Sunday, June 16, 2024

THE RWANDA GENOCIDE: Causes, Genocide, Aftermath and Lessons.


By Chainga Zulu

7th April is the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and serves as a reminder of the need for vigilance against genocide and other mass atrocities, and as an opportunity to honor the victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide. It is a day of remembrance for the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, during which an estimated 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. 29 years since, what were the causes and how can they be prevented? What was the aftermath and successes? What lessons have been drawn and is the world any better? This essay will attempt to answer those questions, and the lessons learnt from this horrific event.


The roots of the Rwanda genocide can be traced back to the colonial period when Belgium took over control of the region. The Belgians implemented a policy of divide and rule, dividing the population into two groups, Tutsis, who were seen as a ruling elite, and Hutus, who were seen as subservient. This created deep-seated tensions between the two groups that were further exacerbated by the formation of ethnic-based political parties in the post-independence period. The Hutu-led government in the 1990s saw the Tutsis as a threat to their power and encouraged the marginalization and persecution of the Tutsi population.


On 6th April, 1994, the plane carrying the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana, was shot down over Kigali, killing him and the Burundian president, Cyprien Ntaryamira. The identity of who shot down President this plane is still a subject of debate and controversy, and I will avoid giving my mind on that. You can have yourself answers by looking at who would have been losers and winners of the peace process that was underway in Burundi and Rwanda at the time. However, this single event served as a catalyst for the genocide that was carried out by the Hutu extremists. The genocide involved the systematic killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The killing was done by the military, militias, and ordinary citizens. The Hutu-led government played a key role in organizing and directing the genocide, using propaganda to incite the masses and encourage them to participate in the killing.

The genocide lasted for 100 days, from April to July 1994. On April 7, 1994, the genocide began with the assassination of moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. Over the next few days, Tutsis and moderate Hutus were targeted for killing, with roadblocks set up to identify and kill Tutsis. The international community and major world powers failed to intervene and stop the genocide, despite clear evidence of the atrocities taking place. The United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) of which Zambia was a part of, was unable to prevent the violence, and on April 21, the UN Security Council even voted to reduce the number of UNAMIR troops in Rwanda. The reasons are many and they range from lack of political will to strategic interests to colonial legacies. By mid-June, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel group, had made significant gains, and by July, they had taken control of the country.


The aftermath of the genocide was devastating, with an estimated of over 800,000 people killed and many more injured, traumatized, and displaced. The RPF established a new government, led by President Paul Kagame, and initiated a process of national reconciliation and justice. This process was aimed at addressing the root causes of the genocide, holding perpetrators accountable, and creating a path forward for the country.

One of the first steps in the national reconciliation and justice process was to establish the Gacaca Courts, which were community-based courts aimed at trying those accused of participating in the genocide. The Gacaca Courts were intended to provide justice for victims and their families, while also giving perpetrators an opportunity to confess and seek forgiveness. The courts were successful in trying over one million cases and played a crucial role in the national reconciliation process.

The government also established the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), which was tasked with promoting unity and reconciliation among the different ethnic groups in the country. The NURC organized a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at promoting reconciliation, such as community dialogues and youth forums.

Another key component of the national reconciliation and justice process was the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was set up to prosecute those responsible for the genocide. The ICTR prosecuted several high-profile cases, including that of Jean Kambanda, the former Prime Minister of Rwanda, who served as the Prime Minister during the country’s genocide and was appointed by the Interahamwe-dominated government that took power after the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. Kambanda was later tried and convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in 1998 becoming the only head of government to have been convicted of genocide by an international tribunal.

In addition to these efforts, the government also invested in education and economic development programs aimed at promoting social and economic inclusion and reducing inequality in the country. These programs were designed to address some of the underlying causes of the genocide, such as poverty and lack of access to education.

Overall, the national reconciliation and justice process in Rwanda was a critical step in the country’s journey towards healing and rebuilding. While there is still much work to be done, the efforts of the government and the people of Rwanda have been recognized as a model for other countries facing similar challenges. The process has shown that reconciliation and justice are possible, even in the face of unimaginable violence and suffering, and that they are essential for building a peaceful and prosperous future for all Rwandans.

