Pre colonisation

Prior to the nineteenth century, Twa, Hutu and Tutsi lived in relative harmony and roughly corresponded to their respective occupations of  sedentary agriculture (Hutu) and graziers (Tutsi)  The nation and cultural mix is believed to have developed over two thousand years resulting in sharing common language and culture.

Ethnic mix

The Tutsi were the cattle herders, soldiers and administrators, the Hutu were the farmers and the marginalised Twa were hunter-gatherers or potters.  Individuals could and did move between the category of Tutsi and Hutu as their fortunes rose and fell and intermarriage was not uncommon

Traditional Lines of Authority

Rwandan royalty was Tutsi centred and power was generally dispersed through patronage. Local chiefs were often however Hutu.


Germany established a colonial rule at the end of the nineteenth century bringing with them the theory of white supremacy and the Aryan master race.

After the First World War Rwandans saw Belgium assume control. Rwanda’s disintegration can be traced back to the colonial policies of Belgium in its Central / East African Empire.  Indirect rule and “divide and rule” strategies were common in colonized Africa.  In Rwanda, ethnicity became a defining feature of existence, given both a religious and racial component.  The introduction of nineteenth century racial theory into Africa brought grave consequences for the indigenous population Belgium still continued to utilize the time-honoured criterion for Tutsi/Hutu categorization – the ownership of cows. The Catholic Church reciprocally embraced the state though continuing to evangelize the Hutu but preparing them for a lesser status in life.

Colonial facilitators

In the colonial society, the government imposed chiefs were Tutsi, empowered to abuse and exploit the Hutu.  Tutsis were ordered to *whip the Hutu or be whipped themselves. This collective subordination undermined existing clan ties and created an apartheid state and a new sense of pan-Hutu identity. By the 1940’s thousands of Hutus had fled to Uganda.  The era of post World War II saw not only the rise of a radical Tutsi nationalist movement but rebellions of Hutu farm workers.

Post Colonialism

Independence was granted in 1961 and despite Tutsi fears the departing colonialists called for democratic elections in a nation where 85% of the population was Hutu.  Understandably, the Party for Hutu Emancipation or PARMEHUTU won the vote and immediately began to persecute the Tutsi.  It remained a polarized ethnic state except that the Hutu majority was now in control.

Tutsi refugees

Many Tutsi fled to the neighboring regions including Zaire, Uganda and Tanzania to escape persecution.  The systematic violence and persecution of Tutsi, was to create huge diasporas of hundreds of thousand Tutsis living in difficult refugee circumstances whilst wishing to return home.  The government of Rwanda repeatedly refused re-admittance to those who had fled.

Power struggle begins

The nation of Burundi separated from Rwanda in 1962 and remained under Tutsi control.  The following year Tutsi refugees in Burundi invaded Rwanda and tried to take the capital Kigali, only to be defeated by the PARMEHUTU government.  A wave of murderous reprisals was unleashed against Tutsi civilians in Rwanda, described even then by the philosopher Bertrand Russell as "the most horrible and systematic massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis

Armed incursions

Indeed throughout the whole of the 1960s, Rwanda remained tense.  Tutsi exiles in guerrilla bands known as Inyenze (cockroaches) made futile attempts to return by force.  With a Rwandan army supported by Belgian authorities they had no hope of success.


However they succeeded in inducing ferocious and indiscriminate reprisals against Tutsis in Rwanda.  There were further outbreaks of killings in 1970 and a United Nations Commission of Inquiry described the rural areas in a state of high-tension, barely suppressed panic (U.S. Committee for Refugees 1991.)

Genocide planning begins

In 1973 General Juvenal Habyarimana seized power and became President.  He established a highly centralised, authoritarian regime.  He formed the Movement Revolutionaries National pour le Developpement (MRND), which was to become the only legal political party.  It created cooperative groups in the countryside run by MRND loyalists.  It coopted the Catholic Church and tightly controlled the tiny trade union movement.

Anti Tutsi discrimination

At the same time the racist policies of the past government were intensified.  Tutsis were banned from the armed forces and marriage between Tutsis and Hutus was forbidden within the military.  Interethnic marriage created such suspicion, that government jobs were unobtainable to such people, as they were regarded as highly untrustworthy.  Despite these policies, growing numbers of Hutus actively opposed the highly regionalised and nepotistic regime.

The state was authoritarian and strictly heirerarchical which allowed an almost direct control of all citizens from the President.

Every village had regular workparties initially for improving  local facilities, roadworks, treeplanting etc. Attendance was compulsory. These groups became propaganda outlets and eventually the killing parties during the gencoide.

Rwandan Patriotic Front

Meanwhile in neighbouring Uganda the National Resistance Army led by Museveni had taken power in 1986.  Many Tutsis, refugees from persecution in the 1960’s had fought with these rebels.  With a newly found military experience they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which although having Tutsi leadership was forty percent comprised of Hutus disenchanted with the ruling Hutu government.

Civil war

In September 1990 the RPF in an attempt to return to its homeland, conquered territory in the north of the country and effectively started a civil war that was waged on and off through ’1990. 1991, 1992, and into 1993.  It was essentially a border war, which quickly gained support from Hutu farmers but unleashed further reprisal killings of Tutsi throughout Rwanda.

Arusha Accord

Eventually in 1993, a cease-fire under the Arusha Accord was arranged: ethnic power sharing, political power sharing, multi party state, integration of armies and the return of refugees.  To monitor the promises of the two antagonistic parties, the UN peacekeeping mission United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) was brought in.

Added stresses

Rwanda was one of the most densly populated countries in Africa and the second poorest financially. Due to overproduction of coffee in colonial controlled nations, the world coffee market collapsed and a generation of AIDS orphans became an ideal disaffected, angry group around which to create a Government sponsored militia

Cockroaches and snakes

Discrimination was so institutionalized that Tutsi were called Inyenzi (cockroach) or inzoka (snake) by Government radio and even Tutsi children were routinely singled out by teachers and addressed as cockroaches or snakes in front of their classes.

Media propaganda

The government repressed all political opponents whether Hutu or Tutsi but embarked on campaigns to blame Tutsis for the economic crisis. A second state radio called RTLM (Radio Television Libre Milles Collines) was established and was dedicated entirely to entertainment and genocide propaganda., initially fear, not hatred was the dominant theme of the Hutu propagandists, who relentlessly terrorized Rwandans on the state owned radio stations before and during the genocide.

The deaths of over one hundred and fifty thousand Hutus at the hands of the Burundian Tutsi led Army along with frequent incursions by the RPF, the Tutsi dominated rebel force who eventually regained control of Rwanda to end the genocide associated with the colonial fueled division between Hutu and Tutsi  were all used as constant propaganda through the  popular government sponsored radio RTLM to incite hatred of Tutsi by Hutu. When added to the indoctrination of Hutu through the regional work groups which became the citizen killing parties the population was primed for violence.

The newspaper Kangura was so closely associated with genocide planners that it regularly predicted events of major significance before and during the genocide. Even the death of the President Habyarimana was predicted within days of the event.

Despite the claims of both Hutus and Tutsis that their neighbours changed over night, Jean de Dieu Mucyo Rwanda’s justice minister claims mobilization for the genocide started in 1959.  “It was carried on at home, at school, in public life. Rwandans, who seemed to become different people overnight on April 6, 1994, had been prepared to kill for years.