Rwanda History: Background to the ethnic conflict, The Civil-War and the April 7 to mid-July 1994 Genocide

Rwanda was ruled by a Tutsi monarchy since at least the 18th century, with entrenched pro-Tutsi and anti-Hutu policies. Germany and Belgium successively controlled Rwanda through the early 20th century, with both European nations ruling through the kings and perpetuating a pro-Tutsi policy. After 1945 a Hutu counter-elite developed, leading to the deterioration of relations between the groups. The Tutsi leadership agitated for speedy independence to cement their power, and the Hutu elite called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu (a stance increasingly supported by the Roman Catholic Church and the colonial government).

The revolution began in November 1959, with a series of riots and arson attacks on Tutsi homes following false reports of the murder of a Hutu sub-chief by Tutsi activists. Violence quickly spread throughout the country. The king and Tutsi politicians attempted a counterattack to seize power and ostracise the Hutu and the Belgians but were thwarted by Belgian colonel Guy Logiest, who was brought in by the colonial governor. Logiest reestablished law and order, beginning a programme to promote and protect the Hutu elite. The Belgians then replaced many Tutsi chiefs and sub-chiefs with Hutu, consigning King Kigeli V to figurehead status; Kigeli later fled the country. Despite continued anti-Tutsi violence, Belgium organised local elections in mid-1960. Hutu parties gained control of nearly all communes, effectively ending the revolution. Logiest and Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared Rwanda an autonomous republic in 1961, and the country became independent in 1962.

The revolution caused at least 336,000 Tutsi to flee to neighbouring countries, where they lived as refugees. Although the exiles agitated for an immediate return to Rwanda, they were split between those seeking negotiation and those wishing to overthrow the new regime. Some exiles formed armed groups (called inyenzi, or “cockroaches”, by the Hutu government), who launched attacks into Rwanda. The largest occurred in late 1963, when a surprise attack approached Kigali. The government fought back, defeating the inyenzi and killing thousands of the remaining Tutsi in Rwanda. No further threat was posed by the refugees until 1990, when the Rwandan Civil War began when the Tutsi-refugee Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR), also referred to as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded northern Rwanda from Uganda and set up camps in the northern mountains.

At the same time, the international reputation of the Rwandan Hutu government suddenly changed from tacit support/approval to condemnation, for no apparent reason. In the film “The Deluge”, Dr Jean Marie Vianney Higiro, former head of Rwandan Information Office, says: “In 1990, international media, Belgium media, French media, accused the regime of Rwanda with human rights violations. Until then, this regime had been portrayed by the World Bank, the IMF and other international groupings as a good role-model/good student of the World Bank/IMF

The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule which resulted in ethnic purges by the Hutu government who took control of the country at independence. In the film “The Deluge”, Dr Jean Marie Vianney Higiro, former head of Rwandan Information Office, also says: “The RPF first went in and invaded Rwanda. It killed Hutus and Tutsis ..which means it did not invade Rwanda to save Tutsis. Tutsis who had been left behind – those Tutsis who remained in Rwanda in 1959, 1973, those who are not the aristocrats. The aristocrats are Kagama and his associates”.

The USA & Ugandan backing of 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the guerillas who called themselves the Rwandan Patriotic Front:
The RPF were armed and trained by neighbouring Uganda, which continued to supply them throughout the ensuing civil war, in violation of the UN charter, Organisation of African Unity rules, various Rwandan ceasefire and peace agreements, and the repeated promises of the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. Helen C Epstein in The Guardian (12.09.17): “During this period, officials at the US embassy in Kampala knew that weapons were crossing the border, and the CIA knew that the rebels’ growing military strength was escalating ethnic tensions within Rwanda to such a degree that hundreds of thousands of Rwandans might die in widespread ethnic violence. However, Washington not only ignored Uganda’s assistance to the Rwandan rebels, it also ramped up military and development aid to Museveni and then hailed him as a peacemaker once the genocide was underway.” [Source: The Guardian, 12.09.2017; “America’s secret role in the Rwandan genocide”, by Helen C Epstein; Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/sep/12/americas-secret-role-in-the-rwandan-genocide ].

