The Bloody History of Rwanda

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Rwanda is a small landlocked country located in the heart of Africa. The history of Rwanda dates back to thousands of years. The first human settlers in Rwanda were the Twa people, who are believed to have arrived in the region over 10,000 years ago. The Twa people were hunter-gatherers who lived in the forests of Rwanda.

Later, around 2,000 years ago, the Hutu people arrived in Rwanda. They were agriculturalists who settled in the highlands and began to cultivate crops. The Hutu people were soon followed by the Tutsi people, who were cattle-herders and warriors. The Tutsi people are believed to have migrated to Rwanda from Ethiopia in the 15th century.

The relationship between the Hutu, Twa, and Tutsi people was complex and fluid. Although the three groups spoke the same Bantu language, they had distinct cultural traditions and social structures. The Tutsi people were generally wealthier and more powerful than the Hutu people, who were regarded as their subjects. The Twa people, on the other hand, were marginalized and subjected to discrimination.

Despite their differences, the three groups coexisted for centuries without major conflict. The Tutsi people ruled Rwanda as a monarchy for centuries, and the Hutu people were required to pay tribute to the Tutsi king. However, the relationship between the two groups was not always peaceful. The Hutu people sometimes rebelled against the Tutsi king or sought to escape his rule by fleeing to the forests.

In the late 19th century, Rwanda was colonized by Germany. The Germans ruled Rwanda until World War I, when the colony was taken over by Belgium. The Belgian colonial government reinforced the existing social divisions between the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa people. They introduced identity cards that classified Rwandans by their ethnic group and favored the Tutsi people in the government and economy.

The Belgians also created a myth of Tutsi superiority, portraying the Tutsi people as a superior race due to their supposed physical and intellectual characteristics. This reinforced the hierarchy between the Tutsi and Hutu people and contributed to tensions between the two groups.

The legacy of Belgian colonialism in Rwanda is still felt today. The ethnic divisions created by the colonial government contributed to the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people were killed by Hutu extremists. The genocide was a result of years of pent-up ethnic tensions and propaganda, as well as the failure of the international community to intervene.

Today, Rwanda is striving to overcome the divisions created by its colonial legacy. The country has implemented policies aimed at promoting national unity and reconciliation, including the removal of ethnic identity from national ID cards and the promotion of the Kinyarwanda language as a unifying cultural symbol. Although there is still work to be done, Rwanda’s progress in overcoming its legacy of ethnic division is a model for other countries facing similar challenges.

Key figures

Throughout its history, Rwanda has been shaped by many key figures who have contributed to the country’s development and helped to define its culture and identity. Here are some of the most important figures in Rwanda’s history:

King Ruganzu II Ndoli

King Ruganzu II Ndoli was one of the most influential kings of Rwanda, ruling from around 1650 to 1690. During his reign, he is said to have brought stability to the kingdom, expanded its territory, created a legal system, and promoted the development of agriculture and industry. He is also credited with founding the city of Nyanza, which became a major cultural and political center.

King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri

King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri was one of the last kings of Rwanda, ruling from 1853 to 1895. He is known for his efforts to modernize the kingdom, imposing a centralized administration, developing the military, and improving infrastructure, including roads and bridges. He is also remembered for his strict social codes and harsh punishments, which some believe laid the groundwork for later ethnic tensions.

Gregoire Kayibanda

Gregoire Kayibanda was a prominent politician and the first democratically elected president of Rwanda, serving from 1962 to 1973. He was a key figure in the struggle for independence from Belgium, advocating for peaceful resistance and negotiations rather than violent uprising. During his presidency, he implemented policies aimed at promoting national unity and economic development, such as land reform and education programs.

Juvenal Habyarimana

Juvenal Habyarimana was a Rwandan politician who served as president from 1973 until his death in 1994. During his time in power, he presided over a period of relative stability and economic growth, but also fostered deep divisions between ethnic groups by favoring the Hutu majority and suppressing political opposition. His assassination in 1994 is widely seen as the trigger for the Rwandan genocide.

Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame is the current president of Rwanda, serving since 2000 after leading the rebel military group that helped to end the genocide in 1994. Under his leadership, Rwanda has made significant strides in economic and social development, including improving healthcare and education, promoting gender equality, and investing in infrastructure. However, his government has been criticized for its authoritarian tendencies and crackdowns on dissent.

Social, Cultural, and Political Context

The history of Rwanda can be traced back to the 15th century, when the Tutsi people migrated to the region which is now known as Rwanda. Over the centuries, the Tutsi established a monarchy and a hierarchical social structure that favored their own ethnic group over the Hutu and Twa peoples, who made up the majority of the population.

Despite political and social tensions between the Tutsi monarchy and Hutu peasants, Rwanda remained a relatively stable kingdom until the late 19th century, when European colonialism began to impact the region.

