A Short History of Rwanda

Published on 21st February 2006

Rwanda is a country roughly the size of Massachusetts located in central Africa. It borders The Congo (formerly Zaire), Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania. Its population of approx 8 million people makes it the most over-populated country, per square meter, in Africa. The ethnic mix of the population is approximately 15% Tutsi, 83% Hutu, and 2% Twa (Pigmy). 60% of the population is under 20 years old. Of these, an estimated 400,000 are orphans, 20% of which, head their household.

According to folklore, Tutsi cattle breeders began arriving in the area from the Horn of Africa in the 15th century and gradually subjugated the Hutu inhabitants. The Tutsis established a monarchy headed by a mwami (king) and a feudal hierarchy of Tutsi nobles and gentry. Through a contract known as ubuhake, the Hutu farmers pledged their services and those of their descendants to a Tutsi lord in return for the loan of cattle, use of pastures and arable land. Thus, the Tutsi reduced the Hutu to virtual serfdom. However, boundaries of race and class became less distinct over the years as some Tutsi declined until they enjoyed few advantages over the Hutu. The first European known to have visited Rwanda was German Count Von Goetzen in 1894. He was followed by missionaries, notably the "White Fathers." In 1899, the mwami submitted to a German protectorate without resistance. Belgian troops from Zaire chased the small number of Germans out of Rwanda in 1915 and took control of the country.

After World War I, the League of Nations mandated Rwanda and its southern neighbor, Burundi, to Belgium as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a UN Trust Territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. Reforms instituted by the Belgians in the 1950s encouraged the growth of democratic political institutions but were resisted by the Tutsi traditionalists who saw in them a threat to Tutsi rule. An increasingly restive Hutu population, encouraged by the Belgian military, sparked a revolt in November 1959, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy. Two years later, the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) won an overwhelming victory in a UN-supervised referendum.

During the 1959 revolt and its aftermath, more than 160,000 Tutsis fled to neighboring countries. The PARMEHUTU government, formed as a result of the September 1961 election, was granted internal autonomy by Belgium on January 1, 1962. A June 1962 UN General Assembly resolution terminated the Belgian trusteeship and granted full independence to Rwanda (and Burundi) effective July 1, 1962.

Gregoire Kayibanda, leader of the PARMEHUTU Party, became Rwanda's first elected president, leading a government chosen from the membership of the directly elected unicameral National Assembly. Peaceful negotiation of international problems, social and economic elevation of the masses, and integrated development of Rwanda were the ideals of the Kayibanda regime. Relations with 43 countries, including the United States, were established in the first 10 years. Despite the progress made, inefficiency and corruption began festering in government ministries in the mid-1960s. On July 5, 1973, the military took power under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana, who dissolved the National Assembly, the PARMEHUTU Party and abolished all political activity.

In 1975, President Habyarimana formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) whose goal was to promote peace, unity, and national development. The movement was organized from the "hillside" to the national level and included elected and appointed officials.

Under MRND aegis, the Rwandas went to the polls in December 1978, overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution, and confirmed President Habyarimana as president. President Habyarimana was re-elected in 1983 and again in 1988. Responding to public pressure for political reform, President Habyarimana announced in July 1990 his intention to transform Rwanda's one-party state into a multi-party democracy. 

On October 1, 1990, exiles from Rwanda banded together as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda from their base in 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. The war dragged on for almost 2 years until a cease-fire accord was signed July 12, 1992, in Arusha, Tanzania, fixing a timetable for an end to the fighting and political talks.

Ethnic tensions in Rwanda were significantly heightened in October 1993 upon the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, the first popularly elected Hutu president of neighboring Burundi. A United Nations peacekeeping force of 2,500 multinational soldiers was then dispatched to Rwanda to preserve the fragile cease-fire between the Hutu government and the Tutsi rebels. Peace was threatened by Hutu extremists who were violently opposed to sharing any power with the Tutsis. 

In April 1994, amid ever-increasing prospects of violence, the President of Rwanda, Habyalimana and Burundi's new President, Cyprien Ntaryamira, held several peace meetings with Tutsi rebels. On April 6, while returning from a meeting in Tanzania, a small jet carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Rwanda's airport at Kigali. Immediately after their deaths, Rwanda plunged into political violence as Hutu extremists began targeting prominent opposition figures who were on their death-lists, including moderate Hutu politicians and Tutsi leaders.

The killings then spread throughout the countryside as Hutu militia, armed with machetes, clubs, guns and grenades, began indiscriminately killing Tutsi civilians. All individuals in Rwanda carried identification cards specifying their ethnic background, a practice left over from colonial days. These 'tribal cards' now meant the difference between life and death.