The attempt to overthrow the government failed, though the RPF was able to maintain control of a border region. As it became clear that the war had reached a stalemate, the sides began peace negotiations in May 1992, which resulted in the signing in August 1993 of the Arusha Accords to create a power-sharing government. However, the war radicalized the internal opposition. The RPF’s show of force intensified support for the so-called “Hutu Power” ideology. Hutu Power portrayed the RPF as “an alien force intent on reinstating the Tutsi monarchy and enslaving the Hutus, a prospect which must be resisted at all costs.” This ideology was embraced most wholeheartedly by the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) who advocated racist principles known as the Hutu Ten Commandments. This political force led to the collapse of the first Habyarimana government in July 1993, when Prime Minister Dismas Nsengiyaremye criticized the president in writing for delaying a peace agreement. Habyarimana, a member of the MRND political party, dismissed Nsengiyarmye and appointed Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who was perceived to be less sympathetic to the RPF, in his stead. However, the main opposition parties refused to support Madame Agathe’s appointment, each splitting into two factions: one calling for the unwavering defense of Hutu Power and the other, labeled “moderate”, that sought a negotiated settlement to the war. As Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana was unable to form a coalition government, ratification of the Arusha Accords was impossible. The most extreme of the Hutu parties, the CDR, which openly called for ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi, was entirely unrepresented in the Accords.[Source: Mamdani, Mahmood (2001). When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton: Princeton University Press]. The rise in Hutu extremism caused the security situation to deteriorate throughout 1993. Armed Hutu militias attacked Tutsis throughout the country, while high-ranking adherents of Hutu Power began to consider how the security forces might be turned to genocide. In February 1994, Roméo Dallaire, the head of the military force attached to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), which had been sent to observe the implementation of the Arusha Accords, informed his superiors, “Time does seem to be running out for political discussions, as any spark on the security side could have catastrophic consequences.” [Source: “Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the UN during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda”, United Nations ].

In the United Nations Security Council, early April 1994 saw a sharp disagreement between the United States and the non-permanent members of the council over UNAMIR. Despite a classified February Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysis predicting half a million deaths if the Arusha process failed, the U.S. was attempting to reduce its international commitments in the wake of the Somalia debacle and lobbied to end the mission. A compromise extending UNAMIR’s mandate for three more months was finally reached on the evening of Tuesday, the fifth of April. Meanwhile, Habyarimana was finishing regional travel. On April 4, he had flown to Zaire to meet with president Mobutu Sese Seko and on the sixth flew to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for a one-day regional summit for heads of state convened by Tanzania’s President. On the return trip that evening he was joined by Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, and a couple of his ministers, who preferred the faster Dassault Falcon 50 which the French government had given to Habyarimana over Ntaryamira’s own presidential plane. [Source: Melvern, Linda (2004) ‘Conspiracy to Genocide: The Rwandan Genocide‘. New York City: Verso.]

The airplane carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, Rwanda. According to interim Prime Minister Jean Kambanda’s testimony to the ICTR, President Mobutu Sese Seko of neighboring Zaire (now DRC) had warned Habyarimana not to go to Dar es Salaam on April 6. Mobutu reportedly said this warning had come from a very senior official in the Elysée Palace in Paris. There was a link between this warning, said Mobutu, and the subsequent suicide in the Elysée of François de Grossouvre of a senior high-ranking official working for President François Mitterrand who had killed himself on April 7 after learning about the downing of the Falcon. [Source: Melvern, Linda: “Expert Refutes Bruguière Claims that RPF Shot Down Rwandan President’s Aircraft in 1994.” The New Times. November 27, 2006.]

The assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira on the evening of 6 April 1994 was the catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide. The assassination set in motion some of the bloodiest events of the late 20th century, the Rwandan Genocide and the First Congo War. An estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, constituting as many as 70% of the Tutsi population. Additionally, 30% of the Pygmy Batwa were killed. [Source: Sheshadri, Raja. “Pygmies in the Congo Basin and Conflict“. American University. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved March 22, 2017.]

Responsibility for the attack is disputed, though there are credible allegations that Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame was responsible. Hutu extremists were blamed and it resulted in the immediate reprissal attacks by the Tutsi RPF militants, which in turn sparked a counter-national mobilization of anti-Tutsi militias, foremost the Interahamwe, who proceeded to set up roadblocks across Rwanda and slaughter every Tutsi or moderate Hutu until driven away by rebel RPF troops.

Tutsi Prince Nyatera of Rwanda says in an interview in the film “The Deluge”, refering to the aircraft crash: “At 8.30pm on 6 April, I heard the explosion when the President was killed. Right after that, RPF guerillas started killing people in the capital, in Kakairu, in Kicukiro and in other parts. Throughout the whole night the RPF were killing people. The next day the Hutus started reacting. That’s how the fighting started.”

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