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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The road to genocide

Although the histories of Hutu and Tutsi people are disputed, Lutheran pastor John Rutsindintwarane says Hutu and Tutsi were historical classes determined more by a person's job (raising cattle vs. farming) than by ethnicity.

Memorial sites around Rwanda testify to the evil unleashed during the 1994 genocide: hundreds of skulls that once were living, breathing men, women and children. More than 900,000 were killed.
In 1916, when the Belgians colonized the land, they treated the minority Tutsi preferentially. When the Belgians pulled out in 1962, they handed power to the majority Hutu, who turned on the Tutsi. Some 200,000 Tutsis fled to Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire).

Rwandan exiles formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front to re-enter the country by negotiation or force.

After generations of alienation among the country's people, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu), died in an April 1994 plane crash. Immediately, extremist Hutu political groups began using militia, army and others to execute political opponents, including Tutsi and moderate Hutu.

The new government included no Tutsis, removed moderate Hutus from power, and unleashed ethnic hatred and propaganda via Rwandan media, stirring up neighbors against neighbors. Identity cards denoting Hutu or Tutsi allowed the government to draw up lists of those to be exterminated.

The RPF finally stopped the killing and established a "Government of Unity," with a parliament that incorporates several political parties. The government welcomed back about 3 million Tutsi and Hutu refugees, restoring the country to nearly the same ethnic proportions — 85 percent Hutu to 15 percent Tutsi.


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