In April 1994, shortly after concluding peace negotiations with the Rwandan Patriotic Front that called for UN peacekeeping forces to be stationed in Rwanda, President Habyarimana was killed in a mysterious plane crash near Kigali. Habyarimana's death prompted a wave of ethnic violence. A militia of extremists that belonged to the ethnic group known as the Hutus attempted to rid the world of the Tutsis, the Hutus rival ethnic group. This was to become one of the fastest and most brutal genocides of all time. The reason this genocide happened was a result of many events and decisions that date back to the end of WWI.
For centuries before the white man came, the mild climate and fertile valley of Rwanda provided the ground for a prosperous and vibrant culture. German colonists, who arrived in the 1890's described Rwanda as centrally governed and efficiently run. Before the end of World War I, there were many clans living throughout Rwanda. Today we think of them as different ethnic groups, but actually they were different clans living in different regions of the country, not different ethnic groups. They lived there peacefully among each other.
After World War I, Rwanda was put under Belgian trusteeship by the League of Nations. In order to strengthen their control the Belgians made up a rigid system of classification and divided the ethnically-mixed clan structure into three distinct groups the Twa, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Racist ideas that the Belgians had brought with them made them think that the Tutsis were a superior group. They thought this because the Tutsis seemed more "white" than the other groups to the Belgians because of their physical appearance and the way they acted.
An early Belgian documentary on Rwanda described the Tutsis as being "the dominant race, very intelligent and polite, a very diplomatic people." The same documentary described the Hutus as "farmers with heavy and passive spirits."
Because the Belgians thought the Tutsis were natural rulers, the Belgians placed them in positions of power and the Hutus had to fill the lower, less important positions in society. The Catholic Church also played a role in shaping the new social order. The white priests provided the Tutsis with higher education, which prepared them to govern the colony for the Belgians and to convert other Rwandans to Christianity.
The Hutus, who made up 90 percent of Rwanda's population, were denied many of the rights that the Tutsis were given. For example, the Hutus were denied higher education, land ownership and positions in government. By the 1950's the Hutus' resentment toward the Tutsis and the Belgians had grown.
Also in the 1950's the Tutsis were pushing for independence from Belgian. The Belgians found this out and felt that by favoring the Hutus and trying to restore the balance between the two groups, they could stay in power for a little bit longer.
By 1959, social problems began to erupt between the Tutsis and the Hutus. This launched the Hutu revolution. An independent republic was declared and the Hutus took the place of Tutsis as rulers. They elected the first Hutu president: President Greg wa President Kayabanda. This new leadership was backed by the Catholic Church and had Belgian political and military ties. It also continued many of the racial policies started by the Belgians. Soon, the President took advantage of cross-border raids by Tutsi's and used it as an excuse to retaliate against Tutsis living in Rwanda. Many Tutsi's were thrown out of their jobs, arrested, exiled or murdered.
Fearing for their lives, a large number settled in refugee camps in neighboring countries such as Zaire, Tanzania and Uganda. The refugees were not allowed to return to their homeland but were not accepted in the countries that they fled to.
Inside Rwanda, political struggles occurred between President Kayabanda's supporters and a more extremist group, who used anti-Tutsi propaganda to gain power. In 1972, a cunning army officer named Habyarimana, who represented the extremist point of view, took control of the country in a military coup and declared himself president. With support from Belgium, Habyarimana kept Rwanda under tight control.
While he was in power, there was a general feeling among the Tutsis in exile that the only way to get