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History of Rwanda

At the origins


Rwanda is a country which exists since 1091. It is at this date that King Gihanga becomes the first sovereign of the country, and since, his descendants reign over Rwanda. The pre-colonial Rwandan population was structured into about twenty clans made up of breeders, the Tutsi; farmers, the majority Hutus; and craftsmen, the Twa. The Twa come from the Pygmy populations who originally inhabited Rwanda. The clan was the identity reference for each Rwandan. Each clan had a chief named Mwami from a patriarchal lineage. One of the clans, ruled by a Tutsi lineage, dominated the region and his mwami was considered the king of Rwanda. The populations spoke the same language, Kinyarwanda, shared the same religion, could sometimes marry each other and could pass from one caste to another by favor of the mwami comparable to ennobling. This so-called feudal system was based on the possession of herds or land. This structure was embodied by a cattle chief, a land chief, and a military chief.


German and Belgian colonial period


Towards the end of the 19th century, the mwami of the dominant clan was Kigeli IV, who died in 1895. In 1885, the Berlin Conference attributed Rwanda to the German Empire. The first Europeans to enter Rwanda, in 1892 and 1894, were Oscar Baumann and Gustav Adolf von Götzen.

The colonial administration relied on the Tutsi, to the detriment of the Mwami of the Hutu clans.


The history taught during the Belgian tutelage describes the majority Hutus as farmers of Bantu origin, while the Tutsi are a pastoral people arrived in the region in the fifteenth century from the Ethiopian highlands, of Nilo-Hamitic DNA. The Twa are said to be descendants of the Pygmies, the first inhabitants of the region.


It was through a system of indirect administration that respected the customary authorities and relied on them to manage the country that Belgium exercised its tutelage over Ruanda. She established her own organization which the peasants will call double colonization. Because the customary structure was superimposed its own Services (Territory, Health, Education, Agriculture, TP, etc.).

The customary authorities, mainly Tutsis, exercised their action via a monarchical structure (Mwami, chiefs, s / chiefs, and courts) and a feudal social fabric whose web is the historic contract (the ubuhake) which binds the lord (shebuja) his vassal (umugaragu). Under this agreement, the beneficiary of the loan, which consists of one or more cows, is obliged to vis-à-vis the donor to provide services in service and/or in kind. However, the democratization recommended by the UN required in 1945 the purchase of these benefits. These peaceful relations are spread from the awareness by the "little people" of the social inequalities of which they are the object.


By a 1952 decree, the Trusteeship took the first step towards democratization by imposing elections by indirect suffrage of men. These took place in 1953 and in 1956.

In 1957 the Mwami and his Council demanded more power for autonomy. That same year, the Hutu movement published "the Manifesto of the Hutus" which evokes the racial problem in Ruanda in which the Hutus (82%) are dominated by the Tutsis (15%).

The creation of political parties was authorized on June 15, 1959. UNAR and RADER, Tutsi parties demand independence. APROSOMA and PARMEHUTU, Hutu parties, are more moderate: the latter's leader begged the Belgian Government (letter of October 14, 1959) not to withdraw its guardianship until the people's menu is "emancipated". Several factors will speed things up:


- Mwami's death on July 25, 1959, heightened tensions

- the peasants (Hutus) demanded land from Tutsi breeders who monopolize the pastures

- a wind of independence was blowing across borders

- the Kinyamateka newspaper of the Catholic Church which animates and trains the people echoed it

In November 1959 a severe revolt of peasants broke out, the jacquerie, which caused looting and attacks. It's almost a civil war. More than 2,000 people are being sued in court. Many Tutsis are fleeing to Uganda. Petitions are addressed to the United Nations.

In April 1960, the Parmehutu appointed new deputy heads.

In June 1960, these were municipal elections by direct universal suffrage of men.

This latter led to the constitution of a Provisional Council and Government.

October 18, 1960, is the investiture of the mayors to replace the deputy's heads.

At the end of 1960, it was a regime of autonomy. Rwandan assistants are appointed alongside the Territorial Administrators.


Legislative elections are announced for January 1961, but before the opposition of the UN, the Parmehutu party gathers its elected representatives and proclaims the Republic and the end of the Monarchy without the knowledge of the Trusteeship. It was "the coup d'etat de Gitarama" on January 28, 1961.

Final stage: on September 25, 1961, legislative elections by universal suffrage of men and women and a referendum on the Monarchy and the person of Mwami, took place calmly under the supervision of the UN: 35 seats out of 44 were allocated to Parmehutu and 7 at Unar. An autonomous Assembly and Government lead to independence on July 1, 1962.