Colonialism and Ethnic Divisions

Germany was the first European power to establish a presence in Rwanda, colonizing the country in the late 1800s. During this period, German authorities favored the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority, further entrenching ethnic divisions in the country.

After World War I, control of Rwanda passed to Belgium, which continued to govern through the Tutsi monarchy. However, the Belgians also introduced a system of ethnic identity cards that formally divided Rwandans into Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa categories. This system entrenched ethnic divisions further, as it determined access to education, employment, and political power based on ethnicity.

In the 1950s, a wave of anti-colonial movements swept across Africa, and inspired Rwandan nationalists to seek independence from Belgium. However, the independence era was marked by intense political and social conflict between Hutu and Tutsi groups, and this ethnic polarization only increased in the years following the country’s independence in 1962.

The Rwandan Genocide

During the early 1990s, Rwanda became increasingly polarized, with political and social tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi reaching a boiling point. In April 1994, the assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana triggered a genocide that lasted for 100 days and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsi.

The genocide was perpetrated by Hutu militia groups, who mobilized Hutu civilians in mass killings of Tutsi men, women, and children. The international community failed to intervene effectively, and the genocide ended only when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized control of the country in July 1994.

Post-Genocide Reconciliation and Recovery

After the genocide ended, Rwanda faced the monumental task of rebuilding a country that had been torn apart by violence, trauma, and loss. The government of Rwanda prioritized a program of national reconciliation aimed at healing the deep wounds of ethnic division and promoting a new culture of unity and integration.

The reconciliation process consisted of a range of measures, including the establishment of local community courts (known as gacaca), truth-telling and commemoration ceremonies, and education programs aimed at promoting national unity and reconciliation.

In addition to the reconciliation process, Rwanda’s government also pursued policies aimed at rebuilding the economy, improving education and healthcare, and modernizing the country’s infrastructure. Rwanda’s efforts at rebuilding and revitalization have been praised as a model of post-conflict recovery, but critics have also raised concerns about the government’s human rights record and its suppression of political opposition.

The Legacy of Rwanda’s History

Today, Rwanda continues to grapple with the legacy of its complex history. The country has made significant strides in reconciliation and economic development, but ethnic tensions continue to simmer beneath the surface and human rights abuses persist. However, Rwanda’s experience also offers powerful lessons about the importance of addressing the root causes of conflict, promoting national unity and resilience, and pursuing transformative solutions that can heal the wounds of history.


Rwanda, the “land of a thousand hills,” is a small country located in central Africa that has a rich and complex history. The evolution of Rwanda’s history can be classified into several key periods, which has shaped the country’s growth, culture, and identity.

Pre-colonial Rwanda

The earliest inhabitants of Rwanda were the Twa, a Pygmy people, who were later joined by several waves of Bantu migrants, mainly Hutu and Tutsi people. The Hutu were mainly farmers, while the Tutsi were largely pastoralists who owned cattle, and the Twa who were hunter-gatherers. In the 15th century, Rwanda was divided into several small chiefdoms that were often at war with each other. By the early 18th century, the Kingdom of Rwanda emerged under the rule of the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, which would dominate the country for the next two centuries.

Under the Nyiginya dynasty, the Kingdom of Rwanda established an intricate social hierarchy that divided the population into three groups: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The Tutsi dominated this system, holding most of the key positions in the military, government, and the royal court.

Colonial Rwanda

In 1884, the Berlin Conference saw the scramble of Africa for colonization, and Rwanda became a German colony. In 1916, following World War I, Rwanda was taken over by the Belgians, who further reinforced the existing social hierarchy, favoring the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority. The Belgians relied heavily on the Tutsi aristocracy for administration and governance, as well as the collection of taxes and forced labor. This policy further antagonized the Hutu and accentuated ethnic tensions in Rwanda.

Indirect Rule

In the 1920s, Belgium adopted the “indirect rule” system in Rwanda, which reinforced the existing social hierarchy and increased the Tutsi minority’s power. The Tutsi were considered superior to the Hutu and were awarded the top jobs in the Rwandan administration. However, the Belgians began to encourage the ethnic tensions in society as they found that this approach made their control over the country more comfortable.

Rwandan Revolution

The events that led to the Rwandan Revolution of 1959 can be traced back to various socioeconomic and political factors. The country’s ethnic divide continued to widen, leading to increased tensions, political instability, and violence. In 1959, the Hutu majority finally retaliated against the ruling Tutsi minority leading to a series of pogroms and killings. This revolutionary period saw many Tutsi people driven from the country into exile.


On 1 July 1962, Rwanda gained its independence from Belgium, and Gregoire Kayibanda became the first elected president of the Republic of Rwanda. Kayibanda was a Hutu, and his presidency marked a significant shift in the country’s history, with Hutu taking control of the government.

