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It is not known when the territory of present day Rwanda was first inhabited, but it is thought that humans moved into the area following the last ice age either in the Neolithic period, around ten thousand years ago, or in the long humid period which followed, up to around 3000 BC.

 

In pre-colonial Rwanda the Kinyarwanda language was widely spoken. A traditional local justice system called Gacaca predominated in much of the region as an institution for resolving conflict and rendering justice. The Tutsi king (Mwami) became the ultimate judge and arbiter for those cases over which he had jurisdiction. Through this system, stability was achieved in large areas of what is now Rwanda.

 

Colonial Era

 

After signing treaties with chiefs in the Tanganyika region in 1884-1885, Germany claimed Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi as its own territory. Count von Gotzen met the Tutsi Mwami (king) for the first time in 1894. However, with only 2,500 soldiers in East Africa, Germany did little to change societal structures in much of the region, especially in Rwanda.

After Germany lost the 1914-18 War, Belgium accepted the League of Nations Mandate of 1923 to govern Ruanda-Urundi along with the Congo, while Great Britain accepted Tanganyika and other German colonies. After the second World War, Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations “trust territory” administered by Belgium.

 

The Belgian colonizers accepted the existing class system, featuring a minority Tutsi upper class and lower classes of Hutus and Tutsi commoners. However, in 1926 the Belgians abolished the local posts of "land-chief", "cattle-chief" and "military chief," and in doing so they stripped the Hutu of their limited local power over land. In the 1920s, under military threat, the Belgians finally helped to bring the northwest Hutu kingdoms, who had maintained local control of land not subject to the Mwami, under the Tutsi royalty's central control. These two actions disenfranchised the Hutu. Large, centralized land holdings were then divided into smaller chiefdoms.

 

The Roman Catholic Church and Belgian colonial authorities considered the Hutus and Tutsis different ethnic races based on their physical differences and patterns of migration. However, because of the existence of many wealthy Hutu who shared the financial (if not physical) stature of the Tutsi, the Belgians used an expedient method of classification based on the number of cattle a person owned. Anyone with ten or more cattle was considered a member of the aristocratic Tutsi class. From 1935 on, "Tutsi", "Hutu" and "Twa" were indicated on identity cards.

 

In 1960, the Belgian government, with UN urging, therefore decided to divide Rwanda-Urundi into two separate countries, Rwanda and Burundi. Each had elections in 1961 in preparation for independence.  The Rwandans voted, by referendum and with the support of the Belgian colonial government, to abolish the Tutsi monarchy and instead establish a republic. Between 1961 and 1962, Tutsi guerrilla groups staged attacks into Rwanda from neighboring countries. Rwandan Hutu-based troops responded and thousands more were killed in the clashes.

 

On July 1, 1962, Rwanda was created as a republic governed by the majority Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU). In 1963, a Tutsi guerrilla invasion into Rwanda from Burundi unleashed another anti-Tutsi backlash by the Hutu government in Rwanda, and an estimated 14,000 people were killed.  Rwanda became a Hutu-dominated one-party state. In excess of 70,000 people had been killed.

 

Civil war and genocide

 

The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsis and Hutu political moderates by Militant Hutus under the Hutu Power ideology. Over the course of approximately 100 days, from the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April through mid-July, latest figures that more than a million people were slaughtered.  The seeds for this began in 1990 when the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda. Some members allied with the military dictatorship government of Habyarimana responded  to the RPF invasion with a radio  station that began anti-Tutsi propaganda and with programs against Tutsis, who it claimed were trying to enslave the Hutus.

 

Nevertheless, after 3 years of fighting and multiple prior "cease-fires," the government and the RPF signed a "final" cease-fire agreement in August 1993, in order to form a power sharing government. Neither side appeared ready to accept the Accords, however, and fighting between the two sides continued unabated. By that time, over 1.5 million civilians had left their homes to flee the selective massacres against Hutus by the RPF army. They were living in camps, the most famous of which was called Nyacyonga.  During the armed conflict in Rwanda, the RPF was blamed for the bombing of the capital Kigali. On April 6, 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda and the second newly elected president of Burundi (also a Hutu) were both assassinated when their jet was shot down.

 

In response to the April killing of the two presidents, over the next three months (April - July 1994) the Hutu-led military and Interhamwe militia groups killed about one million Tutsis and Hutu moderates in the genocide. The Tutsi-led RPF continued to advance on the capital, however, and soon occupied the northern, eastern, and southern parts of the country by June.

 

 

A History of Rwanda

REGISTERED CHARITY NUMBER: 1099700

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