In forty years of tutelage, Ruanda has gone from a peaceful but frozen feudal kingdom to a parliamentary republic agitated in a complete and violent but democratic social reversal. He created his own National Guard and beat his own currency. Despite galloping demography, it has created an extensive road network, renovated housing, hospitals and secondary and technical schools, improved agricultural yields, equipment and development organizations. Its mineral resources are poor. Its budget is in deficit. Its efforts to reconcile its inhabitants are unfinished. The opposition has taken refuge outside the country and will return after 30 years.


The claim of independence of the Tutsi encouraged the Belgians to overthrow their alliance in favor of the Hutu. In November 1959, a civil war broke out which led to the exile of 300,000 Tutsi. The majority of Hutu takes power, with the support of the colonial authorities and the Catholic Church.


Testimony of Julien Nyssens, Territorial administrator in Ruanda.


The Republic of Rwanda (1961 -...)


Key dates since independence



The first republic was proclaimed on January 28, and Grégoire Kayibanda, a Hutu, assumed the presidency of the Republic on October 26, 1961. The United Nations set July 1, 1962, as the date of independence for Rwanda. The transfer of powers and the evacuation of Belgian troops took place on August 1, 1962.

The new regime faced attacks by Tutsi exiles, which were used as a pretext for the violent repression against Tutsis from the inside, particularly in December 1963 when several thousand Tutsi were massacred.



To maintain political unity, Grégoire Kayibanda instrumentalizes the mass killings of which the Hutu in Burundi were victims in 1972, he justifies the fear of a threat from the Rwandan Tutsi. The Tutsi, pupils, and teachers, are systematically expelled from education, some massacred in educational establishments. These events cause a new wave of the Tutsi exodus. Exploiting these events, Juvénal Habyarimana overthrew Grégoire Kayibanda in July 1973.



Foundation of the single party, the National Republican Movement for Development (MRND).



Habyarimana changes the Constitution and adopts a one-party regime, the MRND, of which all Rwandans are ex-officio members.



Creation, in Kenya, of the Rwandese National Union (Ranu) - dominated by the Tutsis. It will later transform into the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), based in Uganda.



Rwanda closes its border with Uganda to stop the return of Tutsi refugees expelled by the Ugandan government.



October: the RPF attacks on the northern border, from Uganda. Beginning of the civil war; tens of thousands of deaths in three years. Intervention of French, Belgian and Zairean troops ("Noroît" operation).



In 1991, the multiparty system was again recognized.



April: formation of a compromise government open to the opposition, except the RPF.

March: Creation of the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), which brings together the Hutu ultras and organizes the Interahamwe militias, which means "those who fight together". Massacre of Tutsis in Bugesera.

July: cease-fire. Peace negotiations are opening in Arusha (Tanzania) between the Hutu government, the democratic opposition and the RPF.

August-December: organized massacres of Tutsis and Hutu opponents, in particular at the instigation of pro-government Interahamwe militias.



February: the RPF invokes the continuation of the killings and the non-respect of the Arusha agreements to launch a new offensive, stopped in the north of Kigali thanks to French support. 750,000 to a million peasants leave the North and flee in the direction of Kigali.

August: signing of the Arusha peace agreements.

Beginning of a hate campaign on the air implicitly or explicitly advocating the physical elimination of Tutsis.

December: after more than three years of presence, the French troops of the "Noroît" operation (600 soldiers) leave Rwanda and give way to the United Nations Mission for Assistance in Rwanda (UNAMIR).



January: blockage of the Arusha agreements, in particular, due to the refusal by the hawks of the presidential entourage, supporters of the "Hutu Power" to set up an enlarged transitional government to the RPF.

April 6: a regional summit meets in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). The attack against the plane bringing back the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, which crashes in the gardens of the presidency. During the night, massacres of Tutsis begin in Kigali. The assassination of the Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and the ten Belgian peacekeepers charged with its protection, without the troops of the UN coming to their rescue. In the evening, RPF units move in the North. Extension of the massacres outside Kigali.

April-May: the massacres take on a considerable scale. The elimination of Tutsis and Hutu opponents is systematically practiced by the Interahamwe militiamen, with the assistance of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR).

April 9-17: military intervention by France and Belgium for the evacuation of their nationals ("Amaryllis" operation).

April 16: The Belgian Government decides to withdraw its troops from UNAMIR (780 soldiers).

21 April: the Security Council reduced the staff of UNAMIR from 2,500 to 270.

11-12 May: the mission to Kigali of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He pronounces the word "genocide" (Later the number of victims of the genocide will be estimated at between 800,000 and 1, 3 million people).

May 17: the Security Council extends the mission of UNAMIR to the protection of populations and authorizes for this purpose the deployment of 5,500 peacekeepers in Rwanda (UNAMIR II).

June 22: On France's proposal, Security Council resolution 929 authorizes an armed humanitarian intervention in Rwanda for a period of two months in order to protect civilians and ensure the distribution of humanitarian aid. Beginning of the "Turquoise" operation.

