Rwanda was first visited by European explorers in 1854, and became a part of German East Africa in 1890. German explorer Gustav Adolf von Götzen was the first European to significantly explore the country in 1894. During World War I, it was occupied in 1916 by Belgian troops.
Along with Burundi, the country became a Belgian League of Nations mandate after the war. Under the Belgian colonial rule the power structure were simplified and centralized. Large projects in education, health, public works and agricultural supervision were introduced, including new crops and improved agricultural techniques in an effort to reduce the famine.
However, the new practices of colonial administrators were not all beneficial. They selected Tutsis as a group to be privileged and to serve as educated intermediaries between the government and the people. From the European viewpoint of that period they were more aristocratic in appearance – being tall and owning land.
The introduction of class division unsettled the very foundation of Rwandan society. When Tutsi people adopted the worst traits of aristocratic behavior, Hutu started to feel oppressed.
Colonial heritage and political instability
During the 1930s Belgians imposed a system of identity cards sorting each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. The identity cards prevented any movement between the classes and enhanced the distinction between the two tribes. European colonial powers introduced modern weapons and waging war tactics to the country. Resentment among the Hutus gradually built up over time, culminating in several riots in 1959.
Hutu emancipation movement started the rebellion in 1956, losing over 100,000 lives in the fighting. More than 20,000 Tutsi were killed, and over 100,000 fled to the nearby countries. The event was later named Rwandan Revolution when Hutu seized power and started to strip Tutsi communities of their lands. Meanwhile, a number of exiled Tutsi formed the Front Patriotique Rwandais, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), trained their soldiers and waited.
When Belgium relinquished power and granted Rwanda independence in 1962, the Hutu government took control in the country. Politically inexperienced Hutu leaders began to face internal conflicts, resorting to place the blame on Tutsi for every crisis. Tensions grew between communities and provincial factions, while Tutsi resistance grew with every repressive measure taken against them. In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana took power in a a military coup.
Pro-Hutu discrimination continued, Tutsi were excluded from secondary schools and the university, facing systematic discrimination and acts of violence as a sort of historic revenge. Exiled Tutsi attacked on occasion from neighboring countries and Hutu retaliated with large-scale slaughter and formal repression of Tutsi, creating a vicious cycle of violence.
Fall of a president, start of a genocide
In 1990 Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels seized the moment and attacked the government, starting a civil war. A rebel guerrilla army of Tutsi soldiers invaded northern Rwanda, but neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage in the war.
A peace negotiation was arranged by the international community two years later, based on critical points necessary for lasting peace such as the rule of law, repatriation of refugees, power sharing agreement, and the merging of government and rebel armies. The result was Arusha Peace Agreement, a set of five protocols signed in Arusha, Tanzania on August 4, 1993, by the government of Rwanda and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, designed to end a three-year Rwandan Civil War.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down. Violence began almost immediately after that. Hutu extremists launched their plans to destroy the entire Tutsi civilian population. Political leaders who might have been able to take charge of the situation and other high profile opponents of the extremist plans were killed almost immediately. Thus the Rwandan Genocide began.