The original inhabitants of Rwanda were the Twa, a Pygmy people who now make up only 1% of the population. While the Hutu and Tutsi are often considered to be two separate ethnic groups, scholars point out that they speak the same language, have a history of intermarriage, and share many cultural characteristics. Traditionally, the differences between the two groups were occupational rather than ethnic. Agricultural people were considered Hutu, while the cattle-owning elite were identified as Tutsi. The 1933 requirement by the Belgians that everyone carry an identity card indicating tribal ethnicity as Tutsi or Hutu enhanced the distinction.

Rwanda, which became a part of German East Africa in 1890, was first visited by European explorers in 1854. During World War I, it was occupied in 1916 by Belgian troops. After the war, it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate, along with Burundi, under the name of Ruanda-Urundi. The mandate was made a United Nations trust territory in 1946. In 1959, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus, overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. Rwanda became an independent nation on July 1, 1962

In October 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Tutsi rebels in exile in Uganda, invaded in an attempt to overthrow the Hutu-led government. Peace accords were signed in August 1993, calling for a coalition government. After the downing of a plane in April 1994 that killed the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi, deep-seated ethnic violence erupted. The presidential guard began murdering Tutsi opposition leaders, and policemen and soldiers began attempting to murder the entire Tutsi population. In 100 days, beginning in April 1994, Hutu rampaged through the country and slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu sympathizers. A 30,000-member militia group, the Interahamwe, led much of the murderous spree, but goaded by radio propaganda, ordinary Hutu joined in massacring their Tutsi neighbors.

The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994, but approximately 2 million Hutu refugees fled to Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire. Most of the refugees returned to Rwanda, but several thousand remained in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC; the former Zaire) and formed an extremist insurgency bent on retaking Rwanda.

In September 1998, a UN tribunal sentenced Jean Kambanda, a former prime minister of Rwanda, to life in prison for his part in the 1994 genocide. He became the first person in history to be convicted for the crime of genocide, first defined in the 1948 Genocide Convention after World War II. By 2001, eight others had also been convicted. The UN tribunal was criticized for its inefficiency and slow pace. In December 1999, an independent report, commissioned by the UN, took Kofi Annan and other UN officials to task for not intervening effectively in the genocide.

Rwanda held its first local elections in 1999. In April 2000, President Pasteur Bizimungu resigned and Vice President Paul Kagame became the nation's first Tutsi president. It was Kagame's rebel force that seized Rwanda's capital and put an end to the genocide in 1994.

In May 2003, 93% of Rwandans voted to approve a new constitution that instituted a balance of political power between Hutu and Tutsi. No party can hold more than half the seats in parliament. The constitution also outlawed the incitement of ethnic hatred. Paul Kagame won in August 2003 presidential elections, the first since the Rwandan genocide.

In June 2004, former President Pasteur Bizimungu was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.

In 2004, a French judge asserted that Kagame was responsible for the 1994 downing of a plane that killed the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and set off ethnic violence that killed some 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu. Kagame denied the charge. In 2008, Rose Kabuye, a senior aide to Kagame, was arrested at Frankfurt International Airport on a warrant from France and charged in connection with the crash.

A UN court in December 2008 convicted Col. Theoneste Bagosora, a Hutu extremist, of genocide for his involvement in the 1994 massacre. He is the highest-ranking military official charged in connection with the genocide. Several other prominent officials were tried and sentenced to life in prison.

Rwanda staged a joint military operation with the Congolese Army in DRC in 2009 to rout out the Hutu extremist insurgency there and Kigali and Kinshasa restored diplomatic relations.

Despite economic and social gains made under Kagame, hints of repression emerged in the months leading up to August 2010's presidential election. Two opposition leaders were killed, a former army leader was shot in South Africa, and Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the leader of a party who intended to challenge Kagame, was arrested on charges of promoting genocide. Kagame was re-elected, taking 93% of the vote.

Pierre Damien Habumuremyi was appointed as prime minister and sworn in on October 7, 2011.

In December 2011, the International Criminal Court (ICC) freed Hutu rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana after ruling there was insufficient evidence against him. He was the first suspect brought to the court to be freed.

In October 2012, Rwanda's high court sentenced opposition leader Victoire Ingabire to eight years in jail for conspiring to harm the country through war and terror and minimizing the genocide.

In December 2012, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted Augustin Ngirabatware, former government minister and key organizer of the genocide, to 35 years in prison.

In September 2013, the governing Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) won parliamentary elections in a landslide.

© 2013 World Ministries International