Brief History of Rwanda
For centuries, Rwanda existed as a centralised monarchy under a succession of Tutsi kings from one clan, who ruled through cattle chiefs, land chiefs and military chiefs. The king was supreme and the population lived in symbiotic harmony.
In 1897, Rwanda became a German colony, which continued until 1916. In 1919, the system of indirect rule continued with Rwanda falling under Belgium military occupation. The country gained independence on 1 July 1962 in what is known as the ‘Rwandan Revolution’ – an event that saw thousands of Tutsi killed and many more forced to flee the country. In 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi was perpetrated and more than one million Rwandans were killed.
Today, the Rwandan state is an independent, sovereign, democratic, social and secular Republic. The principle governing the Republic is “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Rwanda has a multi-party system of government that exists to foster consensus-based politics and governing.
The Genocide against the Tutsi
More than one million Rwandans were killed in the 100 days of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The Genocide was prepared and implemented by a genocidal regime, which trained militia and extremist Hutus to kill Tutsi, as well as Hutus who opposed the slaughter. Some of the victims were abandoned by United Nations peacekeeping forces, demonstrating a failure of the international community despite the pledge of “Never Again” in 1945.
Genocide is an effort to exterminate an entire category of people based on racial, religious, ethnic or other characteristics. It requires systematic planning starting with classification, dehumanisation, polarisation then persecution and extermination. The Genocide against the Tutsi was planned and systematic, and prepared over many years through hate speech, discrimination, propaganda and training the killers.
Rwandans commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi each year on April 7, the day the mass killings began in 1994. This day has also been designated the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide against the Tutsi by the United Nations. The commemoration (also known in Kinyarwanda as Kwibuka, which means ‘to remember’) provides an important opportunity to remember the victims of the Genocide, preserve its evidence, educate about its history and share the lessons Rwanda has learned. In Rwanda, commemoration activities continue for 100 days, and Liberation Day is marked on July 4, the date the Rwandan Patriotic Army stopped the Genocide and liberated the country.
When visitors travel to Rwanda, they are encouraged to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which shares the causes, reality and consequences of the Genocide through a series of exhibitions. It also details how Rwandans have drawn on culture and tradition to ensure justice for victims and survivors and foster forgiveness and reconciliation.