July 4: Butare and Kigali fall into the hands of the RPF. France creates a "safe humanitarian zone" in the south-west, around Kibuye, Gikongoro, and Cyangugu, where the Hutus take refuge who are fleeing the advance of the RPF.

July 13: Beginning of the mass exodus to Goma, of Rwandans fleeing the advance of RPF forces. There will be up to 2 million refugees abroad - including 1.7 million in the Congo and 300,000 in Tanzania - as well as three million internally displaced people.

July 17: The RPF reached Ruhengeri and Gisenyi and declared the end of the war.

July 19: A government of national unity is formed in Kigali.

10 August: Beginning of the deployment of UNAMIR II in the security zone.

August 21: End of the "Turquoise" operation led by French soldiers.

November: the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).



April: An attack by the Patriotic Army of Rwanda (APR, the armed wing of the RPF) of Hutu refugee camps located in the south of the country in the area of ​​Operation "Turquoise" kills hundreds. Hutu extremists used these camps as bases for destabilizing operations against the new regime.

June: the Kigali authorities impose on the UN Security Council a drastic reduction in the mandate and staffing of UNAMIR.



8 March: withdrawal of the last UNAMIR contingents.

October: Beginning of the dismantling by force of the Rwandan refugee camps in Kivu by the APR, assisted by Uganda and Burundi. 500,000 Hutu refugees return to Rwanda. More than 200,000 Hutus fleeing to the interior of the Congo will be massacred by the troops of the rebellion of Laurent Désiré Kabila, assisted in his conquest of power by Kigali. Tanzania expels nearly 300,000 Hutu refugees, and Burundi returns 90,000



May: supported by Rwandan and Ugandan troops, Laurent Désiré Kabila takes power in Kinshasa

In December 1997, the Belgian parliamentary commission of inquiry into the events in Rwanda issued its report, based on extensive investigations and numerous hearings. This work of truth convinced that at the time of the genocide the Belgian authorities could - and should - have acted differently in order to prevent the genocide against the Tutsis.



February: the strong man of the regime, the vice-president and defense minister Paul Kagame, strengthens his power by taking the presidency of the RPF.



November: Rwanda announces that it is suspending its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after the release by the ICTR of a former senior official accused of genocide, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, director of affairs, for procedural violation politicians at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time of the genocide.



March: Resignation of Pastor Bizimungu, Hutu, president since the arrival of the RPF in power.

Following the report of the 1997 parliamentary commission of inquiry, and in coherence with these conclusions, Belgium agrees to assume moral responsibility in the Rwandan drama. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt travels to Kigali on April 7 to apologize to Rwanda on behalf of the Belgian people. It was a way of rendering justice to all the victims of the genocide, including our ten para-commandos, murdered on April 7, 1994, in Kigali in the uniform of the United Nations. It was for the Belgian government to take an act of redemption and historical truth in relation to our colonial past.

"On behalf of my country, I bow to the victims of the genocide," said Guy Verhofstadt in his address. On behalf of my country, on behalf of my people, I beg your pardon. […] The world must always remember the horror perpetrated here. We must find the strength and the will to never again tolerate such massacres, which offend the intelligence and essential values ​​of humanity. ”

Comment from Louis Michel, then Minister for Foreign Affairs: “Reconciliation is always difficult and painful. But it is an essential way to find the peace and harmony that forge the cement of a people. It takes willpower, lucidity, humility to dare to take this path. And even more, we must assume the requirement of truth, which is a common work ”.

April 17: Paul Kagame is chosen as President of the Republic by the Parliament.

December: interventions by the Rwandan army in Burundi and the Congo.



April-June: the Brussels Assize Court sentences 4 Rwandans, guilty of war crimes during the genocide, to terms of 12 to 20 years in prison, under a Belgian law which grants universal jurisdiction for crimes of war.

October: Rwandans elect among the population 240,000 judges who will form the Gacaca courts. They will be responsible for trying, over 5 years, 120,000 prisoners charged with genocide. Only the "performers" are judged there. Planners and rapists are taken care of by conventional courts or by the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania.

November: Ugandan presidents Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan Paul Kagame agree, as part of an agreement concluded in London, to "not tolerate" dissident groups "which destabilize" relations between the two countries.



January: the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in eastern Congo leads to the exodus of tens of thousands of inhabitants from the region to the Rwandan city of Gisenyi.

April 2: Opening of the trial, before the ICTR in Arusha, of four senior officers accused of having organized the 1994 genocide. The next day, the trial is adjourned.

The arrest of former president Pasteur Bizimungu accused of endangering state security.

October: Rwanda officially repatriates the last soldier of its contingent to the DRC.



May: new Constitution, which authorizes multiparty politics while framing it.

August 25: first presidential election: Paul Kagame wins the ballot with 95% of the vote.

October: the coalition around President Kagame's party wins an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies in legislative elections marked, according to the European Union, by irregularities and fraud.

