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Rwanda Genocide

Rwanda with what today are Burundi and mainland Tanzania had been German East Africa. The Belgians arrived during World War I, and following World War II they ruled what had become UN Trust Territory. In 1962 Rwanda became independent, a republic, and a separate state.

As with other countries on the African continent, Rwanda was ethnically divided. It was also the most densely populated. At the time of its independence, Tutsi made up nine percent of the population. The rest were mostly Hutu, with Hutu dominating. The democratically elected president was Grégoire Kayibanda, who had risen in prominence before independence, in 1959, by overthrowing the local Tutsi monarchy and a Tutsi elite class who had not endeared themselves with the Hutu.

Rather than Kayibanda's government pursuing a policy of integration and reconciliation, it pursued a policy of restriction against the Tutsi. Some assimilation and intermarriage had already taken place between the Hutu and Tutsi, and more integration might have developed had the government encouraged it. Instead it fanned the flames of fear. Hutu government leaders saw the Tutsi as too ambitious. The government decreed that no more than 9 percent of school children or students in higher education should be Tutsi and that no more than 9 percent of those in civil service or any other area of employment should be Tutsi.

Already in 1961, government policy and ethnic violence had encouraged some Tutsi to leave the country. In an effort to encourage more to leave, in late 1961 about 3000 Tutsi homes had been set afire, and about 150 Tutsi killed. Across the border in Tanzania, Tutsi organized an army to fight for justice – these Tutsi seen by the Hutu as terrorists. In 1963, in reprisal for Tutsi raids into Rwanda, Hutu gangs killed around ten thousand Tutsi and the Rwandan government executed about 20 prominent Tutsi citizens. The authoritarian Hutu government encouraged its followers to scrutinize schools and places of work to make sure that no more than nine percent were Tutsi. And people eager to fill positions occupied by Tutsi – including people in education – were eager to drive the Tutsi out.

In 1973, the Kayibanda regime was overthrown by his defense minister, Juvénal Habyarimana. It was described as a bloodless coup, but fifty-five persons, mostly officials, lawyers or businessmen close to the previous regime, have been reported as executed. Kayibanda and his wife were held in a secret location and starved to death. Habyarimana made Rwanda a single-party state. 1978, a new constitution was created and approved in a referendum. Habyarimana was elected to a five-year term as president as the only candidate, and again in 1983 and 1988. Under Habyarimana, quotas favoring Hutus were again applied to jobs for "universities and government services."

In 1987, Tutsi refugees in Uganda formed an army called the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The war between the Tutsi and the Hutu escalated. In October 1990, an invasion against Habyarimana's government began when the Rwandan Patriotic Front crossed the border from Uganda. The French and Zairian militaries intervened on behalf of Habyarimana's government forces. The United States, France and Egypt were shipping arms not to the Tutsi "terrorists" but to the Hutu regime in Rwanda. French was the official language in Rwanda, although only about one in eight spoke the language. The French looked upon Rwanda as a member of a family of French speaking nations. French commandoes had trained the Hutu army and were active in the use of artillery against the Tutsi's Patriotic Front.

Beginning in 1990, the Habyarimana regime began arming civilians with hand weapons such as machetes and training the Hutu youth in combat. The Rwandan army was grew from less than 10,000 troops to almost 30,000 in one yea. The new recruits have been described as often poorly disciplined.

Ethnic hostilities were enhanced by a wartime atmosphere. The International Commission on Human Rights stepped in and tried to do something about the killings of Tutsi and the refugee problem. In August, 1993, an accord between the Tutsi military force (the Rwandese Patriotic Front) and the Habyarimana's regime was reached at a conference in Arusha, Tanzania. But among the Hutu were those who wanted no compromise with the Tutsis. They saw the Arusha Accords as equivalent to handing power to the Tutsis.

It was Habyarimana's turn to die. On 6 April 1994 his private Falcon 50 jet was shot down and is said to have crashed new the grounds of the presidential residence. Hutu media blamed the Tutsi's Patriotic Front, and its leader, Paul Kagame. So too did the French. Paul Kagame was to claim that the French were only trying to cover up their own part in the genocide that followed.

Like the genocide committed against the Armenians during World War I, and the genocide by Germans against the Jews, the genocide in Rwanda was a wartime phenomenon. Within hours of the crash an organized slaughter of Tutsi began. Within thirty-six hours the Presidential Guard killed most of their "priority targets": journalists, civil-rights activists and others. Within days, around 40,000 bodies that had floated to Uganda were counted and buried. 60,000 bodies were buried in the capital, Kigali.

The politician succeeding Habyarimana on April 9, Théodore Sindikubwabo, said to be a puppet of a group of military officers who held the real power, on national radio was urging people to do their "work," a euphemism for killing Tutsi. On 18 May, in a visit to Kibuye Prefecture he congratulated the people on their "work" well done.

