According to folklore, Tutsi cattlebreeders 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 and 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 and the PARMEHUTU Party and abolished
all political activity.
In 1975, President Habyarimana formed the National Revolutionary Movement
for Development (MRND) whose goals were 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, Rwandans 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, when he
was the sole candidate. 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, Rwandan exiles 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 around the world. 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, leading
to a peace accord and powersharing, and authorizing a neutral military
observer group under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity.
A cease-fire took effect July 31, 1992, and political talks began August
On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying President Habyarimana and the
President of Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land at Kigali. Both
presidents were killed. As though the shooting down was a signal, military
and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political
moderates, regardless of their ethnic background.
The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first
victims. The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country;
between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented
swiftness left up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands
of organized bands of militia--Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were
called on to kill their neighbors by local officials and government-sponsored
radio. The president's MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects
of the genocide.
The RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha accords came
under attack immediately after the shooting down of the president's plane.
The battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units
in the north. The RPF then resumed its invasion, and civil war raged concurrently
with the genocide for 2 months. French forces landed in Goma, Zaire, in
June 1994 on a humanitarian mission. They deployed throughout southwest
Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise," quelling the genocide and
stopping the fighting there. The Rwandan Army was quickly defeated by the
RPF and fled across the border to Zaire followed by some 2 million refugees
who fled to Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The RPF took Kigali on July 4,
1994, and the war ended on July 16, 1994. The RPF took control of a country
ravaged by war and genocide. Up to 800,000 had been murdered, 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.
With the return of the refugees, a new chapter in Rwandan history began.
As of October 2003, Rwandas refugee population consisted of 28,000 Congolese
Tutsis at two camps in Kibuye and Byumba provinces. In 2001, the government
began implementation of a grassroots village-level justice system, known
as gacaca, in order to address the enormous backlog of cases. As of October
2003, some 80,000 individuals remained in detention in Rwanda, awaiting
gacaca trials on charges relating to the 1994 genocide.