Racial tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis began decades ago due to the political divisions created by European colonialism. Things escalated until 1959 when the Hutu revolution occurred. In 1962, Rwanda gained its independence from Belgium, but racial problems continued.
Massacres followed in 1963, 1973, and 1992. The racial tensions finally culminated in the 1994 Genocide, which claimed approximately one million lives. All told, the conflicts took nearly two million lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The 1994 Genocide is infamous for the thorough and brutal elimination of the Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Propaganda was maliciously used to incite hatred against all Tutsis and Tutsi-supporters. Extremists called for the elimination of these “cockroaches” from Rwanda and even from neighbouring countries. Death lists were compiled, murderous soldiers called Interahamwe were trained, and key political players moved the pieces into position.
On April 7th, 1994, the president of the Hutu regime and the president of Burundi were assassinated; their plane was shot down as it descended to land in Kigali. While many believe that the dissatisfied Hutu regime was actually responsible for the attack, government officials blamed the Tutsis and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed mostly of Tutsi refugees, and immediately instigated their carefully laid plans.
Within an hour, Kigali City had been blocked off, Interahamwe were moving from house to house to kill any Tutsis, and the Hutu militia had organized death squads that roamed the city and countryside, killing any who were fleeing. Hutus who refused to participate were killed by the militia and Interahamwe.
Over the next 100 days, the international world watched in horror as a group of people was systematically eradicated in one of the worst genocides in history.
Survivors suffer deeply from their losses and traumatic experiences. Many youths watched their parents die trying to protect them, and others bear the guilt of knowing that their parents participated in the killings. Some African psychologists have estimated that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is as prevalent as 1 in 3 among survivors and their children.
Widows and orphans are challenged to provide for themselves and struggle to survive without the means to pursue education or employment. The culture as a whole also bears the scars of the Genocide as it grieves the death of its families, the travesty of suffering, and the loss of its innocence.