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Effect of imperialism on the Rwandan genocide Essay

There is a lot of history in a small country like Rwanda. The original inhabitants were the ethnic Twa. By the 10th century, Hutu farmers were established there. Tutsi warriors with cattle arrived after the 14th century. Tutsi formed a monarchy by the 16th century. All tribes shared a common language and culture, and there were no race issues until the 20th century. (4)

Germany was the first European country to colonize Rwanda in 1899, administering it indirectly through the existing king. Belgium took control in 1916, during World War I. Belgium received it as a League of Nations mandate in 1919 and continued indirect rule but restructured the system to increase ethnic divisions. (4) The Belgians favored the Tutsi over the Hutu and Twa, which was a big mistake that caused huge problems in the future and lots of racism. (5)

In 1946 Rwanda became a UN trust territory administered by Belgium. (5) Pressure rose during the 1950s as Hutu protested against Tutsi for rights and voting. Violence spread quickly after the Hutu sub-chief was attacked by the Tutsi. Many Tutsis died or fled to neighboring countries. Belgian troops intervened and set up a policy reversal, with a Hutu-led government. (4) With democratization going through Africa, monarchy was abolished in 1961 and Rwanda gained complete independence in 1962, as two countries, Rwanda and Burundi. (5)

Tutsi exiles continued attacks on Hutu throughout the 60s. The First Republic, led by Hutu, ended with a 1973 rebellion coordinated by the Hutu Minister of Defense, Juvenal Habyarimana. Tutsi revels in Uganda formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or the RPF, and invaded Rwanda in 1990. The conflict ended in 1993 with a power-sharing agreement treaty. But the peace was broken again when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in April 1994. (5) Know one knew whether it was Hutus that shot down the plane, but they were accused nonetheless. “Hutu politicians opposed to the late president Juvenal Habyarimana were targeted in the first few days after the plane crash, which has yet to be satisfactorily explained. But now the killings seem to be directed purely against Tutsis,” according to Hilsum. (1)

This was the end of the Second Republic and the beginning of a 100-day well-organized genocidal rampage. Hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire (now the Congo). The RPF fought back and took control on July 4, 1994. Thousands fled from the RPF advance and many died from disease and unsanitary conditions. In 1996 Hutu refugees became targets of Tutsi violence, and Hutu soldiers attacked the Tutsi. Rwanda sent militia to defeat the Zairian troops helping the Hutus. Most refugees were sent back to Rwanda, but some remained to launch guerilla attacks in northwestern Rwanda. (4) Courts were set up for 124,000 people for crimes during the genocide. The first Hutu president was elected in 2000 when the old president resigned. Trials are still going on today, charging people with war crimes during the genocide.

Because of the great scars of Rwanda’s history in the last century, Rwanda today has a very weak economy and is very undeveloped industrially. The products are mostly agricultural, and most of the population are subsistence farmers. The main crops consist of coffee and tea. Also grown are bananas, beans, cassava, cattle, pyrethrum, sorghum, and sweet potatoes. The only mining resources are tin and wolframite. A lack of fertile soil limits agricultural expansion. (4) Rwanda only trades with Uganda because of bad relations with other countries. This makes trade very expensive there because of this. (5)

Christianity was introduced in Rwanda by missionaries in the early 20th century. Today 65% are Catholic, 9% Protestant, 1% Muslim, and 25% follow indigenous beliefs. Ethnic tribes are still mostly Hutu and Tutsi, which are now peaceful. 90% are Hutu, most of the rest are Tutsi, and only 1% are Twa. The official languages spoken in Rwanda are English, French, and Kinyarwanda, a Bantu language. (4,5)

Independence Day is celebrated on July 1. The government consists of the President and Transitional National Assembly of 70 seats. Local elections establish councils responsible for local disputes, minor crime, tax collection, and salaries for teachers and doctors. The country is very crowded and there is lots of disease. (5)

Most of the problems in Rwanda in the last century were caused by imperialism. The genocide in Rwanda affected its neighboring countries as well, and thousands of Hutus and Tutsis were also killed in Burundi by similar problems there. The incredible amount of racism and hate in the very heart of Africa was sparked by the colonial structure enforced by Germany and then Belgium. According to Dowden, the Tutsi, making up only about 10% of the population, “were a kind of feudal cattle-owning aristocracy who lorded it over the Hutu peasants.” Belgians gave the Tutsis a big advantage in education, leading them to have professional jobs. (2)

Before the Europeans came there was peace in Africa. But after greedy 19th century European politicians occupied the African continent, enslaving or abusing its people, ethnic conflicts broke out all over Africa, followed by a century of bloodshed. The conflicts and the current problems in Africa could have been prevented if imperialism wouldn’t have existed. There would not have been a genocide during which hundreds of thousands of innocent people were slaughtered over a period of 100 days.

According to LaFraniere, “The Rwanda genocide is considered the worst ethnic killing since the Holocaust. In 100 days, an estimated one in 10 Tutsi in Rwanda were wiped out, along with many moderates among the Hutu, who make up the majority of the population. The efficiency of the killers, who chased down the Tutsi at roadblocks and in the streets with sharpened sticks, nail-studded clubs and grenades, surpassed that of the Nazis, some historians contend.” (3) The financial crisis in Rwanda and the suffering of its people today could have been prevented if it wasn’t for so much hate and carelessness of imperialistic European nations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


1. Hilsum, Lindsey. “Men mad with killing drown nation in blood”. The Independent. 1 May 1994.

2. Dowden, Richard. “A wound at the heart of Africa”. The Independent. 11 May 1994.

3. LaFraniere, Sharon. “3 convicted of genocide in Rwanda Media chiefs guilty of inciting massacre of Tutsi in 1994”. International Herald Tribune. 4 Dec. 2003.

4. World Book Encyclopedia 2003. Vol. 16.

5. Culture Grams 2004.

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