Pre-colonial Rwanda was a highly centralized Kingdom presided over by Tutsi kings who hailed from one ruling clan. The king ruled through three categories of chiefs: cattle chiefs; land chiefs; and military chiefs. The chiefs were predominantly, but not exclusively, Batutsi, especially the cattle and military chiefs.
While the relationship between the king and the rest of the population was unequal, the relationship between the ordinary Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa was one of mutual benefit mainly through the exchange of their labour. The relationship was symbiotic. A clientele system called “Ubuhake” permeated the whole society.
In 1899 Rwanda became a German colony. After the defeat of the Germans during World War 1 (WW1) subsequently in 1919 Rwanda became a mandate territory of the League of Nations under the administration of Belgium. The Germans and the Belgians administered Rwanda through a system of indirect rule. During this colonial era, a cash crop economy was introduced in Rwanda, and this was administered through harsh methods that further alienated the King and his chiefs from the rest of the population.
In 1935 the Belgian colonial administration introduced a discriminatory national identification on the basis of ethnicity. Banyarwanda who possessed ten or more cows were registered as Batutsi wheras those with less were registered as Bahutu. At first, the Belgian authorities, for political and practical reasons, favoured the King and his chiefs, who were mostly a Batutsi ruling elite. When the demand for independence began, mainly by a political party – Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR) – formed by people from the aforementioned ruling elite, the Belgian authorities hastily nurtured another party called Parmehutu that was founded on a sectarian ethnic ideology. Under the Belgian supervision, the first massacres of Batutsi at the hands of the Parmehutu occured in 1959. With Belgian connivance, Parmehutu abolished the monarchy amidst widespread violence. On July 1st, 1962 Belgium granted formal political independence to Rwanda.
From 1959 onwards, the population of Batutsi was targeted, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, and a population of almost two million Rwandese people in the Diaspora that was to last almost four decades.
The First Republic, under President Gregoire Kayibanda, institutionalised discrimination against Batutsi and periodically used massacres against this targeted population as a means of maintaining the status quo. some Rwandese groups in the diaspora attempted, without success to stage a comeback through armed means.
In 1965 Rwanda was declared a one-party state under MDR/PARMEHUTU, which was the architect of the racist ideology that was to be consolidated in the Second Republic under President Major General Juvenal Habyarimana.
In 1973 President Kayibanda was deposed in a coup d’etat that brought Major General Habyarimana to power. Subsequently, President Kayibanda and many prominent politicians of the First Republic were killed. More Batutsi were killed.
In 1975 President Habyarimana formed the Mouvement Revolutionaire Natinale pour le Developpement (MRND), a single ruling party that was to promulgate in 1978 a sham constitution that repeatedly returned him to office by organising “elections” in which he was the sole candidate.
Both the First and second Republics repeatedly stated that Rwanda was a small, overpopulated country that could not accomodate Rwandese refugees if they were to return. Increasingly, the population across the ethnic lines was marginalised and impoverished while Habyarimana’s regime became more violently intolerant. The divisions within the ruling Bahutu clique that culminated in the coup d’etat of 1973 became more heightened in the 1970s and 1980s when the clique talked of Bahutu of the north and Bahutu of the south. Political activities remained banned.
Formation of the Rwandese Patriotic Front:
Against a backdrop of entrenched divisive and genocidal ideology, repeated massacres, the persistent problems of refugees in the Diaspora, and the lack of avenues for peaceful political change, the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) was formed in 1979 by some Rwandese in the Diaspora with an objective of mobilising Rwandese people to resolve these problems. Almost a decade later, in 1987, RANU became the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), whose objectives were:
- To promote national unity and reconciliation;
- To establish genuine democracy;
- To provide security for all Rwandese;
- To build an integrated and self-sustaining economy;
- To eradicate corruption in all forms
- To repatriate and resettle Rwandese refugees;
- To devise and implement policies that promote the social welfare of all Rwandese and;
- To pursue a foreign policy based on equality, peaceful co-existence and mutual benefit between Rwanda and other countries.
The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) armed struggle:
Most of the world had never heard of the RPF until October 1st, 1990 – the day the war of liberation against the military dictatorship in Kigali began.
Taking up arms was not an easy decision to make. War has always been the last option in the consideration of the RPF. However, all efforts for peaceful and democratic change in our country had so far proved futile.
