The After-effects of Genocide on a Country and its People: Part I: A History of Rwanda and the Events Leading Up to the Genocide
For the purpose of this article, I have interviewed Ms. Anita Nowak, who recently visited Rwanda, Africa. Ms. Nowak is the Director of Development at The Study, meaning she is the head of “fundraising” and “alumni relations”.
This past summer, Ms. Nowak and her sister went on a trip to Rwanda, to volunteer at a charity for abused women and their children. She was motivated to travel to Rwanda by a female speaker who was a Tutsi survivor of the Rwandan genocide. This survivor said, “The international community failed us by not stopping the genocide. The international community still fails us today, by doing nothing for Rwanda today.” (Nowak)
Genocide is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group” (genocide definition Dictionary.com). Thus, a genocide occurs when a mass of people, usually of the same ethnicity, are methodically killed. There have been many genocides in recent history; the most widely known being the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide, and the Rwandan genocide (http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/war_crimes_genocide/).
Rwanda is a relatively small African country, located in central Africa. (CIA–World Factbook–Rwanda). The region is made up of many “grassy” hills, and like most African countries, it is quite hot, although Rwanda has “two rainy seasons” (CIA–World Factbook–Rwanda). The Rwandan population is composed of three tribes: the “Tutsis”, the “Hutus”, and the “Twa”. (Nowak) Tutsis made up “nine percent of the population” before the genocide, the “Twa” made up one percent, and Hutus made up the remaining “ninety percent”. (“History (HRW Report – Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, March 1999″)) The literal meaning of “Tutsi” and “Hutu” are as follows: “Tutsi which apparently first described the status of an individual—a person rich in cattle—became the term that referred to the elite group as a whole” (“History (HRW Report – Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, March 1999″)) whereas the word “Hutu—meaning originally a subordinate or follower of a more powerful person—came to refer to the mass of the ordinary people” (“History (HRW Report – Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, March 1999″)). Not very much is known about the “Twa” people. According to “Human Rights Watch Organization”, the “Twa” people are physically smaller than the “Tutsi” or “Hutu” people, and they were considered to be at the bottom rung of the Rwandan “social hierarchy”. (“History (HRW Report – Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, March 1999″))
Rwanda was first colonized by Germany, in the year 1894, but in the year 1916, was passed into the hands of the Belgians. (Gendercide Watch: Rwanda) Once Belgium had gotten hold of Rwanda; they gave the “privileged positions” in the government to the Tutsis. (Nowak) However, Belgium still retained its position of power in Rwanda, by “ruling indirectly through the Tutsi king” (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda). Basically, this means that all the available posts in the government, that were not already taken up by Belgians, were only given to people of Tutsi heritage, and the Hutus were overlooked. The reasoning behind this division of power was that the Belgians considered the Tutsi people to be more “beautiful” than the Hutus, as their bone structure resembled that of a Caucasian more so than the Hutus. (Nowak) Another reason for this bias was that the Tutsis had already owned cows before Rwanda’s colonization; therefore Belgium believed the Tutsis to be more “entrepreneurial” than the Hutus, and thus the smarter counterparts of the Rwandan population. (Nowak) Consequently, this division of power “solidified” the competition for power of the country between the tribes; eventually leading to a deep-seeded enmity on the part of the Hutus. Over time, there was a shift towards “Hutu Power”. (Nowak) 1957 marks the year that “Hutu political parties” came into existence in Rwanda. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda) This basically means that because ninety percent of the Rwandan population was composed of Hutus, after many years of inequality between the two tribes, unrest was caused and the Hutus wanted a higher social status, as well as power in the government. The year 1959 marked the beginning of “isolated” acts of genocide. (Nowak) King Kigeri V, the Rwandan king at the time, was exiled by Hutu forces, along with a large number of Tutsis. (“Rwanda”) They were exiled to neighboring countries of Rwanda, such as Uganda. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda). Over the next couple of years, it is estimated that “thousands” of Rwandans of Tutsi heritage perished at the hands of the Hutus. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda) The true number will never be known, as there could be mass graves still undiscovered. Approximately “150 000 Tutsis were driven into exile” by Hutu forces (“Rwanda”).
On July 1, 1962, Rwanda was declared an “independent country”. (Rwanda (06/08)) This signifies that Belgium no longer detained control of Rwanda. Gregoire Kayibanda, a Rwandan of Hutu descent, was the first president in Rwandan history. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda) Because of the obvious civil unrest, and as the first elected president was Hutu, many Tutsis deemed it necessary to depart from Rwanda. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda). One year later, 1963, a force of Tutsi insurgents coming from Burundi (another of Rwanda’s neighboring countries) attempt to raid Rwanda, and reassert Tutsi dominance. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda) However, the plan fails, and as a consequence, “twenty-thousand Tutsis are killed” by Hutu forces. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda)
One decade later, in the year 1973, Juvenal Habyarimana was the leader of a political “coup”, and in 1978 usurped Kayibanda’s position as President of Rwanda. Habyarimana was a more “radical” Hutu than the former president had been. (Nowak) This basically means that Habyarimana was more of a fundamentalist when it came to “Hutu Power”, and that he really believed that Tutsis should be considered inferior to Hutus. It is interesting to note that the Tutsis belief of superiority resembles that of the French Monarchy, in that a small percentage of the general population held the power. However, according to the Human Rights Watch Organization, the Hutus view on democracy was radically different; “the ethnic majority was necessarily the same as the democratic majority”. (“History (HRW Report – Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, March 1999″))
Three years before his election, Habyarimana attempted to set up a new “constitution”; in other words, he endeavored to change Rwanda’s political structure, entitled the “National Revolutionary Movement for Development”. (“Juvenal Habyarimana Presidant of Rwanda”) The same year that he was elected president, the “constitution” was approved and implemented. (BBC News Africa Country Profiles Timeline: Rwanda) And so begins one of the darkest periods of time in Rwanda’s history.