The Genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990’s was directly influenced by European colonialism in early 20th century. The great majority of the population in Rwanda was and still is either one of two ethnic groups: the Hutus or the Tutsis. The Tutsis and Hutus differed clearly on socio-economic lines. The Tutsi were mostly the capital owners and higher class. The Hutu were typically farmers and laborers. European colonists observed this difference and began to favor the Tutsi as more intelligent and superior. In the pre-colonial era, the Tutsi were not quite a separate ethnicity from the Hutu. For instance a wealthy or affluent Hutu could manage to become an honorary Tutsi. This all changed in the early 20th century when Rwanda became a Belgian protectorate. The colonists began a great racial restructuring of the country. European doctors physically measured Rwandans to determine their racial definition and issued out identification cards that labeled people as either the Hutu “race” or the Tutsi “race”. The Tutsi were favored politically and the Europeans intended to establish a Tutsi aristocracy in order to better control the majority Hutu population. This phenomenon forced upon the Rwandan people a demographical change that would sow the seed for tensions to arise between the ethnic groups.

In 1959 a revolution ensued and the majority Hutu took power and began to persecute the Tutsi. This was a radical flipping of power that not only drove out many Tutsi but also drove out Belgian colonists and in 1962, Rwanda was granted its independence. The revolution at this point changed nothing about the social order that was inflicted upon Rwandans by Belgium other than switching the “race” that was in power. Sadly, nothing had changed about the European system of making Hutus and Tutsis “races” and as such tensions continued to flourish. In 1973 President Juvénal Habyarimana gained power of Rwanda in a military coup. He, as a Hutu, started out with support from both ethnicities due to his rhetoric of protection for Tutsis remaining in the country. Although this seemed a relatively peaceful moment in Rwanda’s history since gaining independence, there was trouble brewing in neighboring Uganda as Tutsi refugees militarized and planned to invade. This invasion took place in 1990 when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) marched across from Uganda in order to take back their homeland. By 1994 a difficult cease fire had been arranged between Habyarimana’s forces and the RPF. This was all shattered on April 6, 1994 when President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down over central Rwanda. Almost immediately, national sentiment was stirred up in a rage against the perceived Tutsi attack, and within hours genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus was carried out that, over the next few months, would mean the deaths of nearly a million people. This was an international news story, but many western countries feared to intervene for lack of information and also for a desire not to be stuck in a military quagmire in Africa. The genocide was to be resolved through the means and perseverance of the Rwandan people. This terrible mass-cleansing of Rwanda is an example of the long-term effects of a forced political and demographic change made possible during European colonialism of Africa.

A Rwandan man being measured by a Belgian doctor to determine his "race".

A Rwandan man being measured by a Belgian doctor to determine his “race”.

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