It had become apparent that only by taking up arms could anyone wishing to put an end to the dictatorship and the violation of our peoples’ fundamental rights hope to succeed. The regime had amassed a huge coercive state machinery using violence to oppress the people. The taking up of arms against the regime was therefore considered not just a right, but also a patriotic and national obligation.
When the war began, Rwandese peasants and workers, students and intellectuals, men and women from every region and “ethnic” or social group, responded to the call of the Rwandese Patriotic Front to rid our country of dictatorship.
The Search for Peace:
As the war for liberation escalated, RPF still attempted to seek peaceful ways of resolving the conflict. On March 29th, 1991, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the RPF and the then Government of Rwanda signed the N’sele Ceasefire Agreement which provided for, among other things, cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of foreign troops, exchange of prisoners of war and finally, serious political negotiations to end the conflict. Immediately after signing the agreement, the Government of Rwanda ridiculed the said agreement as the war between RPF and government forces intensified.
The Arusha Peace Agreement:
As the regime became more desperate, massacres of Batutsi in various parts of the country became widespread in a deliberate effort of ethnic cleansing. The regime used violence to harass and silence the emerging internal political opposition. Violence was also used to derail the peace process. After a long period of negotiation that took place in Arusha, Tanzania, the Arusha Peace Agreement was signed on August 4th, 1993.
The Arusha Peace Agreement was structured around five pillars:
- The establishment of the rule of law
- Repatriation and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced people;
- The integration of armed forces
- Other miscellaneous provisions
The Arusha Peace Agreement was signed on August 4th, 1993 and was supposed to have been implemented within 37 days, beginning with the establishment of the institutions of the presidency, cabinet and the National Assembly. A United Nations force was supposed to oversee this process. RPF honoured all its commitments when in December 1993 it sent 600 of its troops to Kigali, as well as members of the Executive who were supposed to be members of the transitional government. The mind of the regime on the other hand, was focused on the preparation for genocide.
The Arusha Peace Agreement was never implemented although its principal provisions now constitute the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Rwanda.
The 1994 Genocide:
The first massacres in Rwanda took place in 1959. Thereafter, almost in a regular manner, killings of the Batutsi became a habit. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s massacres of Batutsi were common. Between April and July 1994, over 1 million Rwandese people, mainly Batutsi and some Bahutu opposition were killed by the genocidal regime. So many people were involved in the killings. Those who planned and organised the genocide include the late President, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, top government officials, including members of the so-called Provisional Government, the presidential Guard, the National Gendarmerie, the Rwanda Government Forces (FAR), the MRND-CDR militia (Interahamwe), local officials, and many Bahutu in the general population.
Preparation to carry out genocide by these groups involved the training of the militia, the arming of both the militia and some sections of the population, the establishment and widespread use of a hate radio called Radio television Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM), and the distribution of lists of those who were to be targeted. Repeatedly, these groups prevented the establishment of the Arusha Peace Accords.
When the genocide began, the United Nations had a peacekeeping force – the United Nations Assistance for Rwanda (UNAMIR) – in Rwanda of about 2500 troops. The first reaction of the United Nations, and indeed of other nations that had their own nationals in Rwanda, was to withdraw their troops and their nationals respectively. Under the circumstances the RPF had to fight again in order to stop the genocide.
The Fall of the Genocidal Regime:
On July 4th, 1994, the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, fell to the forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Army(RPA), the armed wing of the RPF. The members of the so-called Provisional Government, the armed groups, and many people who were involved in genocide, fled mainly to the DRC and Tanzania. Over 3 million refugees fled to Tanzania and the DRC. On July 19th, 1994, RPF established the Government of National Unity with four other political parties. These parties are the Liberal Party (PL), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), and the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR).
Rwanda’s economy suffered heavily during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, but has since strengthened. Rwanda today has been recognised by international organisations for it’s negligible corruption (Transparency International) and as being one of the most attractive places to do business in Africa (World Bank) The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture, with coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country’s leading foreign exchange earner. Rwanda is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely, and visitors are prepared to pay high prices for gorilla tracking permits. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan culture, particularly drums and the highly choreographed intore dance.
Drafted in 2000, the Vision 2020 for Rwanda has been a roadmap for the national development of Rwanda, focusing on good governance, increased education and IT capacities, an increasing private sector, reduced poverty and heath issues, and improved infrastructure. The majority of these goals are on track to reach the desired levels by 2020.