‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda has been of particular interest to western countries as it lay along the border line between Francophone and Anglophone Africa.
Rwandan kingdom was inhabited by a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. The Hutus were predominantly agriculturist whereas the Tutsis were chiefs and aristocrats. Though they spoke the same language (Bantu) and shared the same customs, in physical appearance, Tutsis were taller than Hutus. Ethnic divisions were well entrenched. Subsequent German and Belgian rules exacerbated ethnic tensions. Colonial masters favouring Tutsis during their rule extended the Tutsi hegemony over Hutus. Introduction of identity cards by the Belgians in the 1920s formed a deep chasm between the two tribes. Belgians established a Tutsi bureaucracy completely trampling Hutu aspirations. Even education was made a Tutsi monopoly. Hutus were relegated as labourers.
In such an unequal society, came independence in 1962. The new state was led by Kayibanda, a politician completely devoted to the cause of Hutu hegemony. Fearing decimation by Hutu extremists, Tutsis started a never ending exodus to neighbouring countries including Congo and Uganda. The new government’s economic policies were initially in the right direction. Inflation was kept low and GDP increased. But Hutu Tutsi rivalry started showing signs of its revival. Kayibanda’s hate campaign against Tutsis couldnot save his own government and he was ousted in 1973 by the Army Commander, Habyarimana. Kayibanda’s preference to southern Hutus over northern Hutus led to his downfall. Habyarimana installed a one party dictatorship. His party (Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement, MRND) was also anti-Tutsi. In the beginning, the fledgling country had relative prosperity. But suddenly a sharp drop in world coffee prices posed grave challenges to its economy. Allegations of corruption also rocked Habyarimana’s regime.
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi exiles living in Uganda had nurtured their ambitions of returning to their nation. The new ruler of Uganda, Museveni, having taken help form the Tutsi refugees in the overthrow of Obote government, was more than willing to help the Tutsi reclaim their country. These circumstances led to the launch of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1987. RPF’s first attempt turned out to be a misadventure but it provided the French Government an opportunity to increase its influence on the country as Habyarimana had requested for assistance.
Along with the 90s came the democratization wave in Africa. Arusha Accords, signed in 1992, established a transitional government ending the one party system whereby RPF was formally inducted into the Government. But again the peace was shortlived. UN’s role in maintaining peace was strangely limited. On 6th April 1994, Habyarimana’s aircraft was shot down as it flew towards the Kigali airport. His assassination could have been the handiwork of either Hutu extremists or the RPF. But the Hutu extremists pounced on this opportunity to start a chilling extermination of Tutsis, the Rwandan genocide. This barbaric pogrom which lasted for around 100 days, killing around 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis, forced RPF leader Kagame to return to war and he finally took over the capital. Reluctance of the US and western powers during this genocide was baffling. Soon after Kagame captured the capital, Hutus started fleeing to Congo. This exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutus included even those who had actively participated in the insane butchering of Tutsis. These Hutus, now refugees in Eastern Congo, started fomenting trouble for the local Tutsis as well as the Rwandan government. Mobutu’s role in the Hutu power zealots increasing disturbing tendencies was viewed with great abhorrence in Kigali. The only alternative before Kagame was the overthrow of Mobutu. With active assistance of Uganda, Rwanda waged the First Congo War. Mobutu was replaced by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a small time guerilla leader. In May 1997, Kabila after being sworn in as the President, changed the name of the country from Zaire to ‘the Democratic Republic of Congo’. Soon thereafter exiled dictator Mobutu died in Morocco.
But more tribulations were in store for the Congolese as Kabila changed his allegiance, finally culminating in recrudescence of hostilities.