For my summer project, I researched the causes of Rwandan genocide with a focus on the political situation and how it affected the ethnic tensions and, eventually, the outbreak of genocide. I had originally planned to focus on the independence movement in Rwanda during the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, I recognized early in my research that the political issues that played a role leading up to the Rwandan genocide were typically created after independence was already achieved.
My first post focused primarily on the history of Rwanda leading up to the movement that culminated in the official independence of Rwanda in 1962 and the relations between the Hutu and the Tutsi under Gregoire Kayibanda, Rwanda’s first president. In this post, however, I will elaborate further on the Kayibanda regime and discuss the Habyarimana and how the Rwandan government used ethnic tensions to maintain political power. I will also attempt to analyze the events that followed the death of Habyarimana in 1994, after his plane was shot down near Kigali. Habyarimana’s death almost immediately sparked the massacres that have become known as the Rwandan Genocide, and I will look at the political aspects of his death and the aftermath.
I began my research by looking at the politics behind the Rwanda genocide and the political situation both before and after the Rwanda Independence movement in 1959, all the way up to the genocide in 1994. I found that this time period can be split into three basic eras: the colonial system under Belgium until 1962 (when Rwanda fully gained independence), the Kayibanda regime from 1962 until 1973, and the Habyarimana regime from 1973 until 1994. By looking at these different time periods separately, I hoped to reveal something about why the genocide occurred in 1994 instead of earlier, and discover what political changes, if any had led to the genocide.
Prior to interactions with colonial Europeans, the Hutu and Tutsi groups were based on social factors, such as wealth and importance, rather than ethnic ones. As the wealthier and more prominent members of society, the Tutsi also held political power. This continued under European colonialism, as the Tutsi also benefitted from the education provided to them that was unavailable to the Hutu and basically in control of politics in the colonies, as Europeans found it easier to rule through pre-existing institutions of government. Through this process, the Tutsi naturally developed more power in the colony. However, due to the prejudices and misinterpretations of the colonists, these previously fluid groups were transformed into static collections of people based on perceived racial differences. These socials problems eventually led to turmoil, as was shown by the consistent conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi in Central Africa during the second half of the twentieth century.