By Alyssa Bennet
In 1994, Rwanda erupted into one of the most appalling cases of mass murder the world has witnessed since World War II. Many of the majority Hutu people (about 85% of the population) turned on the Tutsi people (about 12% of the population) and began slaughtering one another which resulted in mass chaos in Rwanda for about one hundred days. From 1894 until the end of World War I, Rwanda, along with Burundi and present-day Tanzania, was part of German East Africa. Belgium claimed it thereafter, becoming the administering authority from 1924 to 1962. During their colonial tenure, the Germans and Belgians ruled Rwanda indirectly through Tutsi monarchs and their chiefs. The Europeans regarded the Hutu people as inferior to the Tutsi. Sixty years of Tutsi egos greatly crushed Hutu feelings, which turned into an aggressively resentful inferiority complex.
On April 6, 1994, as President Habyarimana’s plane neared the Kigali Airport on his return from Dar-es-Salam, it was struck by a missile and plunged to earth, killing the president and all aboard. Although the identity of his assassins is not publicly known, many foreign observers believe Habyarimana was killed by Hutu extremists in his own military. Within the hour following the crash, and prior to its official announcement over the radio, members of the Interahamwe (Hutu militiamen) had begun to set up road-blocks in Kigali. During April 6th and 7th, the Hutu men checked the identity cards of passers-by, searching for Tutsi. The Presidential Guard began killing Tutsi civilians in Ramera, a section of Kigali near the airport. Extremists in the president’s entourage had made up lists of Hutu political opponents, mostly democrats, for the first wave of murders.
Rwandan Patriotic Front (a.k.a. RPF) troops from the north began fighting their way south in early April in an attempt to stop the slaughter. By July 18, the RPF had reached the Zairian border. Having defeated the Hutu militias that tried to stop them, the RPF declared a cease-fire. Within a period of only three months over 750,000 Tutsi and between 10,000 to 30,000 Hutu (11% of Rwanda’s total population) had been killed. About two million people were uprooted within Rwanda, while the same number of Hutu fled from Rwanda into Tanzania, Burundi, and Zaire seeking protection.
The RPF and moderate Hutu political parties formed a new government on July 18, 1994, but the country was in chaos. The government pledged to implement the Arusha Accords. The government publicly committed itself to building a multiparty democracy and to discontinuing the ethnic classification system utilized by the previous government. Rwanda is
still recovering from the wounds of the battle from so long ago, and while the city has began to move on and heal, the new regime will never let them forget what happened. Anti discrimination laws are now effective in Rwanda so the healing process can begin, twenty years later. Changes can be made to prevent such a horror from ever happening again but only time will help this damaged town heal.