Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Background to Rwanda

Ten years ago, beginning on 6 April 1994, more than one million Rwandans were massacred in a three-month bloodbath. The dead were mainly Tutsis, the minority ethnic group in Rwanda who made up about 14 percent of the then eight million population. All were unarmed civilians. Their killers, extremists from Rwanda's ruling Hutu majority, had embarked on a premeditated mission: to exterminate an entire people. But it was not only Tutsis who suffered. Tens of thousands of moderate Hutus were also slaughtered because they were political opponents of the one-party Hutu state and natural obstacles to the genocide.

May 1, 2004
3 min read

Even today, the true story of Rwanda is little known in popular circles. The common misconception – fuelled by the conveniently racist Western government and media propaganda of the time – is that “two tribes went to war’ with tragic consequences. Then UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali summed up this whitewash three weeks into the slaughter as one of “Hutus killing Tutsis and Tutsis killing Hutus’.

The background to the Rwandan genocide is inseparable from the destructive legacy of first German, then Belgian and finally French colonialism on the country’s inter-ethnic politics. Rwanda gained “formal’ independence from Belgium in 1961 after decades of social engineering that promoted the Hutus as the colonial master’s preferred ruling elite. In July 1973, following a decade of anti-Tutsi violence and murder that had forced over 350,000 Tutsis into exile, the Hutu elite split and the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND), led by Hutu Major-General Juvnal Habyarimana, installed itself as a one-party dictatorship in a bloodless coup. Although discrimination continued against the Tutsi community, there were no further ethnic massacres between 1973-1990.

From its inception, the Habyarimana regime was a bulwark against those states in the region that sought to protect their independence and effect progressive structural change (for example, neighbouring Tanzania under the progressive president, Julius Nyerere, one of the African leaders of the non-aligned movement). It was thus actively backed by Western powers, particularly Belgium, France and Switzerland. In 1975, France signed a military cooperation and training agreement with Rwanda and gradually replaced Belgium as the dominant imperial power.

By October 1990, however, a growing democratic opposition movement was joined by returning Tutsi refugees who had formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF’s attempted overthrow and replacement of the Habyarimana regime with a progressive non-ethnic government was brutally put down. Agreement was reached in 1992 to set up a transitional government in which the RPF would be included. Habyarimana, however, had no intention of sharing power and continued to arm and train militias and secretly import weapons with French assistance while using the regime’s own radio station to broadcast extreme anti-Tutsi propaganda and denounce the peace agreement.

On 6 April 1994, just as the preparations for genocide were being threatened by huge international pressure on the regime to comply with the transitional power-sharing arrangements, Habyarimana was assassinated when his aircraft was shot down. Within hours the Hutu prime minister had also been executed and extremists took control of the government. The genocide had begun.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going