The French urged Sindikubwabo's government to re-re-establish peace and also asked Paul Kagame and his Patriotic Front stop fighting. But the Rwanda Patriotic Front was now fighting to stop the killings.

The killings lasted for three months. The population of Tutsi in Rwanda was reduced to around 130,000.  The BBC estimates that between 800 thousand and one million people had been killed, more than the 500,000 conservatively estimated by the United Nations. note85

In rural ares, Hutu targeted neighbors they knew to be Tutsi. People In urban areas people knew their neighbor less well, and identification of Tutsis was accomplished by road blocks and people required to show their national identity card, which included ethnicity. Some Hutus who looked like they might be Tutsi were killed. So too were Hutu who expressed sympathy for Tutsi or seen as insufficiently opposed to the Tutsi, including journalists. Some Tutsi fought back and killed Hutu. From 10,000 to 30,000 Hutu are described as having been killed. Seven of every ten Tutsis in Rwanda were killed. According to a UN report by Rene Degni-Segui, "Rape was systematic and was used as a weapon."

On 23 June, around 2,500 soldiers entered south-western Rwanda as part of the French-led United Nations Operation Turquoise. Genocide-supporting authorities welcomed the French, displaying the French flag on their vehicles. Tutsi who came out of hiding seeking protection were slaughtered. Radio France International was to estimate that Operation Turquoise saved around 15,000 lives. The French remained hostile to the Tutsi's Patriotic Front, and the French presence has been described as temporarily stalling the Front's advance in southwestern Rwanda

The Tutsi's Patriotic Front was making territorial gains in the north. On 4 July it took the capital, and by 18 July it had taken the rest of the north. July ended with its conquest of the country complete except for the area occupied by the French. Sindikubwabo fled to Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hundreds of thousands of other Hutu fled. Rwanda's civil war was ended as many civil wars end: with one side winning and the other losing.

In July, the military commander of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, installed a government in Kigali. He knew that some kind of reconciliation was needed, and he attempted it. The president and prime minister of the new Rwandan government were Hutu, as were sixteen of its twenty-two ministers. Rwanda was in ruin, with some Rwandese Hutu opponents expressing hope that he would be ruling over a desert.

Patriotic Front soldiers targeted specific Hutus for retribution. Hutu refugee camps formed in Zaire and other countries, camps that were controlled by genocide leaders – seen as a threat to the new order in Rwanda. In 1966, the Rwanda Patriotic Front attacked and disbanded the camps, forcing many refugees to return home. Insurgents continued to attack Rwanda. To counter this, Kagame sponsored war in Zaire. This war overthrew Zaire's dictator, Mobuto Sese Seko.

Kagame in an interview with British journalist Richard Grant in 2010 described himself as has been described as sleeping only four hours and devoting his days to work, exercise, family, reading academic texts and foreign newspapers.

The Genocide and Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton had been President for a little over one year when the genocide in Rwanda began in earnest – in April 1994. In 1993 a US force was humiliated in Somali, where his administration had intervened to help the UN, two US helicopters had been shot down – as in the book and movie Black Hawk Down.

In his address on Somalia on 7 October 1993, he said, "A year ago, we all watched with horror as Somali children and their families lay dying by the tens of thousands, dying the slow, agonizing death of starvation, a starvation brought on not only by drought, but also by the anarchy that then prevailed in that country." He said US troops sent to Somalia "saved close to one million lives." National Public Radio described Clinton Clinton as saying it was a mistake for the US to try to play the role of police officer in Somalia and that Clinton announced a six-month plan to remove US troops from the country.

1994 was one year before Clinton approved NATO's intervention in the war in Bosnia. The public was in non-interventionist mood in early 1995 and also in 1994. The Clinton administration was slow in its response to the1994 genocide in Rwanda. The Clinton administration did not publicly use the word genocide until 25 May 1994. The UN recognizing would have legally obliged the UN act and would have involved the US. Speaking about the 1994 Rwanda crisis, Clinton in 1998 Clinton said, "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide." He described his response to the crisis in Rwanda his worst failure, and said, "I blew it."


Kwame Nkrumah, by David Rooney, St. Martin's Press, 1988

Idi Amin: death-light of Africa, by David Gwyn, 1977

Uganda Since Independence: a story of unfulfilled hopes, by Phares Mutibwa, 1992

A State of Blood: the inside story of Idi Amin, by Henry Kyemba, 1977

Africa, by Sanford &Schuster Inc., 1986

Economics and World History, (from the crash of 1929 to 1990) by Paul Bainoch, 1993

The Triumph of Evil: How the west ingored the 1994 rwanda genocide, Frontline


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.