The Causes and Effects of the Rwandan Genocide by Arnav Kapur In 1994, Rwanda erupted into one of the most appalling cases of mass murder the world has ever witnessed since World War II. Many of the majority Hutu (about 84% of the population) turned on the Tutsi (about 15% of the population) and moderate Hutu, killing an estimated total of 800,000 people. The main causes of the Rwandan Genocide were the shooting down of the President’s plane, high population density, the media, the unresponsive UN and the history between the two tribes and a civil war that started in 1990 and some of the effects were poverty, lack of infrastructure, health problems and many others explained below.
The indigenous peoples of Rwanda are the Twa (about 1% of the population). 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.” It wasn’t until Europeans came 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 tone and taller builds; therefore they put the Tutsi in the roles of responsibility.
When Germany lost its colonies, Belgium took over and in 1933, the Belgians solidified the categories of “Tutsi” and “Hutu” by mandating that every person had to have an identity card that labeled them either Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. Although the Tutsi constituted only about 15% of Rwanda’s population and the Hutu approximately 84%, the Belgians gave the Tutsi all the leadership positions and this angered the Hutu although when the Belgians left, they gave the power to the Hutus. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence on the 1st of July 1962 from Belgium.
In 1962, Grégoire Kayibanda was elected as president but was overthrown in a coup in 1973 by Juvénal Habyarimana. His plane was shot down on the 6th of April 1994 and subsequently; Pasteur Bizimungu took over and was eventually replaced by Paul Kagame in 2000 who is still the president of Rwanda today.
Rwanda has been in a state of conflict since independence with various skirmishes and hatred between Hutus and Tutsis continuing.
One of the main causes for the genocide was the taking down of President Habyarimana’s plane, which also carried the President of Burundi. This event happened on the 6th of April 1994. It was initially suspected that the Tutsi shot down the plane because the President was a Hutu although an investigation into the missile showed that it was fired from a military camp that was probably run by the Hutu. Violence began almost immediately after that. Under the cover of war, Hutu extremists launched their plans to destroy the entire Tutsi civilian population. Political leaders who might have been able to take charge of the situation and other high profile opponents of the Hutu extremist plans were killed immediately. Tutsi and people suspected of being Tutsi were killed in their homes and as they tried to flee at roadblocks set up across the country during the genocide.
Another main cause of the genocide is the history and tension between the Hutus and the Tutsis as if it were not for this, there would have been peace. Ever since the Europeans arrived and separated the two, there has been unrest and tension even though they speak the same language and culturally, they are same. This division was originally caused by who had more cows than the other and that today sounds ridiculous. They have been at each other’s necks since independence in 1962 when the Hutus chased the Tutsis out of Rwanda. The Tutsis fled to neighboring countries and eventually formed the RPF or the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
The RPA (Rwandan Patriotic Army), the military wing of the RPF, was responsible for another main cause in the form of a civil war when they launched an offensive on Rwanda from Uganda on the 1st of October 1990. France and the Congo sent troops to help the Hutu led government against the RPA and the war reached a stalemate and consequently, both sides entered into peace talks. These talks led to the Arusha Accords being signed in 1993 and there was a ceasefire until the genocide started. The RPF regained control over Rwanda and chased the perpetrators to neighboring countries and stopped the genocide and are still in power today.
Media, in particular radio and newspapers, played a huge part in the genocide and was also a cause of the genocide. It was also a means of communication as most people couldn’t read but could understand messages broadcast on the radio although many people could still read. The state-owned Hutu newspaper, ‘Kangura’, had an essential role, starting an anti-Tutsi and anti-RPF campaign in October 1990 and helping to spread hate. ’Kangura’ also published the infamous “Hutu Ten Commandments”, which regulated all dealings with Tutsis and how the Hutus were to treat them. ‘Radio Rwanda’ and ‘RTLM’ (Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines) also helped to spread hatred and broadcasted that in certain areas, the Tutsis were going to attack which, although false, made Hutus attack the Tutsis in that area and kill them.
Another main cause that led to the genocide was the non-interference of the UN and the United States’ refusal to send troops and support the UNAMIR plan (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda), which ran from October 1993 to March 1996 to aid the implementation of the Arusha Accords. It was regarded as a major failure because of its lack of engagement because it let the genocide transpire. The US did not want to send troops because of what happened to them in Somalia and thought the same would happen to them in Rwanda and although the topic is still debated today, the general consensus is that they should have provided some sort of support to Rwanda.
High population density and rapid population growth also played a major part as it was easier for the Hutus to kill the Tutsis and that it also convinced some farmers to kill as there was a feeling of too many people on the land, and with a reduction, there would be more for them. The Burundi civil war also played a role in the genocide as many people saw what was happening and the Hutus and Tutsis were involved once again and it had entrenched even more hate between the 2 ethnicities.
The death toll for the Rwandan genocide ranged from about 500,000 people to a 1,000,000. About 16% of the population was killed during the genocide. As for the tribes, approximately 500,000 Tutsi people were killed and many moderate Hutus and Twa were killed and villages across Rwanda were totally demolished. Another effect was that a new president, Pasteur Bizimungu, was elected.
Another major effect of the Rwandan genocide is that the country was on the brink of economic ruin because most of the country’s money came from agriculture and all the farms and cultivated land was destroyed. Since the country lost a lot of workers and many people were injured, there weren’t many workers available to start the reconstruction process.
Many people are still scarred by what they did and experienced and many women had unwanted pregnancies because of rape and the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS shot up exponentially because of the systemized rape. Many children, at that time, suffer because of the sight of seeing their parents being mutilated and raped before them and that affects them mentally.
Another effect is that most of the infrastructure is still lackluster because of the destruction and lack of money put in to re-development. Many people suffer and children can’t get school fees, clothes, medication, food, and shelter. People live in squalor and most of the things in Rwanda are expensive, including treatment, school fees, transport, rent, and food and this makes life even harder for people in Rwanda.
The many people who were displaced also led to the Great Lakes Refugee crisis and the genocide also had a part to play in both the Congo wars.
Perpetrators also were also screened before the Gacaca Court where they were tried on the crimes they committed. Another huge task for the government is to re-introduce more than 2 million refugees and to accommodate all the prisoners in their jails that are overflowing.
An International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established to bring the perpetrators to justice and re-enforce the Gacaca Court and the genocide also led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
In conclusion, the Rwandan Genocide was an atrocious event that may have been prevented if more precautionary action was taken and there was more UN and US involvement. It had many causes and they all accumulated over time until the shooting down of the President’s plane that sparked this conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. Both sides were responsible although the Hutus were more so than the Tutsis because they actually slaughtered the Tutsis ruthlessly.