Early history of Rwanda The first inhabitants of the area that is now Rwanda settled there at least 10 000 years ago, during the Neolithic period[xii][xiii]. They were hunter-gatherers and lived in the forests, being later identified as the Twa people[xiv]. They were engaged in hunting and gathering of food and the crafting of pottery[xv]. By 600CE the people living in the area knew how to work iron, had a small amount of cattle and planted small amounts of sorghum and finger millet[xvi]. Between 400 – 1000 CE[xvii] migrants from central Africa brought with them more extensive knowledge of agriculture and farming[xviii].
In this way theyfroze socio-political distinctions that had previously been fluid and open[xcv]. It was at this time that the colonial authorities constructed the Tutsi people as non-indigenous[xcvi]. From 1941 to 1945 Rwanda went through the worst famine in its history and an estimated 200. 000 out of a population of 2 million people died of starvation[xcvii]. Meeting between Belgian colonialist and Rwandan local. Image source The 1959 Revolution and independence from Belgium During the 1950's Hutu people were given more rights by the colonial authorities. This was partly because of Rwanda becoming a mandate under the United Nations (Belgium would still administrate the country). In 1952 Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa increased the number of Hutu people in his administration, and in 1954 he abolished the ubuhake system which had facilitated the use of Hutu people as forced labour[xcviii].
The Rwandan state was losing the war against the RPF and this was causing a great strain on the regime. There was a split within the Hutu political elite between “moderates”, who wanted to negotiate with RPF, and a faction called “power”, which promoted Hutu power[clxxvi]. By February 1993 it was estimated that about one million Rwandans, or almost 15% of the population, were internally displaced[clxxvii]. This created huge refugee camps in the areas still controlled by the government. Added to this were the Hutu refugees who had fled political violence in neighbouring Burundi. Several political parties established youth wings in 1992 and 1993. These youth wings would quickly get recruits from the vast amount of refugees and after the February 1993 RPF offensive many of the youth organisations turned into armed militias[clxviii].
Civilians who were not involved with either side were caught in the middle of this violence, which in turn caused a greater militarisation of civilian life in Kivu[cxc]. This militarisation was a leading cause of the First Congo War, and an invasion by the RPF which eventually led to the fall of the then dictator of the DRC Mobutu Sésé Seko[cxci].
The first Republic of Rwanda The mid 1960's saw increased repression of Tutsi people and opposition parties by PARMEHUTU and Grégoire Kayibanda. The first Republic was strictly a Hutu state as things were now supposed to be the opposite of what it had been during the colonial period. The racial policies of the colonial state continued and the Tutsi were regarded as the foreigners and therefore unsuited for political power[cxxxiii]. In 1964 a concerted effort was made to remove all Tutsi influence from the political arena[cxxxiv]. Yet many Tutsi people remained in relative positions of power and privilege.
Kigali memorial centre for the victims of the 1994 genocide. Image source In July 1994 the RPF occupied Kigali and took over power in Rwanda, with Paul Kagame as the de facto leader, and over the span of the next two weeks more than two million Hutu people fled the country[clxxxvi]. Most of them fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) or to Tanzania[clxxxvii]. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the refugees settled in the Kivu province which already had a large Banyarwanda speaking population, most of whom settled there after the internal conflicts in the immediate aftermath of Mwami Kigeri IV Rwabugiri[clxxxviii]. RPF in power and military conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo The huge influx of Rwandan refugees pouring into the Kivu province of the DRC was creating massive internal disruptions. Hutu genocidares perceived enemies everywhere in Kivu, and Tutsi armed forces affiliated with the RPF were in turn hunting down killers from the genocide in Rwanda[clxxxix].
The rebels experienced several defeats against the Rwandan army, and RPF soldiers were scattered all over the northern part of Rwanda[clxvi]. This caused Kagame to interrupt his military training in the United States of America and return to Rwanda to lead the RPF forces[clxvii]. In1991 the RPF experienced several victories on the battlefield, but failed to translate those victories into longer term strategic wins. The cause of this was that the local population, of mostly Hutu farmers, did not see the RPF as liberators and they would flee as soon as the rebels approached[clxviii].
On the 25 of July, 1959, Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa died unexpectedly and without a direct heir[cxvi]. His half-brother Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa became the new Mwami three days later, under the assumed name of Kigeli V Ndahindurwa[cxvii]. The appointment of Ndahindurwa as King is referred toas the Mwima coup[cxviii]. Soon after the coup followed violent conflict and confrontation between militants from PARMEHUTU and Tutsi people loyal to the monarchist UNAR party[cxix]. On 1 November a Hutu sub-chief was assaulted by a group of Tutsi youth, an incident that has been cited as the spark that lit the fuse[cxx]. It is estimated that more than 200 Tutsi people were killed in the early violence[cxxi] and many fled the country[cxxii].
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The struggle forward was not just an anti-colonial struggle, but also a fight against the national Tutsi elite. PARMEHUTU was a militant party that adhered to revolutionary politics[cxiv]. Several other political parties representing different political perspectives were formed at the same time. The two main Tutsi aligned parties were UNAR (traditionalist and monarchist) and RADER (soft-reformist), and the two main Hutu aligned parties were PARMEHUTU (revolutionary and eventually anti-monarchist) and APROSOMA (started out as a populist party for both Hutu and Tutsi, and became the moderates)[cxv].
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This happened partly because, in an effort to strengthen the government’s war effort, President Habyarimana began arming the civilian population[clxxix]. These armed civilian “self defence” units would later become the core part of the civilian participation in the 1994 genocide[clxxx]. Added to all this strife the Rwandan government and the RPF signed a peace agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, which excluded proponents of Hutu power from the new political order[clxxxi].
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This was the spark which would ignite an extremely volatile situation and start an all out genocide of Tutsi people in Rwanda. Between April and July 1994 more than 800, 000 Tutsi people were killed, including thousands of Hutu people who was part of the opposition or refused to take part in the killings[clxxxv].
President Habyarimana turned against the agreement, and the opposition parties who had signed it was accused of betraying Rwanda and to opening the door for Tutsi power[clxxxii]. After the Rwandan prime minister was killed together with the ten UN soldiers guarding her, the UN (with the USA in charge) decided to pull out all but 270 of the UN soldiers stationed in the country[clxxxiii]. This was supposed to be a signal to the Rwandan government that they needed to implement the Arusha agreement or the UN would let the RPF take over Rwanda. On the 6 April, 1994, President Habyarimana's plane was shot down and later that day the prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, was murdered[clxxxiv]. These assassinations confirmed all suspicions of what would happen to Hutu people if the Tutsi people ever came to power again.
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