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Rwanda Modern History

After independence from colonial power Belgium in 1962, Rwanda was characterized for several decades by how the Tutsis and Hutu people fought for power. Country-driven Tutsis strived to regain lost influence, while the Hutus were completely determined not to let go of the government power they were given. When a wave of democratization swept across Africa around 1990 and a Tutsi army invaded Rwanda, extreme Hut nationalists began to draw up plans for a definitive solution to the Tutsi issue. In 1994, at least 800,000 Rwandans, the vast majority of Tutsis, were killed in a genocide.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Rwanda. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Republic of Rwanda was born on July 1, 1962, after a bloody social transformation, when the Tutsi minority lost influence to the Hutuma majority (see Older History). During the first period after independence, strong tensions prevailed. When exiled Tutsis tried to regain power in 1963, new massacres were implemented. Almost all Tutsis in political positions were killed.

The country's first president, Hutuer Grégoire Kayibanda, was ousted in 1973 by Defense Minister Juvénal Habyarimana. He established a military government and replaced the ruling Hutu people's liberation party (Parmehutu) with a new party, the National Revolutionary Development Movement (MRND). Now came a time of relative stability and economic growth, but the repression of the Tutsis persisted.

Contemporary History of RwandaDuring the civil war in Uganda in the 1980s, thousands of fugitive Tutsis participated in the victorious guerrillas. Strengthened by its success, the Tutsis formed Rwanda's Patriotic Front (FPR) in 1987, which invaded Rwanda in 1990.

Hutuextremist propaganda

With the support of Belgian, French and Zairian (Congolese) soldiers, Rwanda's army halted FPR outside Kigali. But the war continued and under domestic political pressure Habyarimana was forced to introduce multi-party systems in 1991. A coalition government took office in 1992.

A ceasefire agreement was broken following disagreement over FPR's influence. After negotiations in 1993, a peace agreement was signed in Arusha, Tanzania, but even now the formation of a broad unity government with FPR was delayed. Hutu extremists called for the murder of those who wanted to implement the agreement.

Young men were recruited to militias such as Interahamwe ("Those Fighting Together") and the presidential guard was equipped. Death lists were compiled of Tutsis and the Hutus who supported the peace process. Mass media controlled by Hutu extremists spread a gross propaganda, describing the Tutsis as cockroaches or monsters.

In October 1993, the United Nations formed a force called Unamir (United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda) to ensure compliance with the Arusha Agreement. In January 1994, UN Secretary General Roméo Dallaire learned that a war of extinction against the Tutsis was being prepared. He requested permission from the UN to disarm the militias but was told that it was outside Unamir's powers.

The genocide is being carried out

Meanwhile, Habyarimana continued to delay the formation of the government. The delays triggered violence in Kigali, and at a regional summit in Tanzania on April 6, 1994, Habyarimana pledged to reform the government.

When the president's aircraft returned to Kigali on the same day, it was shot down and all on board were killed, except Habyarimana, among others, also Burundi's president. The shooting triggered the mass murder. Among the first victims was the prime minister from a moderate hut party. Ten Belgian UN soldiers were killed while trying to protect her, causing the UN to reduce Unamir from 2,500 men to 270.

The killing of knives and axes spread quickly across the country. Many were forced to kill their neighbors. The population accounting system and ID cards led the killers on the tracks. Normally safe havens like churches became death traps when Hutu priests let in the killers. The dehumanizing media propaganda against the Tutsis made it easier for extremists to bring ordinary Hutus with them.

After Habyarimana's death, FPR broke the ceasefire. When the guerrillas approached Kigali on April 12, 1994, the government fled first south and then to the northwest.

The United States delayed the deployment of a new UN troop, both for economic reasons and not to risk American lives. Instead, France sent its own force in June. FPR protested because France had supported Habyarimana.

