Moderate parties that sought to organize across
the Hutu-Tutsi divide lost ground as the Parmehutu
(Parti du mouvement de l'émancipation des
Bahutu), identified exclusively with Hutu, and the
Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR), a royalist Tutsi
party, and gained in strength.
The beginning of calamities between the Tutsi and
Hutu were sparked by an incident in November of
1959 when a Hutu sub-Chief was confronted and beaten
in present day Gitarama province by young Tutsi
members belonging to UNAR. Highly organized Hutu
gangs reiterated going on streets in villages and
towns, looting, burning and killing mainly the Tutsi.
Several hundred people were killed before the Belgian
administration restored order. The Belgians then
replaced about half the Tutsi local authorities
by Hutu. It should be noted that this was the first
form of violence between the two ethnic groups,
the revolution had started, and Tutsi started to
flee the country in big numbers and out bursts of
violence spread through out the country.
In 1960, the PARMEHUTU won highly manipulated
elections. This was followed by a referendum organized
by the Belgians under the auspices of the United
Nations on the monarchy. Some 25000 people were
assembled in Gitarama, home area to the first
Rwanda president (Gregoire Kayibanda) where it
is estimated that 80 percent of Rwandans voted
to end the monarchy, thus confirming the proclamation
of a republic. These events form part of the so-called
Hutu revolution that had started a long in 1959.
The new republican government continued labeling
all Rwandans as Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa, but the identity
cards which had once served to guarantee privilege
to Tutsi now served as a means to discriminate
against them, both in employment and in education.
Following the revolution, the percentage of Tutsi
in the Rwandan population declined sharply, partly
because many had been massacred or fled and partly
because some found ways to redefine themselves
The period 1962 to 1994
Political turmoil and ethnic tensions in the country
characterized the period 1962 to early 1970s.
The Hutu dominated government of Gregoire Kayibanda
sought to reinforce its supremacy and sections
of Tutsi continued to flee to neighboring countries
as the pattern of violence continued.
In 1965, Kayibanda was re-elected as the president
of Rwanda and subsequently appointing Maj. Gen.
Juvenal Habyalimana as the minister for Defense.
Kayibanda later moved on to win the 1969 elections
which were followed with change in name of the
ruling party from PARMEHUTU to MDR (Mouvement
Democratique Republican). However, the increasingly
dictatorial tendencies of Gregoire Kayibanda,
became unbearable to ordinary Rwanda, including
the Hutu themselves. The quota system leveled
on the Tusti and cleansing measures going on throughout
the country began to be enforced so autocratically
that the Hutu themselves became uneasy. In 1973,
President Kayibanda was overthrown by his defense
minister Juvenal Habyalimana in a coup d'etat.
Two years after the coup, in 1975, Habyalimana
made Rwanda officially a single-party state under
the National Revolutionary Movement for Development
(Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour
le Development, (MRND). All Rwandans of whatever
age were automatically members of the party. Over
the years, Habyarimana constructed a cohesive
monolith, with himself as president of the republic
and president of the party and, at each level
below him, the relevant government official simultaneously
heading the corresponding level of the party.
The Habyarimana government continued the use of
identity cards and also required people moving
from one location to another to register with
the local authorities. Each commune submitted
monthly, quarterly, and yearly reports of births,
deaths, and movement into and out of the commune.
The burgomaster kept agents of the secret service
informed of any suspicious persons seen in his
district. In his first months in office, Habyarimana
ordered important government employees with master's
degrees or higher to take military training, apparently
with the intention of providing one more channel
for instilling habits of obedience to orders.
Habyalimana was reconfirmed as president in 1978,
1983 and 1988 in election where he was the only
candidate. The Hutu-Tutsi conflict was for sometime
was for sometime replaced with the conflict between
the Hutu of the North and those of the South.
The ruling Hutu led by president Habyalimana were
from the North.
In 1979, the Rwanda Refuge welfare Foundation
(RRWF) was formed by a group of exiled Rwandans
that had fled to Uganda but later turned into
the Rwandan Alliance for National Unity (RANU).
