Magoosh GRE

Examine the causes of the Rwandan genocide.

| March 7, 2015


This paper aims to discuss and examine the causes of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This ideologically driven genocide is a clear example of state sponsored mass-murder. In an attempt by the Hutu regime to annihilate each and every Tutsi, between 500,000 to 800,000 or even 1,000,000 Tutsis were killed at the hands of Hutus in the course of one hundred days. The motive behind this mass murder was the death of Juvenal Habyarimana, the Rwandian President and a Hutu, on the 6th of April 1994.


Rwanda, once called “tropical Switzerland in the heart of Africa”, is actually a very small nation within Africa; it has a population of about seven million, which are primarily one of two groups – the “Hutu” and the “Tutsi”. Hutus, traditionally crop-growers, make up 9/10ths of Rwanda’s population. However, the minority Tutsis who were herdsmen who came down from North Africa made up the majority of Rwandan aristocracy. Consequently, they ruled over the poor Hutu for years. For over half a millennium, the Tutsi and Hutu divided their farm land amongst themselves, as well as their language, culture, plus many inter-marriages took place between them.


Construction of differences between the Hutu and Tutsi was the result of colonialism (1897-1916 German colonial rule; 1916-1962 Belgian colonial rule).

Between the end of the 19th century to the culmination of the First World War, Rwanda was actually territory belonging to German East Africa (along with Burundi and Tanzania). Following the defeat of Germany in the First World War, Belgium took control of Rwandan territory. When under colonial rule, both Germany and Belgium dominated Rwandan using Tutsi monarchs and chiefs. This was because the Colonial Europeans believed the Hutu to be inferior to the Tutsi. This contributed towards nurturing Hutu discrimination from the Tutsi which banded together to form an aggressively resentful inferiority complex. Tutsi and Hutu were perceived and labelled as separate tribes by colonial rulers. Tutsi’s had more aristocracy, taller and slimmer than Hutus peasantry. Tutsi facial features regarded as closer to European ideal of beauty. Tutsi were also regarded as superior, where Hutu as inferior. Hutu became very resentful of Belgians who favoured the Tutsi over them. Between the 1933 and 1934, when under Belgium rule, there was a national census undertaken, which included the introduction an identity card system which indicated whether an individual was of Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa heritage. A divide was then born.


In November 1959, Hutu led political movements revolted against Tutsi.

This caused several violent encounters across Rwanda, and also led to the downfall of King Kigri V. By the 1960s, Hutu violence had taken 1000s of Tutsi lives and had forced over 100 000 Tutsi civilians to flee the country and move to Uganda, Burundi and Zaire (The Democratic Republic of Congo).


Following the 1961 national Rwandan election, which was held under UN supervision, Gregoire Kayibanda (author of the “Hutu Manifesto”) was elected as president. On 1st of July 1962, Rwanda was declared independent.


As Rwanda gained national independence from the Belgians in 1962, the Hutu were quick to take control of the country and exact vengeance on the Tutsi by systematically discriminating against them as well there being many accounts of violence against them.


Consequently, more than 200 000 Tutsis escaped the country and established the “Rwandan Patriotic Front” (RPF), a rebel guerrilla army. In 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda and made President Juvenal Habyarimana sign a mandate which made sure that Hutus and Tutsis would share power in Rwanda.


Anyway, Rwandan Tutsi refugees – provided support from the largely-Tutsi government in Burundi- began launching unsuccessful attacks into Rwanda. These attacks were largely met with reactionary violence from the Hutu against local Tutsis. A notable example was at the end of 1963 where the Hutu government reacted to an unsuccessful attack as motive for large scale repression in which more than 9000 Tutsi civilians were murdered – including any Tutsi politicians. By the end of the 1960’s, the Hutu government had created a range of anti-Tutsi programs.


In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana, a northern Hutu, overthrew Kayibanda, a southern Hutu, declaring himself “president of the Second Republic”. Habyarimana’s armed forces would get rid of Kayibanda’s high-ranking supporters as a move to eliminate any anti-Hutu opposition. Habyarimana’s men replaced Kayibanda’s within the national government and security forces.


