Historical Timeline


Before colonization, Rwanda existed as a unified political entity. It had a highly developed social structure with a King at the top of the administrative ladder supported by different chiefs; such as umutware w’umucence and umutware w’inka. Historically the Rwandan population comprised three socio-economic groups: Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. These groups were not fixed and distinct; belonging to either group depended on one’s socio-economic status, specifically the number of cows owned by an individual at a given time. Anybody with more than 15 cows qualified to be a Tutsi, and those with less than 15 cows became Hutu. This status always changed based on one’s ability/luck to attain/lose some cows.
All Rwandans belonged to the same clans. Although the King was usually a Tutsi, the Chiefs were drawn from the different social groups in Rwanda.

Colonial era: the 'ethnization' of Rwandan society (1885 - 1933)

The colonial era was characterised with the introduction of a divisive governance system.


•  1885 Rwanda became a province of German East Africa, an arrangement that went on until 1919.

•  1922 the League of Nations Mandated Belgium to govern Rwanda as its territory, Ruanda-Urundi.

•  1925 the Belgium rule banned important cultural practices of Rwanda such as Ubwiru and Umuganura.

•  1933 ethnic based identity cards issued by the Belgians to Rwandan Citizens for the first time. The Colonialists (Germans and later Belgians) introduced a divide and rule policy that started with favoring the Tutsi against the Hutu, and later Hutu against the Tutsi.

Decolonization: an ethnic conflict born out the struggle for independence (March 1957 - November 1959)

The independence struggle was accompanied with the emergence of ethnic-based conflicts.


•  March 1957 The Hutu Manifesto denounces social injustice and discrimination in ethnic terms while the overwhelming majority of the Tutsi population shared the same fate as their Hutu compatriots. The Manifesto demands the political empowerment of Hutus and no independence


•  June 1958 The country’s Supreme Council voted a motion for the (ethnic) terms Hutu, Tutsi and Twa to be removed from official documents


•  September-October 1959: Creation of the first political parties some for rapid independence or opposed to it.


•  September 1959 – November 1959 September 1959 – November 1959: “The Hutu Social Revolution” amidst mass killings and deportation of Tutsi, the Belgian colonial administration and Catholic Church helped Hutu political parties seize power and installed a Hutu Republic. 

The Hutu Republics (First Republic 1962-1973; Second Republic 1973-1994)

Radicalisation of divisive governance system: discrimination against Tutsi population increased, communitarianism and nepotism were strengthened.



•  December 1963-January 1964 acts of genocide against the Tutsi in retaliation to guerrilla attacks on the borders by Inyenzi (Tutsi refugee armed insurgents).


•  January 1964 300,000 Tutsi refugees in neighbouring countries definitively banned from coming back to Rwanda.

•  February-March 1973 Violence and going into exile of thousands of Tutsi students and civil servants.

•  July 1986 the then government Party, MRND declared the country too small and too full to permit the return of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees.

•  In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a guerrilla war against the Habyalimana government. The government in an attempt to embrace democracy allowed creation of several opposition parties in Rwanda. Resistance to change encouraged MRND to start a series of targeted mass killings of Tutsi in October 1990, January 1991, November 1991, March 1992, May 1992, August 1992, and January 1993. These killings culminated into the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

•  August 1993 the First protocol of the Arusha Peace Agreements was signed between the Government of Rwanda and RPF that aimed to put an end the war, and establish a Broad-based Government of National Unity composed of MRND, the RPF and other eight opposition political parties.

•  April-July 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as radical resistance to change carried out by the state and Hutu extremist political parties

•  14 July 1994 The RPF defeats the extremist government and inherited a Post genocide environment characterized by : break down of governance and leadership systems, over 3 million refugees, IDPs, a militarized society, insecurity,  poverty, poor of infrastructure, thousands of genocide convicts, insufficient administrative and justice personnel and a destroyed social fabric among others.


The path towards reconciliation (August 1992 - November 1996)

After the genocide, the Government of unity concentrated on rebuilding the unity of Rwandans.


•  December 1963-January 1964 acts of genocide against the Tutsi in retaliation to guerrilla attacks on the borders by Inyenzi (Tutsi refugee armed insurgents).

•  August 1992: The First protocol of the Arusha Peace Agreements signed that aimed to put an end to the war and establish a Broad-based Government of National Unity including the former party-state MRND, the RPF and the internal political opposition.
•  19th July 1994, creation by the RPF of the Government of National Unity with all the political parties or factions of parties that were not involved in the genocide with as constitutional basis the modified Arusha Agreements. The transitional government was formed based on provisions of the Arusha Peace Accord, RPF Declaration and the 1991 Constitution. With few trained professionals left, government officials recruited skilled Rwandans living abroad to return and take leadership positions in the Government. Many Government officials worked for months without pay.
•  December 1994, beginning of the integration of ex-FAR into the new national army the RPA. 1011 soldiers and 81 officers integrated into the RPA including in the army high command.
•  November 1996: return of 700.000 refugees from Zaire (today DRC); December 1996, 550.000 refugees from Tanzania repatriated.

The Path toward political and socio-economic transformation (May 1998 - 2017)

After recording tremendous development progress, transformative initiatives are the pillars of the country’s current focus.


•  December 1963-January 1964 acts of genocide against the Tutsi in retaliation to guerrilla attacks on the borders by Inyenzi (Tutsi refugee armed insurgents).

•  May 1998-March 1999: The Urugwiro Village political consultations, which laid out the institutions and major socioeconomic-policies for the transformation of Rwanda were held. Urugwiro consultations were conducted around key issues of national priority in the aftermaths of the war and genocide: leadership, justice, economy, history and national unity and reconciliation. The revival of some Rwandan cultural based systems as sources of solutions to Rwanda’s problems was one of the major outcomes.

•  July 2000: Launching of Vision 2020 strategy for socioeconomic transformation
The Gender Action Plan was initiated in 2000 to eliminate discrimination against women. The Law Reform Commission was created in 2000 to oversee the reform of the judicial system.


•  A new flag and national anthem were adopted in 2001 and the Government revived a monthly National day of Service, Umuganda.


•  In 2002, the Gacaca courts were established. These courts which drew from the Rwandan culture, played an important role in expediting justice. to both the victims and perpetrators of the genocide where by close to By 2012, two (2) million genocide cases had been tried at the close of the Gacaca courts in 2012. In February 2003, the government released 30,000 prisoners. Since 1994, the private media sector had been banned from broadcasting because of the prominent role several media outlets had played in inciting the genocide. The ban was lifted in 2003.


•  2017, Rwanda initiated the National Strategy for Transformation (NST), a seven-year strategy expected to guide until 2024. The program is expected to cover the EDPRS II. In addition, the Government developed Vision 2050, aimed at building on the achievements of Vision 2020 and ensure that high standards of living for all Rwandans is attained.

Rwandans’ experiences during the colonial, decolonisation and post-independence periods shaped the country’s transformation journey. This page sets a summarised picture of the historical background of Rwanda and its people. You will find key historical references here.

Following the devastating 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has embarked on a journey of reconstruction, development and, more recently, socio-economic transformation. 

This platform documents the approaches, policies, and programs that are fueling that journey. We welcome you to learn about Rwanda’s experience thus far.

Please talk to us at Hello@hgs.rgb.rw