This was basically a group of Rwandans opposed
to the government of Rwanda and agitating for
a return to their country either peacefully or
In Uganda, a guerrilla war led by one Yoweri
Kaguta Museveni was staged to oust the dictatorial
regime of the then president Dr. Milton Obote-among
the group with the new rebel movement were two
key Rwandan refugee young men, Paul Kagame and
Fred Rwigyema. Obote had been very oppressive
and hostile to the Rwandan refugees residing in
gazzetted camps mainly in the western part of
Many Rwandans in Uganda thus picked up arms to
fight the then dictatorial regime of Dr. Milton
Obote. The Ugandan guerrilla war lasted for six
years and in January of 1986, Museveni toppled
the leadership in Uganda. Rwandans that had been
part of the Museveni guerrilla war changed RANU
into the Rwanda Patriotic front (RPF) which was
supported by both the Tutsi in exile and the Hutu
opposed to the Habyalimana government back in
On the 1st October 1990, RPF led by Maj.Gen.
Fred Rwigyema staged an armed struggle to oust
out Habyalimana regime and bring to halt the dictatorial
regime. Many foreign troops including the French
and Zairean were brought to fight alongside the
government forces. The Habyalimana regime took
the RPF threat seriously. With in a spell of time,
the government embarked on a massive recruitment
exercise-the army expanded from 5,000 in 1990
to 35,000 by 1993. Thousands of Tutsi with in
the country and southern Hutu were held under
the guise of being collaborators. Many more lost
their lives. It was at this period that the Rwandan
army began to train militia groups known as the
interahamwe who later on played a key role in
the manslaughter of 1994.
On the other hand, the RPF under the leadership
of Paul Kagame was now advancing in positions
and numbers. The force was now under the leadership
of Maj. Paul Kagame who had succeeded Maj. Gen.
Fred Rwigyema soon after his death in 1990. The
RPF worked hard to sell its image as all-inclusive
movement not necessarily a pro- Tutsi movement.
Its stated aim was to always bring democracy in
Rwanda other than claim supremacy. It incorporated
many Hutu into its regular force, notably, the
chairman of RPF political wing was a Hutu by the
names of Col. Alex Kanyarengwe. Many more members
of the government forces continued to defect into
the RPA and were received cordially, occasionally
being given positions of responsibility.
With mounted pressure from the international
community president Juvenal Habyalimana was forced
to the negotiating tables in what later came to
be known as the Arusha agreement. It committed
president Habyalimana to a number of reforms that
included establishment of the rule of law and
political power sharing. However, both parties
to the agreement showed resent in implementing
the terms of the agreement. Hostilities increased,
people continued to disappear mysteriously as
independent media houses with negative propaganda
began spreading the gospel of hatred.
On the 6th of April 1994, a plane-carrying president
Juvenal Habyalimana and his Burundian counter
part Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down near Kigali
international Airport as they returned from peace
talks in Arusha. This ignited what came to be
known as they worst manslaughter in modern history.
The genocide had began had began until the RPF
government captured power on the 4th July 1994.
The genocide and post genocide Rwanda.
Rwanda leaped to fame in 1994 after the mayhem
that befell the country. In a record of one hundred
days characterized with anarchy, Rwanda had lost
1 million people as a result of ethnic clashes
between the two main ethnic groups of majority
Hutu and minority Tutsi. The 1994 tragedy was
indeed the climax of a long established political
system that was bent on ethnic divisions and political
manipulation and suppression of the minority few.
The Rwandan catastrophe was well planned for
a long period of time. The then army (Forces Armee
du Rwanda) and Interahamwe militia group went
into action, on a rampage of killing, torture,
rape, looting and total destruction. The genocide
left one million people dead in a record time
of one hundred days and a fragile society that
had been completely shattered. It was characterized
by massive destruction of social fabric and physical
infrastructure. Rwanda is remembered simply today
as the land of Genocide- the site of senseless
massacre, which dominated world headlines over
the later part of 1994.
The genocide is history, recent history perhaps
but all the same history. The political administration
that took over power eight years ago has restored
peace at last. Over the subsequent years, Rwanda
has blossomed in an atmosphere of renewed political
stability and economic progress.
Government has embarked on a long-term program
of redressing the division that characterized
the Rwandan society. A unity and reconciliation
commission was instituted championed with uniting
the Rwandan society. Today the country is busy
writing a new constitution that should guide government
come the end of the transition in 2003. Many more
refugees have been repatriated back to the country
and security has been restored to all corners
of the country.
The government of recent has put in place in restorative
traditional form of Justice known as Gacaca to try
the thousands of genociders still held for genocide
related cases. The economy though still poor has
over the years shown steady growth. Indeed considering
the magnitude of the problems that Rwanda went through
and bearing in mind its economic potential, there's
no doubt that country has done a tremendous work
to deserve credit.