During Habyarimana’s leadership of the country, Rwanda became a single-party dictatorship. Habyarimana’s party was known as the MRND (“National Revolutionary Movement for Development”), and equipped and trained militia (the Interahamwe: meaning those who fight together). Discrimination against Tutsi became institutionalised as the Tutsi became consigned to the private sector. Strict regulations were put in place which prohibited and man in Rwanda’s army from marrying a Tutsi woman. Habyarimana kept in place the “ethnic identity card” systems. By mid-1980, the amount of Rwandan civilians who had fled across the nation’s borders had risen to over one million, while thousands were living in Europe and North America. Also, this regime inflexibly denied the refuges from returning to the country, claiming that the country was over-crowded and did not have enough jobs, land or resources to support them. This was a concern, however, as the countries which the refugees had fled to were also struggling to provide enough food, land and shelter for their own population as well as the Rwandan refugees.

Refugees from Rwanda in Goma, Zaire, 1994



Rwandan Tutsi refugees in Uganda, along with Rwandan Hutu refugees, established the “Rwandan Patriotic Front” (RPF) and dedicated their efforts towards getting back into their home country. During 1990 and 1993, the RPF conducted a series of unsuccessful invasions into Rwanda from Uganda. The violence resulted in the further displacement of thousands of Rwandans. Between 1990 to 1992, it is estimated that Hutus slaughtered over two thousand Tutsis. After this, due to European influence – notably from the French – the Rwandan government granted political parties and the press greater freedoms. This resulted in a greater “pro-Hutu”, “anti-Tutsi” extremism. This can be seen in the formation of a “Hutu Power” newspaper which vilified Tutsis as “the common enemy.”


A series of agreements (the Arusha Accords) were then agreed upon by Habyarimana’s government with the RPF which demanded for a “power-sharing government” between the Hutu and the Tutsi; the freedom for Tutsi refugees to return to Rwanda; and the re-integration of Tutsi civilians into the Rwandan military. In the events that the Accords were to be implemented, Hutu elitists within the government and army would be stripped of their powers. However, this movement was met with some resistance, as seen when, following the signing, Radio Milles Collines was formed – a private radio station which broadcast anti-Accord and anti-Tutsi propaganda.


Following that, in 1994 Habyarimana’s airplane was attacked upon return form Tanzania. A missile was launched at the aircraft which killed the Rwandan president. Even to this day it has not been fully uncovered who was responsible for the attack; however, what is certain is that the consequences of the attack were catastrophic.


Following the crash, and prior to its official announcement, ‘Hutu Power’, instituted and orchestrated a genocide campaign against Tutsi. The genocide campaign began in the capital Kigali and swiftly spread. Within the hour of the crash, Hutu militants had begun to establish road-blocks in Kigali, looking for Tutsi’s and other people who were part of opposition groups, in order to kill them. Radio Milles Collines accused the RPF and a group of UN soldiers for the attack on Habyarimana’s plane, and called for violent action against the Tutsi.


The “Presidential Guard” (approximately 6,000 men) reacted by slaughtering Tutsi civilians across Ramera. Hutu extremists within the government also drew up a list political opponents who were also killed.


In an attempt to stop the slaughter, RPF troops began fighting towards the South of the country and by July 18, reached the Zairian border. The RPF were able to vanquish the Hutu militias which opposed them and then installed a cease-fire on a bloody and violent three months in Rwandan history. It is estimated that more than 700 000 Tutsi and between 20 000 Hutu had been killed.


Summing up, after Habyarimana’s aircraft was destroyed on 6th April, the Presidential Guard and Interahamwe reacted by slaughtering the Tutsi and any political opposition.

The speed at which national genocide began – including the efficiency of local governmental officials distributing stockpiled weapons – highlighted the tactical planning of the Hutu for this level of national violence. Moreover, radio stations “broadcasted hit list and directed killers on where to find their targets” (Smith: 2003). Victims were often killed by family and neighbours.


