As early as the 15th century there were three distinct groups of people, the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa living in Rwanda. The Tutsi, from further north, conquered the area, and became the ruling power, and forced the Hutu into a feudal type system that was strictly enforced. The Twa, the smallest minority group, were court jesters and often exploited. John Speke became the first European to visit Rwanda, and in 1895 the Rwandans accepted German rule to become part of German East Africa. The Germans, however, were at first completely dependent on the existing government; they did nothing to develop the country economically. The German authority kept the indigenous administration system by applying the same type of indirect rule established by the British Empire in the Ugandan kingdoms.
After Germany's loss in World War I, the protectorate was taken over by Belgium with a League of Nations mandate. Belgian rule in the region was far more direct and harsh than that of the Germans. However, the Belgian colonisers did realize the value of native rule. Backed by Christian churches, the Belgians used the minority Tutsi upper class over the lower classes of Tutsis and Hutus. Belgian-forced labour policies and stringent taxes were mainly enforced by the Tutsi upper class, whom the Belgians used as buffers against people's anger, thus further polarising the Hutu and the Tutsi. Many young peasants, in order to escape tax harassment and hunger, migrated to neighbouring countries. They moved mainly to Congo but also to Ugandan plantations, looking for work.
After World War II Rwanda became a UN trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. Through a series of processes - including several reforms, the assassination of King Mutara III Charles in 1959 and the fleeing of the last Abega clan monarch, King Kigeli V to Uganda - the Hutu gained more and more power. Upon Rwanda's independence in 1962, they virtually held it all.
Gregoire Kayibanda was Rwanda's first president (1962-1973), followed by Juvenal Habyarimana (1973-1994). The latter, who many view as a ruthless dictator, was unable to find a solution to increasing social unrest, the calls for democracy and the long-running problem of Rwandan Tutsi refugees. Rwanda had by the 1990s up to one million refugees scattered around neighbouring countries, the majority of them in Uganda and Burundi.
In 1990, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda. During the course of the fighting, top Rwandan government officials, mainly Hutu, began secretly training young men into informal armed bands called Interahamwe ("coming together"). Government officials also launched a radio station that began anti-Tutsi propaganda. The military government of Juvénal Habyarimana responded to the RPF invasion with pogroms against Tutsis, whom it claimed were trying to re-enslave the Hutus. In August 1993 the Rwandan government and the RPF signed a cease-fire agreement known as the Arusha Accords in Arusha, Tanzania to form a power sharing government, but fighting between the two sides continued. The United Nations sent a peacekeeping force named the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), under the leadership of Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire. UNAMIR was vastly under-funded and under-staffed. More details of this aspect of the conflict are starkly explained in Dallaire's 2003 book Shake Hands With the Devil.
During the armed conflict, the RPF was blamed for the bombing of Kigali. These attacks were actually carried out by the Hutu army as part of a campaign to create a reason for a political crackdown and ethnic violence. On April 6 1994, President Habyarimana was assassinated when his Falcon 50 trijet was shot down while landing in Kigali. It remains unclear who was responsible for the assassination — most credible sources point to the Presidential Guard, spurred by Hutu nationalists fearful of losing power, although others believe that Tutsi rebels were responsible, possibly with the help of Belgian mercenaries. Over the next three months, the military and Interahamwe militia groups killed between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in the Rwandan Genocide. The RPF continued to advance on the capital, and occupied the northern, the eastern, and the southern parts of the country by June 1994. Thousands of civilians were killed in the conflict. U.N. Member States refused to answer UNAMIR's requests for increased troops and money. Meanwhile, French troops were dispatched to stabilise the situation under Opération Turquoise, but this only resulted in an exacerbation of the situation, with the evacuation limited to foreign nationals.
On July 4 1994, the war ended as the RPF entered the capital Kigali. In the resulting Great Lakes refugee crisis over 2 million Hutus fled the country after the war, fearing Tutsi retribution. Most have since returned, although some Hutus remained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including some militia members that became involved in the First Congo War and the Second Congo War. In 1996, after repeated unsuccessful appeals to the UN and the international community to deal with the security threat posed by the remnants of the defeated genocidal forces on its eastern border, Rwanda invaded eastern Congo (then Zaire) in an effort to eliminate the Interahamwe groups operating there. This action, and the simultaneous one by Ugandan troops, contributed to the outbreak of the First Congo War and the eventual fall of long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (former President of Zaire).