Amid the onslaught, the small U.N. peacekeeping force was overwhelmed as terrified Tutsi families and moderate politicians sought protection. Among the peacekeepers were ten soldiers from Belgium who were captured by the Hutus, tortured and murdered. As a result, the United States, France, Belgium, and Italy all began evacuating their own personnel from Rwanda. However, no effort was made to evacuate Tutsi civilians or Hutu moderates. Instead, they were left behind entirely at the mercy of the avenging Hutu. 

Back at U.N headquarters in New York, the killings were initially categorized as a breakdown in the cease-fire between the Tutsi and Hutu. Throughout the massacre, both the U.N. and the U.S. carefully refrained from labeling the killings as genocide, which would have necessitated some kind of emergency intervention.

On April 21, the Red Cross estimated that hundreds of thousands of Tutsi had already been massacred since April 6 - an extraordinary rate of killing. The U.N. Security Council responded to the worsening crisis by voting unanimously to abandon Rwanda. The remainder of U.N. peacekeeping troops were pulled out, leaving behind a tiny force of about 200 soldiers for the entire country.

The Hutu, now without opposition from the world community, engaged in genocidal mania, clubbing and hacking to death defenseless Tutsi families with machetes everywhere they were found. The Rwandan state radio, controlled by Hutu extremists, further encouraged the killings by broadcasting non-stop hate propaganda and even pinpointed the locations of Tutsis in hiding. The killers were aided by members of the Hutu professional class including journalists, doctors and educators, along with unemployed Hutu youths and peasants who killed Tutsis just to steal their property.

Many Tutsis took refuge in churches and mission compounds. These places became the scenes of some of the worst massacres. By mid May, an estimated 500,000 Tutsis had been slaughtered. Bodies were now commonly seen floating down the Kigara River into Lake Victoria.

Confronted with international TV news reports depicting genocide, the U.N. Security Council voted to send up to 5,000 soldiers to Rwanda. However, the Security Council failed to establish any timetable and thus never sent the troops in time to stop the massacre.

The killings only ended after armed Tutsi rebels, invading from neighboring countries, managed to defeat the Hutus and halt the genocide in July 1994. By then, an estimated 800,000 persons had been killed, another 2 million or so had fled, and another million or so were displaced internally.

The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The United States was one of the largest contributors. The UN peacekeeping operation, UNAMIR, was drawn down during the fighting but brought back up to strength after the RPF victory. UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until March 8, 1996. 

Following an uprising by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge people in eastern Zaire in October 1996, a huge movement of refugees began which brought more than 600,000 back to Rwanda in the last 2 weeks of November. This massive repatriation was followed at the end of December 1996 by the return of another 500,000 from Tanzania, again in a huge, spontaneous wave. Less than 100,000 Rwandans are estimated to remain outside of Rwanda, and they are thought to be the remnants of the defeated army of the former genocidal government, its allies in the civilian militias known as Interahamwe, and soldiers recruited in the refugee camps before 1996. 

Fighting in 1999 and 2000 between Rwandan and Ugandan forces in the Congo has led to tense relations between the two nations and occasional fighting between proxy forces in the Congo; each nation also has accused the other of aiding rebels against its own rule. Rwandan troops were withdrawn from the Congo in 2002 as the result of the signing of a peace agreement, but Rwanda forces fighting Hutu rebels have made incursions into the Congo and Burundi as well. Also in 2002, former president Bizimungu, who had become a critic of the government and established an opposition party, was arrested and charged with engaging in illegal political activity; he was convicted in 2004.

In May, 2003, votes approved a new constitution. In the subsequent presidential election in July, President Paul Kagame faced three Hutu candidates, the most prominent of which was former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu. The election, the first in which Rwandans could vote for an opposition candidate, was won by Kagame, with 95% of the vote. The RPF also won a majority of the elected seats in the Chamber of Deputies in September. The main Hutu rebel group, based in E Congo (Kinshasa), announced in Mar., 2005, that it would disarm and return peacefully to Rwanda, but the Rwandan government said that rebels who participated in the 1994 genocide would face trial when they returned.

Below is an analysis of Rwanda according to The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:

Rank: 125

Score: 3.53

Category: Mostly Unfree

Population: 8,395,000

Total area:  26,338 sq. km

GDP: $ 2.2 billion

GDP growth rate: 3.2%

GDP per capita: $260

Major exports: tea, coffee, hides

Exports of goods and services: $206.7 million

Major export trading partners: Indonesia 39.4%, Germany 4.7%, China 4.2%

Major imports: capital goods, machinery and equipment, foodstuffs

Imports of goods and services: $464 million

Major import trading partners: Kenya 23.3%, Germany 7.3%, Belgium 6.4%, Uganda 6.3%

Foreign direct investment (net): $3.8 million

REFERENCES

The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal

www.historycentral.com/ nationbynation/Rwanda/History1.html

www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/rwanda.htm

www.iexplore.com/dmap/Rwanda/History

www.rwandaproject.org/project_history.html

www.rwanda.net

www.weareone.org.uk/rwandahistory.htm 

 


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