When the peace Accords were agreed between the Rwandan government and the RPF, a small UN peacekeeping force were put in place. The UN then witnessed the happening of mass genocide. General Romeo Dallaire, head the force, issued reports to UN headquarters warning of the impending genocide and requesting stronger levels of support. The Clinton administration, however, “knew of the scale of the slaughter, but chose to plead ignorant and not intervene” (Carroll: 2004]. France, on the other hand, was a major supporter of Habyarimana, and even “intervened to protect the genocide army from the advancing RPF rebels” (BBC: 2006). As Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. In fact, it can been that this was one of the main reasons for the speed and spread of genocide across Rwanda at this time. Indeed, “at a time when the only thing standing between the Tutsi and death was a continuing foreign presence, representatives of France, Belgium and the U.S. were packing their bags and withdrawing from the area” (BBC: 2006).


Furthermore, the factors behind this massacre can also be tracked to economic decline. The growth of population in Rwanda has created a shortage in food and land. Indeed, by the early 1990s, the country was in a state of crisis – with severe drought, the land was difficult to farm, and this led to mass hunger across the country. Certainly, at this time the “World Bank” had declared Rwanda to be in the top three “worst performing countries for food production” (BBC: 2006). Consequently, the Hutu and Tutsi were forced to compete for suitable farmland to grow crops or to raise their livestock.

In the years that many of the Tutsi had left the country (1960-1973), the Hutu had claimed the majority of the farmland. The government motivated this seizure of land, claiming that the Hutu people could attain as much farmland as they needed if they drove the Tutsi out of the country.

Elsewhere, political corruption was degrading the nation internally. At a stage when the nation was desperate for land, food or work, government authorities encouraged the Hutu youth to kill Tutsi civilians in exchange for food, money, shelter, vehicles or even electronics. Political administrators encouraged the Hutu youth to force the Tutsi into designated sectors in which their assailants were waiting – often churches, schools, government offices or public places. Hutu who refused these objects were scrutinized, assaulted or even threatened with death.


However, by July 1994, the RPF overturned the Rwandan government, which led to more than 2 million Hutu refugees fleeing the nation; many to escape charges of murder.


Racial and ethnic hate was also a factor in the Rwandan genocide. Before the colonial rule, Tutsis and Hutus have occupied this part of Africa and had little conflict. The Germans were responsible for establishing a racial profiling system that favored the Tutsi as they were “more European” in their appearance. Following the First World War, and the occupation of Rwanda by the Belgians, Tutsis were still held in higher regard than the Hutu. Indeed the Belgians forced the Hutu into manual labor and often subjected them to violence. Naturally, as with any group of oppressed people, this nurtured a deep hatred and resentment in the Hutu at the treatment of inequality and discrimination.


By 1950s the Tutsis began to press for political freedom; consequently the Belgians changed their allegiance to support the Hutus which resulted in increased friction amongst the Hutu and Tutsi. This tension was furthered as, in 1959, the Hutu were encouraged to destroy Tutsi houses, leaving thousands homeless or killed.


It can be seen, therefore, that there was vast levels of hatred between the Hutu and the Tutsis, which led the slaughter of thousands of both groups. It is important that we investigate the history surrounding Rwanda, and Africa, to gain an understanding as to why genocide spread across Rwanda.


As long as 35,000 years ago, Rwanda was occupied by the Twa, who now make up less than one percent of the population. With the arrival of the Hutu, the Twa relocated into the deep forests. This was primarily as a response to the Hutu clearing land in order to build their houses and farmland.


By the end of the 13th century, the Tutsi entered Rwanda from the South of Africa, and within 400 years the two groups had established themselves into seperate states. However, political and financial friction emerged amongst the groups. This tension was exagerated by the Tutsi king, “Mwami”, who the Tutsi believed was semi-divine, and consequently was granted the ownerships of vast areas of land and live stock. On top of these benefits, the Rwandan people were forced to pay taxes to the “Mwami”. This serverd to heighten the tensions between Hutu and Tutsi.