The years that followed were marked by high levels of ethnic tensions and rivalry between Hutu and Tutsi people, which sometimes resulted in violence. In 1973, Kayibanda was deposed in a military coup led by General Habyarimana, who became the next president of Rwanda.


The most significant event in modern Rwandan history is undoubtedly the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which saw the mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu people by extremist Hutu militias. The genocide began after the plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994. Over the next 100 days, more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were killed. The genocide ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel group led by Paul Kagame, took control of the country.


After the genocide, the country was left with a traumatized population, a fragmented society, and a shortage of resources. President Paul Kagame began the rebuilding process by focusing on reconciliation, justice, and economic development. The government implemented a series of reforms that highlitghted the need for true reconciliation between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnicity. Institutions like the Gacaca courts and the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission were established to build relations between different ethnic groups in the country. Rwanda’s post-genocide transformation is often praised as one of the most impressive in the world, with the country undergoing significant economic development, social transformation, and reconciliation.

In conclusion, Rwanda’s history is a story of strife and conflict, reconciliation, and unity. The country has come a long way since its early days as a kingdom, pre-colonization, colonization, and genocide. What lies in the future is yet to be seen, but recent developments suggest that Rwanda is on a path of continued growth and transformation.

Impact and Significance

Rwanda is a country with a rich history, and its development over the years has been shaped by several significant events. In this section, we will explore some of the most impactful events in Rwanda’s history and their significance.

The Arrival of the Tutsis

The Tutsis arrived in Rwanda in the 14th century, and their arrival had a significant impact on the region. They brought with them a social hierarchy that placed them at the top, with the Hutus at the bottom. This social structure would come to play a major role in the country’s history, leading to divisions and tensions that would ultimately result in the genocide of 1994.

The Berlin Conference

The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 marked the beginning of European colonialism in Africa. Rwanda was one of the many African countries that were carved up by European powers during this time. The conference resulted in the division of Rwanda into the German and Belgian spheres of influence. This led to the development of different administrative structures and a fragmentation of the country’s social fabric.

The Belgian Rule

Belgium took over Rwanda from Germany after World War I and ruled until 1962. During Belgium’s rule, Rwanda underwent significant changes that impacted its history. These include the creation of ethnic identity cards that further divided the Tutsi and Hutu populations and the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the Tutsi minority.

The Independence Movement

The independence movement in Rwanda began in the 1950s and culminated in the country gaining independence from Belgium in 1962. The movement played a significant role in shaping the country’s history as it brought to light the inequalities that existed between the Tutsis and the Hutus. It also set the stage for the emerging political divisions and power struggles that would come to define Rwanda’s history in the years to come.

Assassination of President Habyarimana

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down, killing him and everyone on board. This event marked the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, which claimed the lives of an estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, and moderate Hutus. The assassination had a significant impact on Rwanda’s history, leading to one of the worst genocides of the 20th century and a period of political instability that lasted for several years.

The Rwanda Patriotic Front

The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed in 1987 by Rwandan exiles led by Paul Kagame. The group was made up mostly of Tutsis who had fled the country during the previous waves of violence against their community. The RPF’s goal was to topple the Hutu-dominated government, which they saw as being responsible for the systematic persecution of Tutsis. The group launched a military offensive in 1990, which led to a ceasefire in 1993 and the signing of the Arusha Accords. The RPF’s victory in the war and its subsequent rise to power had a significant impact on Rwanda’s history, as it brought to an end the period of genocidal violence that had plagued the country for years.

The Rwandan Constitution

The Rwandan Constitution was adopted in 2003 after a national referendum. The constitution is widely regarded as one of the most progressive in Africa and has had a significant impact on the country’s history. It guarantees a number of rights and freedoms to all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or gender, and creates a framework for democratic governance. The constitution has also helped to promote national unity and reconciliation, as it recognizes the need for all Rwandans to work together towards the common goal of rebuilding the country.

The Vision 2020 Plan

The Vision 2020 Plan was launched in 2000 with the aim of transforming Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020. The plan identified a number of key sectors that needed to be developed, including agriculture, tourism, and information and communication technology. The plan has had a significant impact on Rwanda’s history, as it has helped to drive economic growth and development in the country. It has also helped to create a sense of national pride and optimism, as Rwandans work towards achieving the ambitious goals outlined in the plan.

Reconciliation Efforts

Since the end of the genocide in 1994, Rwanda has embarked on a number of reconciliation efforts aimed at healing the wounds of the past and promoting national unity. These efforts have included the establishment of the Gacaca courts, which were tasked with trying the perpetrators of the genocide, and the completion of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed during the genocide. The reconciliation efforts have had a significant impact on Rwanda’s history, as they have helped to promote healing and unity in a country that was torn apart by violence and division. They have also helped to create a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation that is now ingrained in the country’s national psyche.

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