This Day in History: April 6, 1994

Ebony Edwards-Ellis
3 min readApr 6, 2021

A million people lost their lives during the one hundred day Rwandan Genocide.

(CW: Rape, murder, extreme violence)

A cemetary outside of Kigali, Rwanda. Victims of the 1994 genocide are buried here (Photo credit: Ricardo Mazalan/AP).

Twenty-seven years ago today, a genocide officially began. By the time this genocide wound down, upwards of a million people had been killed, their bodies discarded in mass graves in a small African nation that few in the West had heard of previously. In 1994, Rwanda descended into bloody chaos as its citizens, whipped into an ethnocentric frenzy, beat, raped, and killed their own neighbors with machetes over a period of one hundred days.

It is not possible to understand the genocide without understanding the history of Rwanda. The first inhabitants were the Twa people who are descendants of people who settled the region in 8000 BC. Later migrations of people into the area resulted in the formation of two more groups, the Hutus and the Tutsi. There is some dispute about whether or not the terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi” describe different ethnicities or different socio-economic classes. Regardless of the distinction, any tensions between the elite pastoral Tutsis and the peasant farmer Hutus only intensified after colonialization. The Germans (and later the Belgians), practicing “divide and conquer,” turned the Tutsi into puppet rulers.

In 1959, an uprising of Hutus resulted in the killing and displacement of many Tutsi. In 1961, the Tutsi king was ousted in a coup and the monarchy was abolished. Rwanda declared its independence the next year.

After independence, the newly established republic had elections. Hutus, being the majority of the population, dominated the elections and Hutu nationalism soon took hold. There was intermittent violence between the Tutsis and the Hutus. Tutsi rebels, headquartered in neighboring Uganda, invaded Rwanda in 1990. The subsequent Rwandan Civil War lasted for three years before settling into a stalemate. The war ended with a peace accord signed by the president and the Tutsi rebels.

A year later, when a plane carrying the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi, both Hutus, was shot down by a missile, Tutsi rebels were blamed for the attack. Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM), a radio station founded by Hutu extremists just one year before, regularly used dehumanizing

Ebony Edwards-Ellis

Author of "Former First Lady" and "Memoir of a Royal Consort." Twitter provocateur, aspiring shut-in, and newly minted Roosevelt Islander.