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FAQs: Rwanda genocide and aftermath

By Kathryn Reid
Apr 2, 2014
©2008 Jon Warren/World Vision
Tutsi Pastor Anastase Sabamungu (left) and Hutu teacher Joseph Nyamutera visit a Rwandan cemetery where 6,000 genocide victims are buried.

What happened during the 1994 Rwanda genocide?

From April through June 1994, the U.N. estimates that 800,000 Rwandans were brutally slaughtered by fellow citizens in a state-led genocide targeting the Tutsi ethnic group. Seventy-five percent of the Tutsi population was killed.

What is a genocide?

Considered the worst crime against humanity, genocide is the planned mass killing of a racial, ethnic, or religious group. The term was first applied, retrospectively, to the Holocaust of World War II, when millions of European Jews were systematically killed. 

What led to the Rwanda genocide?

Under colonial rule, tensions had long simmered between ethnic Hutus, predominantly farmers, and Tutsis, who raised cattle. Hutus were in the majority, though Tutsis generally commanded greater wealth and social position.

  • A Hutu uprising in 1959 resulted in a civil war that ended Tutsi domination.
  • In 1962, when Rwanda gained independence from Belgium, 120,000 Rwandans — mostly Tutsis — fled the country. Hutu leaders gained control of Rwanda.
  • Starting in the late 1980s, Rwanda exile groups made political and military moves to repatriate.
  • Peacemaking attempts in 1993 by the United Nations and regional African governments were unsuccessful. 
  • On April 6, 1994, Rwanda President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutus, were killed in a rocket attack on their airplane, while returning from peace negotiations.
  • A 100-day spree of brutal violence immediately ensued, perpetrated mainly by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

What were the conditions in Rwanda after the killing stopped?

The country was devastated; survivors were physically and psychologically damaged. Families were decimated, their homes and communities destroyed. Up to 2 million people fled the country, including many of the Hutu ethnic group perpetrators. A million people were displaced within the country. Of the survivors, 75,000 were children who lost one or both parents.

What was World Vision’s response to post-genocide humanitarian needs in Rwanda?

World Vision began working in Rwanda in 1994, providing life-giving emergency aid to displaced people and helping them to resettle. The organization cared for many children who had lost their parents. World Vision’s peace building and reconciliation programs laid the foundation on which many lives, families, and communities are being rebuilt today.

How did World Vision facilitate peace and reconciliation?

World Vision started a reconciliation and peace building program in which all staff were trained to become agents of healing.

The reconciliation process follows a specific model that endures today — a two-week program of sharing intensely personal memories of the genocide, learning new tools to manage deeply painful emotions, and considering a path to forgiveness.

The training had three components: bereavement, dealing with emotions, and forgiveness. Those who had participated in the genocide were brought face to face with, or wrote letters, to those who had been victims.

The approach was replicated all over the country and embraced by the new government. It was often resisted at first and sometimes took years to change hearts, but in case after case — it worked.

What issues are Rwandans facing now, and what is World Vision doing there to make life better for children?

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in continental Africa, and children make more than half of the population of 11.5 million. HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, and poor maternal and child health are ongoing issues. World Vision helps families and communities to prevent, as well as diagnose and treat health problems.

Since the dark days of civil war and genocide, Rwanda has made much progress in terms of its development. However, 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. World Vision programs that improve schools and instruction, from primary to secondary and vocational education, are helping build a sustainable future for young Rwandans.  

In 21 districts, nearly 85,000 children are registered in World Vision child sponsorship programs that are helping transform communities through economic development and improvements in health, education, and spiritual growth.

Pray for Rwanda

  • Praise God for the reconciliation programs that have brought people back to faith and healed their broken hearts.
  • Pray for children, who are the majority of the population and have no memories of the genocide. Education and economic development offer them ways to break the cycle of hostility.
  • Pray for leaders of churches, that these former scenes of slaughter can be redeemed as houses of worship for all Rwandans, united by the love of Christ

Additional resources

The editors at World Vision magazine recommend the following books for further reading on the Rwandan genocide:

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
By Immaculee Ilibagiza

Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey
By Fergal Keane

A Sunday at the Poor in Kigali
By Gil Courtemanche

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda
By Philip Gourevitch

Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
By Jean Hatzfeld

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
By Jean Hatzfeld

The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide
By Jean Hatzfeld

My Father, Maker of the Trees: How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide
By Eric Irivuzumagabe

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