As mentioned, the Europeans influence in Rwanda was also largely important in the relationship between the Hutu and the Tutsi. Because the Tutsi “looked more European” than the Hutu, they were thought to be the “superior race” and were treated better than the Hutu. They were given more administration-based roles within the government, while Hutu’s were forced to work the land and do other acts of manual labor. Also, in 1926 the colonial rulers at the time – Belgium – took away all powers over land from the Hutu and drove them to surrender their farmland to the Tutsi. As mentioned, in 1933 the ruling Belgians introduced ethnicity identity cards to Rwanda. On top of these oppressive acts, the European Catholic Church looked to reinforce the differences between Hutu and Tutsi, treating each as a different racial group.


However, prior to the colonial rule of Rwanda by the Europeans – there were vast numbers of Tutsi living in poverty while there was also Hutu who had power and money. Yet the colonial influence reinforced the Tutsi position of “racially superior” to the Hutu, and were responsible for influencing the Tutsi as the dominant group while the Hutu were treated as an underclass.
Needless to say these years of oppression, poverty and injustice spurned a longing for independence in the Hutu. These fantasies were first appealed to in the mid-1940’s as the King Rugahigwa actually distributed livestock and farmland to Hutu farmers. After this the Hutu peasants started to gain greater economic and political status because the Tutsi were no-longer in total control. Also, the Catholic Church started to speak against the unfair oppression of the Hutu.

In 1954, Rwandan land was split amongst the two groups by King Charles. This was badly received by the Tutsi and in turn resulted in the murder of the King. Charles’ son, King Kigeri V, was quickly dethroned in 1959. In reaction, the Tutsi tried to kill a leading political Hutu leader. There was further violence and aggression as a result of this action. No outside nation looked to calm or diffuse these tensions.

Despite all of these longstanding and passionate rivalries, the Hutu and Tutsi actually lived alongside each other in great peace. However, this was at a time when the Rwandan population was under 2 million people and there was less strain on the nation’s food and land resources. However, with the large-scale growth in population during the 20th century, there was a greater strain put on these resources; indeed, by the 1980s the country was wrestling with a severe problem trying to accommodate its population and shortage of land. By this time Rwanda was actually Africa’s more densely populated country and many people observed that the nation’s production of food was insufficient to support the Rwandan population.


By the 1990s, Rwanda’s population had climbed to almost 8 million; but the country’s food production had not improved. Indeed, there was widespread starvation across the country as the nation was ravaged by famines, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Therefore the people of Rwanda were left in a nation that offered no prospects, no work, no food, no education, and intense racial rivalry.


Consequently, the Hutu and Tutsi became “natural competitors” as they were forced to fight for food, land, work, and even homes.

As a result of the relocation or death of more than half the Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1960s, there were great amounts of available farmland in the East of the country which the Hutu used to farm and build settlements on. Rwanda’s politicians manipulated this situation to encourage Hutu people to believe that they could have enough resources and land if they killed or drove away the Tutsi.


On top of all of these tensions, the violent encounters with the RPF in 1990-1993 further added to the damaged state of Rwanda. The violence forced thousands of people to the North of the country; consequently putting a massive strain on resources in the area and, at the same time, disrupting food production.


As a result, the people were forced to find alternative jobs than farming. As Rwanda’s biggest employer was actually the Rwandan government, this is where people turned to. However while the law dictated that only 9% of people employed by the Rwandan government were allowed to be Tutsi; killing or driving away this 9% would free up more than 5000 jobs for the Hutu. This is why the Hutu militia recruited so heavily from poor Hutu people who would profit greatly from violence against the Tutsi.
However, we cannot entirely locate the motivations for genocide on economic and social conditions, and the tactics of influential Hutu figures must be considered. For example, in the years between 1960 and the 1990s, the Hutu elite actively propagated the idea that the Tutsi were immigrants and should not be treated like Rwandan civilians.