The French soldiers set up a "protected zone" in the southwest, where the FPR was not let in and from where many of those responsible for the genocide with French help were brought into safety abroad. In mid-July, the guerrillas expelled the government and the old army to Zaire (Congo-Kinshasa), where they were followed by a million civilian hutu. Hundreds of thousands also fled to Tanzania. At least 800,000 people had been killed by then.

Unity government is formed

On July 18, 1994, the FPR proclaimed Hutu Pasteur Bizimungu as president. A unifying government was formed by most major parties and even the Prime Minister post went to a Hutu. In November of that year, a Provisional Parliament was set up with representatives of the major parties - except for the Hutu extremists - and the military.

The run-up to the genocide, the shooting down of President Habyarimana's aircraft, became the subject of debate at international level in the coming decades. According to an official 2010 study, the Mutszini Report, it was the radical Hutus of President Habyarimana's own circle who were responsible. The investigation had collected new testimonies from Belgian military, British ballistics experts had conducted new investigations and over 500 witnesses had been heard.

The inquiry had been ordered by Tutsier Paul Kagame, who was the leader of FPR and subsequently became Rwanda's president from 2010. It was a reaction to a French judge's allegations that the shooting had taken place from an area controlled by FPR.

Another investigation, commissioned by a French court, in 2012 reached the same conclusion as the Mutszini report. These experts also concluded that the rocket had been fired from a location that Kagame's FPR soldiers could hardly access. The new French investigation was done because the crew of the downed plane were French.

The Tutsis regain power

After the genocide, Rwandans began rebuilding their country, which since 1994 on paper is governed by unity governments between Tutsis and Hutus. In practice, the country has since been led by Tutsis, whose dominance was cemented when FPR leader Kagame was named president by parliament in 2000.

In 2003, the first general elections were held since the genocide. The elections were formally free and fair, but in practice the opposition had a hard time making themselves heard. FPR had almost total power over the media and the opposition was labeled as stirring. Kagame received 95 percent of the vote in the presidential election, while the FPR received three-quarters of the vote in the parliamentary election. In accordance with the constitution, a unifying government was formed between Hutus and Tutsis, but all members of the government were loyal to FPR.

In the 2008 parliamentary elections, FPR was practically unthreatened. The only formal opposition came from the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which both cooperated with the FPR. The truly opposition groups had been exiled. The 2013 election gave a similar result.

Paul Kagame was re-elected as President in 2010 with no real opposition. There were formally three challengers, but their roles were mostly to give the choice legitimacy in the eyes of the outside world. All three had some form of bond with the government. Election observers from the Commonwealth lamented the absence of opposition votes. They also criticized the lack of transparency in voting and the problems that some media encountered.

Political murders

During the election movement, several people were killed or injured in grenade attacks in Kigali. Kagame accused former army chief and diplomat Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa of being involved. Nyamwasa, who criticized the president for financial irregularities, managed to escape the country before being arrested. A few months later, Nyamwasa was shot dead in a murder trial in South Africa. A Rwandan journalist who tried to investigate the story was murdered shortly thereafter.

A leading Democratic Green Party representative was also assassinated and a host of other opposers were subjected to threats and harassment. Victoire Ingabire, leader of the opposition Democratic Forces (UDF) party formed in exile in 2006, was arrested when she returned home to run for election. She was sentenced to eight years in prison for, among other things, denying the genocide. The sentence was later extended to 15 years, after she was also found guilty of conspiracy against the authorities.

Nyamwasa was later subjected to another attempted murder and in 2014 his party mate Patrick Karegeya was murdered in South Africa. Karegeya was previously head of the intelligence service and was close to Kagame before meeting with the president and dismissed.

Karegeya, together with Nyamwasa in 2010, had formed the opposition party Rwanda's National Congress (RNC) in the United States. The party gathered a number of exiled Rwandans, several with previously high positions in FPR, and its operations abroad worried the regime. That turmoil is believed to have been behind a number of arrests and prosecutions in 2014 against high-ranking military, including a retired general and the former chief of the president's security force.

 
 

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