Ethnic conflicts, meaning a war or disagreement between two ethnic groups as a result of ethnic nationalism, are occurring in many parts of the world today. It is believed the ethnic conflicts occur because of competition against ethnicities to dominate nationalities, and overlapping of ethnicities and nationalities. One of the largest ethnic conflicts in history was the conflict in Rwanda against the Hutus and Tutsis in the 1990s.
In the 15th century, the Tutsis were considered the powerful and wealthy group and ruled over much of Rwanda even though they were not the majority of the population. Hutus, who made up approximately 80% of the population were mostly farmers and peasants who were discriminated against. Tutsi Kings, known as Mwamis started to centralize their power and authority, and instead of passing down land through lineage groups, they distributed land to certain individuals. Another system that the Mwamis put in action was a patronage system, in which they would only give Hutus land if they did manual labor. Hutus were being completely discriminated against by the Tutsis. People even started to believe that the labels of “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were not ethnic labels, but were really labels of power and status. Tension between these groups were starting to build even more until 1889, when Rwanda and Burundi were annexed by Germany. But after Germany was defeated in World War I, the two colonies were given to Belgium. The Belgians gave racial identification cards to all citizens, but still gave preferential treatment to Tutsis in education, politics, and business. In 1959, the Hutus reached a breaking point and decided to conduct a social revolution led by the nationalist party Parmehutu. This foundation resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 Tutsis, and 200,000 people fleeing to other countries. After the social revolution, Rwanda won its independence from Belgium in 1961.
The Hutu group remained powerful during the 1970s, because most Tutsis were still living in surrounding countries, afraid to return to their homelands. But Tutsis, were also building up their own army in the refugee camps. Many Tutsi refugees living in Uganda had joined the National Resistance Movement during the Ugandan Bush War. Finally on October 1, 1990 Tutsi forces invaded Rwanda trying to bring the Tutsi group back into power. The civil war in Rwanda had started. After three years of a brutal war, on August 4, 1993, the Rwandan Patriotic Front signed the Arusha Accrods that were supposed to end the civil war. The accords took away all power from Juvenal Habyarimana (president), and the power was transdfered to the Transitional Broad Based Government, until new political leaders could be elected. The Hutus, who were outraged at what the Tutsis had just done devised weapon caches and plans to destroy the Tutsis. The Hutus wanted to completely eliminate the Tutsi race, and preparations for genocide had begun. Most Tutsis were killed in their villages or in central towns often by neigbors and other people living in the same village. The militia typically killed them by beating them with machetes and rifles. The victims, desperate to avoid attacks hid in churches and school building, but Hutu Gangs found them there and killed them. Hutus who refused to kill the Tutsis and participate in the genocide were also killed. From July to April, it is estimated that 1,000,071 people were killed. The victory of the RPF rebels and overthrow of the Hutu regime ended the genocide in July 1994, 100 days after it started.
After the genocide, approximately two million Hutus who participated in the genocide and feared Tutsi retaliation fled to Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire, and stayed in refugee camps. Many of them died from cholera and dysentery epidemics.
Many people believe that the effort to help solve this conflict and settle problems among the Hutus and Tutsis was not strong enough. In fact, the United States was accused of not playing a role in preventing the genocide. The United States knew what to expect after threats of genocide from the Hutus, but still did not take action. The United States believed that it was an “unpreventable conflict” that was due to “ancient tribal hatreds”. The United States also accused this area of having many cases like this, and that this one was merely the same. Although the government tried to step in and change laws, they did not play an active role in trying to prevent the Hutus from killing millions of Tutsis. Some efforts that were made to try and solve the problem were taking power away from the Hutu president, transfering power to the Transitional Broad Based Government. The government also tried to help Tutsis by providing them places to stay when they fleed the country.
Rwanda, being a multiethnic state has had many problems because of ethnic competition to dominate a nationality. Today, most of the these problems have been solved due to ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing, a process in which a more powerful group forcibly removes a less powerful one in order to create a ethnically homogenous region. The Hutus being the majority of the population, succeded in turning Rwanda into a country with only one ethnicity. ]
The Rwandan Genocide was one of the largest ethnic conflicts in the world that was a result of two ethnicities in a competition for land and power. Over one-million people were killed in a time span of just two months, and even more were killed from refugee camps. This case is an excellent example of what may happen if something simple, like a feud over land can turn into something as huge as a genocide.
To learn more about the Rwandan Genocide, click here
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