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A Short History of the Rwandan Genocide

What Was the Rwandan Genocide

On April 6, 1994, Hutus began slaughtering the Tutsis in the African country of Rwanda. As the brutal killings continued, the world stood idly by and just watched the slaughter. Lasting 100 days, the Rwandan Genocide left approximately 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers dead.

Who Are the Hutu and Tutsi?

The Hutu and Tutsi are two peoples who share a common past. When Rwanda was first settled, the people who lived there raised cattle.

Soon, the people who owned the most cattle were called "Tutsi" and everyone else was called "Hutu." At this time, a person could easily change categories through marriage or cattle acquisition.

It wasn"t until Europeans came to colonize the area that the terms "Tutsi" and "Hutu" took on a racial role. The Germans were the first to colonize Rwanda in 1894. They looked at the Rwandan people and thought the Tutsi had more European characteristics, such as lighter skin and a taller build. Thus they put Tutsis in roles of responsibility.

When the Germans lost their colonies following World War I, the Belgians took control of Rwanda. In 1933, the Belgians solidified the categories of "Tutsi" and "Hutu" by mandating that every person was to have an identity card that labeled them either Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. (Twa are a very small group of hunter-gatherers who also live in Rwanda.)

Although the Tutsi constituted only about ten percent of Rwanda"s population and the Hutu nearly 90 percent, the Belgians gave the Tutsi all the leadership positions.

This upset the Hutu.

When Rwanda struggled for independence from Belgium, the Belgians switched the status of the two groups. Facing a revolution instigated by the Hutu, the Belgians let the Hutus, who constituted the majority of Rwanda"s population, be in charge of the new government. This upset the Tutsi.

The animosity between the two groups continued for decades.

The Event That Sparked the Genocide

At 8:30 p.m. on April 6, 1994, President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda was returning from a summit in Tanzania when