President Kagame replaces the Hutu-Tutsi divide by the concept of Rwandan citizen, without distinction.



June 7: Conviction to 15 years in prison of former President Pasteur Bizimungu.

October 26: Agreement signed in Kigali, under the aegis of the United States, between the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. The three countries agree to cooperate in order to neutralize the armed groups operating in the region.



March 10: Beginning of the Gacaca court judgment sessions. 11,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutu, are fleeing to neighboring countries from the establishment of these courts.

March 30: Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), involved in the 1994 genocide and in the war ravaging Kivu (Congo) where they have been refugees since 1994, announced their intention to end the fighting army against Rwandan power.

July: several tens of thousands of prisoners are released, final or conditional, by presidential decree.



November 24: Kigali severed diplomatic relations with France after the issuance, by judge Bruguière, of arrest warrants against relatives of President Paul Kagame.

December 13: Father Athanase Seromba, the first Catholic priest to be tried by the ICTR, is sentenced to fifteen years in prison for his participation in the 1994 genocide.



April 6: Former President Pasteur Bizimungu is pardoned after five years in prison.

July 25: Abolition of the death penalty, including for the crimes of genocide. This was one of the conditions laid down by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the transfer before the Rwandan justice of accused persons to be initially tried by the ICTR.

September: President Kagame imposes Umuganda, a compulsory working day in the service of the community, every last Saturday of the month.



September 15: the ruling RPF wins the legislative elections with 78% of the vote.

December 5: The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda signed an agreement in Kigali for the disarmament of Rwandan Hutu FDLR militias, based in the east of the country since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

December 12: A UN report accuses Kigali of supporting the Congolese rebellion of Laurent Nkunda, which has caused the displacement of 200,000 people in North Kivu, in eastern DRC, since the fall.

December 18: The ICTR sentences Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, nicknamed "the colonel of the apocalypse", as well as two other former army officers, to life imprisonment for "genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes of war".



January 20: More than 3000 Rwandan soldiers enter the Congo. The armies of Congo and Rwanda attack together with the rear bases of Rwandan Hutu militias installed in eastern Congolese. They leave the country at the end of February.

August 6: meeting in Goma (DRC) between Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after ten years of diplomatic breakdown.

September: Alfred Mukezamfura, president of the Parliament from 2003 to 2008, is sentenced to life imprisonment for his participation in the 1994 genocide.

November: Rwanda, a country with a Kinyarwanda and French-speaking tradition, joins the Commonwealth, and, at the same time, re-establishes diplomatic relations with France.



August 9: presidential election without real opponents: Paul Kagame is re-elected with 93% of the vote.

October 1: the UN publishes a report which accuses Rwanda and Uganda of crimes against humanity in DR Congo between 1993 and 2003.

December: former officers in exile, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, and Colonel Patrick Karegeya found a new party, the 'Rwanda National Congress'.



February: Rwandan justice sentences the opponent Bernard Ntaganda to 4 years in prison for violating state security appeal to ethnic division and organization of an unauthorized demonstration.

June: ex-Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko is sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide by the ICTR which sits in Arusha.



According to a UN report, the M23 rebel movement that is destabilizing eastern Congo is supported mainly by the Rwandan government and more minority Ugandans. A large part of the members of M23 is Congolese of Rwandan origin. Kigali shows solidarity with them. Instability at the border facilitates traffic, particularly that of minerals such as cassiterite. It is rare and necessary for the manufacture of mobile phones. The war also facilitates the passage of all kinds of goods such as cattle.



Paul Kagame presents economic development, the intensive work of Rwandans, the fight against corruption and the requirement of "good governance" as major axes of his policy. He is also recognized as a pioneer in terms of infrastructure (schools, dispensaries, roads), agricultural development and respect for the environment (ban on the use of plastic bags).



April: commemorations of the 1994 genocide take place all over the country. The Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders in Kigali to join these commemorations.



November: President Kagame votes for a constitutional amendment that allows him to run in the 2017 presidential election.

December: he announces that he will be a candidate in the 2017 presidential election. This decision theoretically allows Paul Kagame to remain in power until 2034. The Human Rights Watch Organization notes serious breaches of democracy in Rwanda.



August 5: Paul Kagame is re-elected triumphantly for a third term with 98.8% of the vote.

Under the presidency of Kagame, Rwanda experienced a remarkable economic boom, but at the cost of limiting press freedom and oppressing political opponents, many of the victims of disappearances, assassinations ( such as Patrick Karegeya or Jean-Léonard Rugambage) or assassination attempts (such as Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa).



Relations with neighboring countries are peaceful: an agreement is signed with Uganda after a long period of tension, but improvement in relations is slow. Rwanda is also approaching the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose military forces killed, in 2019, Sylvestre Mudacumura, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

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