Pre-colonial times

Until the 15th century: It is still quite difficult to reconstruct the history of the area around present-day Rwanda, because there are no written testimonies and records. The oral traditions are often personally colored in their interpretation. For sure, that area has been settled by different groups and in different waves, and gradually a common culture and a common language, the Kinyarwanda, is emerging. Gradually, the terms "Hutu", "Tutsi" and "Twa" are formed - they go back to social and family distinctions and thus denote different statuses. In the center of social and economic organization in pre-colonial times is the family (inzu = house) with patrilineal descent. The family is part of a larger social unit, the lineage (umuryango). These in turn can form clans (ubwooko). Kingdoms develop above all this. However, the system is permeable in itself: Marriages between the different groups are possible and lineages separated by social stratification can belong to one clan. Depending on the economic development it is therefore possible to have a social advancement or relegation.

15th to 17th century: The Banyiginya kingdom asserts itself in central, southern and eastern Rwanda against other kingdoms and thereby expands greatly. Especially the areas in central Rwanda ruled by Bantu peoples are taken. In this kingdom, the Tutsis exercise jurisdiction and the king is given religious functions, which is accompanied by a sacralization of the kingdoms. King Ndori Ruganzu, who unified central Rwanda in the 16th century, is considered the great unifier of the nation.

18th century: King Cyilima Rujugira expands the military, establishes secure borders and successfully fends off various attacking neighbors, especially from Burundi. King Yuhi Gahindiro carries out various reforms, including the appointment of two administrators in each district. In the north, kingdoms continue to resist the central royal court.

Colonial times and independence

1890s: When the Germans arrive in Rwanda towards the end of the 19th century, the country is in the midst of a major internal conflict. The violent king Kigeri Rwabugiri is overthrown in 1895 in an open revolt. King Musinga is able to assert himself as his successor, but he lacks the support of parts of the Lineages.

1899: Rwanda officially becomes part of the East African colony of the German Empire. The Rwandans retain most of their autonomy and do not have to pay taxes. However, they are to recognize the German Emperor as the highest ruler. In return, King Musinga, who is provided by a Tutsi dynasty, receives military support from the German military administration in asserting his claim to power, thus intervening for the first time from outside in an inner-Rwandan conflict.

1916: Belgium and Great Britain attack the Rwandan-Burundian part of German East Africa and are able to take it within six weeks by a force far superior in numbers to the Germans.

1923: Belgium is granted Rwandan-Burundian territory as an administrative mandate of the League of Nations. Despite many conditions imposed by the League of Nations, the Belgians exercise more direct control than Germany. Initially they still practised indirect government with the existing kingdom, but through several administrative reforms they weakened the power of the king, especially by introducing freedom of religion and promoting the secularisation of the king. As a consequence, the introduction of identity cards in which Rwandans are classified according to ethnicity (Hutu, Tutsi, Twa) is devastating. The system of layers, which had been permeable until then, was thus irrevocably fixed. At the same time, the Tutsi are particularly promoted in higher education and thus find employment in the Belgian colonial administration.

1957: In more educated Hutu circles, an emancipation movement develops which finally publishes the so-called "Bahutu Manifesto", which demands freedom from the Belgians but also the renunciation of the monarchy. Various parties were formed, including Parmehutu, a democratic peasant party.

1959: An uprising, also known as the "Wind of Destruction", is started, triggered by the rumour that a Hutu politician had been killed by Tutsis. The revolution brings two weeks of violence throughout the country, killing 20,000 people and causing many Tutsis to flee in a first major movement. The Belgians crush the uprising.

1961/1962: In September 1961 there are the first legislative elections and a vote on the monarchy. 80 percent of those eligible to vote, vote against a monarchy, 77 percent are in favour of the Parmehutu. On 1 July 1962 Rwanda becomes independent.

1964/1965: In the winter of 1964/1965, the Hutu take revenge on the Tutsi with massacres. In recent years, the Tutsi have repeatedly attacked Rwanda from neighbouring countries, especially Burundi. About 14,000 Tutsis were killed and over 300,000 fled in a second great wave.

Civil war and genocide

1987: Descendants of the Tutsi who fled Rwanda in the 1950s and 1960s and who served in the Ugandan army under Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and overthrew the former President of Uganda, Milton Obote, with him, found the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR). Oppositional Hutu also belong to it.

1990: On October 1, about 5,000 rebels, members of the FPR, cross the border between Uganda and Rwanda with the aim of overthrowing the government and thus forcing the return of Rwandan refugees. The Rwandan government categorically refuses to take back refugees for fear of distribution issues, land conflicts and internal power struggles. With the help of a French intervention force, the Rwandan army finally succeeds in driving back the rebels. FPR commander Fred Rwigyema falls during the attack. He is replaced by Paul Kagame, who succeeds in occupying parts of the north permanently. The now beginning civil war causes severe economic problems. The first large refugee camps are established around Kigali and in Akagerapark.

1993: After protracted negotiations between the transitional government and the FPR, a peace agreement is signed on 4 August.

6 April 1994: Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and other members of the government are killed in a plane crash caused by a missile attack near the capital Kigali. It is now believed that radical Hutu are responsible for the shooting down.

April-July 1994: In the hundred days following 6 April, it is estimated that between 800,000 and one million people, mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutu and about 10,000 Twa, who are seen as sympathizers of the Tutsis, will be murdered. Some people, mainly politicians, are deliberately killed by the presidential guard and the Interahamwe (a paramilitary Hutu group). The willingness to use violence spreads to the civilian population, incited by the radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM). Murder in Rwanda becomes a murder among neighbours, friends and family - even relatives and loved ones are not spared. There is a first large mass exodus of the population to the Congo and Tanzania.

1994: On 17 July, the FPR declares the civil war to be over after having conquered Kigali and Gisenyi. The members of the Interahamwe and many other perpetrators flee mainly to former Zaire. After the end of the war, the full extent of the devastation becomes apparent. A functioning infrastructure, the economy and a public administration must be completely rebuilt. Thousands of refugees are roaming the country. There is a second mass flight of up to 2 million Rwandans to the Congo and Tanzania.

The Rwandan parliament is formed. President becomes Pasteur Bizimungu - a Hutu. Paul Kagame, supreme commander of the FPR, becomes vice president and defence minister. A transitional constitution is drawn up on the basis of the 1991 constitution and the 1993 Arusha Treaty.

A new beginning in Rwanda

Since 2000: After tensions between President Bizimungu and his deputy Paul Kagame, Kagame becomes the new president in Rwanda. With Paul Kagame assuming the office of president, the government and public administration are increasingly authoritarian. Opposition groups and parties face increasing oppression. For a new national social beginning, the use of the terms Hutu and Tutsi is banned and they are removed from identity cards. At the same time, the criminal offence of divisionism is introduced. Thus, anyone who speaks publicly and acts politically in ethnic categories will be punished. The paragraph is controversial, as it does not define exactly what ethnic thought encompasses. In the "Vision 2020", Rwanda's concrete goals for the next 20 years are defined. The agricultural country should increasingly become a service society and the population should have a medium income on average. The "Vision 2020" will be the basis for the new government. All the parties admitted to the government see the "Vision 2020" as binding for them.


Text: Friederike Vigeland, aus: Auf dem Weg- Lebenslinien der Partnerschaft Rheinland-Pfalz/Ruanda (gekürzte Fassung).