Lessons Learnt

The Rwanda genocide serves as a reminder of the devastating consequences of ethnic and political violence, as well as the importance of international cooperation and intervention in preventing such atrocities from occurring. The genocide also highlights the role of media and propaganda in promoting and encouraging violence. The international community failed to act quickly enough to prevent the genocide, and this has led to a greater emphasis on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which unfortunately is selective and politicized, has been used as a pretext for military intervention such as in Libya. Lastly, the Rwanda genocide highlights the importance of addressing the root causes of conflict, such as poverty, inequality, and historical injustices, to prevent future conflicts.


In my conclusion, I have come to understand that despite the vast knowledge and resources available to us, humanity still fails to learn history. Time and time again, we see the same mistakes being made, and the same tragic consequences resulting from them. Hate speech, discrimination, inequality, ethnicism, xenophobia, conflicts and wars continue to rear their ugly heads. Although progress has been made in technology and medicine, on conflicts and wars, humanity has shown to be stick-necked and incorrigible. But there’s hope! We can still make conscious efforts to learn from the Congo Genocide, Holocaust, Bosnian genocide, Rwandan genocide etc and use that knowledge to shape a better future. Whether it be in our personal lives, our communities, or on a global scale, we can all strive to make progress towards a more peaceful, just, and equitable world. As we commemorate the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, lets remember the devastating consequences of hatred and violence and highlight the importance of international cooperation and intervention in preventing such atrocities from occurring.

You cannot own a human being! Sooner or later, someone pushes back! – Miss Giddy (Mad Max: Fury Road)


  1. There’s a video on YouTube featuring former president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere on the instability and violence in the Great Lakes Region that is, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern DRC. Rwanda was in fact more of a nation than Zambia when the 1994 genocide took place. Tutsis and Hutus speak one language. This challenges the thinking of politicians such as Fred M’membe who think that having one language is a unifying factor. The truth is a bit more complicated.

  2. Which came first, the genocide or the downing of the two planes carrying the two presidents i.e. Burundi and Rwanda. And who downed those planes. And will the peace and the wonderful development in Rwanda survive after Paul Kagame has left power?

  3. What a brilliant, coherent and well thought out piece of work.
    Indeed many lessons to be learnt. And UPND are slowly and covertly taking us in this direction.
    People from certain regions are being quietly “sorted out” in misplaced bitterness. Its like all people from certain regions are seen as automatically pf and so must be sorted.
    This evil was bad in the pf error, but has worsened in the upnd era. There is a purge from all state institutions and parastatals.
    Ba upnd, please learn from this. There can be no winners in ending up in a civil war. There is a foolish saying which goes like “revenge is sweet”. This is clearly the upnd doctrine at the moment. Very misplaced.

    • I’m not aware of any purge. If justice matters to you, wait till you see the evidence in what you call a purge at the Ministry of Finance. Some people have quietly refunded the money and have been left alone in the knowledge that the environment under PF encouraged this sort of thing and if you did not participate you could be suspected of secretly supporting the UPND and leaking information to them.

    • #Gunner in Zambia…of course you can’t see this purge because it’s in your favor. Even at State House when I told a friend that the person to replace Bwalya would be a…. He did not agree with me because the master was an all inclusive leader. The rest is like they say is history.

    • They steal and secretly return money. To turn them into witnesses is outrageous.
      Chitotela was denied this idea (and should not be entertained by the State on any citizen). A corrupt thief should not be in shades or layers, all must be treated the same.

  4. It’s such a great pity that our first president Kenneth Kaunda died without ever writing his memiors because of Chiluba’s harassment. As a result we will never know why he took some of the decisions he took in the 1960s. By the time he sat down to try and write, senility had caught up with him. As a result his writing team of Mark Chona and Aaron Milner just gave up because their discussions with KK were not making sense.

  5. Away from politics, at personal level we are all friendly to each other.
    Same way, the Belgians championed, tear apart, “divide and rule”, our present politicians (don’t accuse or single out, UPND, but all), flourish in such divisive tribal narratives and actions that subtract humaninty.
    All political parties have strongholds. Ethnicity or tribe should not be springboard for success. If you “attack one Bemba, you have attacked all Bembas” mantra, for example, is recipe for ruthless aggression. Political tolerance, coexistence, is best answer.

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