The elite also propagated the idea that the Hutu were Rwanda’s “native peasants,” and that they had been unfairly enslaved by Tutsi immigrants.


Elsewhere Rwandan agricultural production and exportation from the farmland to the cities was greatly restricted. The governmental officials did not look to diversify the Rwandan economy, to establish a suitable non-agricultural industry, nor to restrict population expansion (other than by killing the Tutsi).


The influence of religion also significant in the degradation of Rwanda towards genocide as, regardless of the nation’s overpopulation, officials within the church and government hierarchy refused to promote birth control – and actually actively opposed it.


Elsewhere, the government treated the RPF and anyone who supported them as opponents and they encouraged people to kill them in return for land, cattle and wealth.


To conclude, the primary factors which drove the mass slaughter of thousands of Rwandan civilians were an imbalance in resources, such as food and land, the spread of famine and starvation, the tactical decision of political leaders to enhance these tensions, and the violence history between the two group. The Rwandan government did not employ any economic policies which would have nurtured the relations between the Hutu and Tutsi in a peaceful manner, such as encouraging the use of birth control, promoting economic diversification into non-agrarian sectors, requests for food aid, peaceful negotiations with violent groups such as the RPF, and attempts to negotiate the safe return of refugees. Elsewhere, the political indoctrination by Hutu officials which demonized the Tutsi convinced Hutu youth that by slaughtering the Tutsis they would restore the nation’s struggling economy.


To wrap it all up, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a clear example of state sponsored mass murder. More than half million Tutsis were killed by Hutus, in an attempt by the Hutu regime to eliminate all Tutsis. Before the Hutu Revolution of 1959, there were no longstanding tribal enmity between Hutu and Tutsi. From 1897 to 1916 Rwanda was colonised by Germany and from 1916 to 1962 by the Belgians. Colonialism has resulted in constructing racial differences between Hutus and Tutsis.   Rene Lemarchand, a French political scientist, has claimed that it the Belgian’s colonial rule “provided the crucible within which ethnic identities were reshaped and mythologized.” The colonial rulers have perceived and labelled Hutus and Tutsis as separate tribes, preferring one over the other. Tutsis were regarded as more aristocratic, taller and slimmer than Hutus peasantry. There facial features were also closer to the European ideal of beauty. Europeans regarded Tutsis as superior, and Hutus as inferior. Hutu then became very resentful of Belgians who favoured the Tutsi, and in 1959 Hutu led political movements that revolted against Tutsi. Later, on 28 Jan 1961 Rwanda was declared a republic. On 1 July 1962 Rwanda became fully independent, with Gregoire Kayibanda as President. Subsequent to the revolution and independence, violence took place against Tutsis. Thousands of Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries especially Burundi and Uganda seeking refuge. By 1964, an estimated 336,000 Tutsi refugees fled Rwanda. By the 1970s, anti-Tutsi campaigns were organised by the Hutu. In July 1973 Major Juvénal Habyarimana ousted Kayibanda and started his one party dictatorship MRND (National Revolutionary Movement for Development). In October 1990 Tutsi RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) prepare for invasion. RPF invasion gave Hutus rationale for increasing anti-Tutsi campaigns, despite accords reached at Arusha Conference in Tanzania. On 6 April 1994: Habyarimana’s plane shot out of the sky on return form Tanzania. Immediately, ‘Hutu Power’ called for the extermination of the Tutsi and then the genocide campaign began in the capital Kigali and swiftly spread. The main perpetrators in this genocide were Habyarimana’s closest advisers who planned the genocide, the Militias Interahamwe and the presidential guard. Moreover, economic decline, departure of foreigners and, the racial and ethnic hate, all together with the silence of the international community have contributed to the sad tale of Rwandan genocide.



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A group of boys in Kigali. This picture was taken in November 1993, just a few months before the genocide started. It’s anyone’s guess how many, if any, of them are still alive today.

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