The modern human settlement of what is now Rwanda dates from the last glacial era, either in the Neolithic period about 8000 BC or in the lengthy humid period that followed, up to approximately 3000 BC. Archaeological investigations have found evidence of patchy settlement by hunter-gatherers in the late stone age, followed by a larger population of early Iron Age settlers who made dimpled pottery and iron implements. These early occupants were the forefathers of the Twa, Rwanda’s ancient pygmy hunter-gatherers. A number of Bantu tribes moved into Rwanda between 700 BC and 1500 AD, clearing forest area for cultivation. The forest-dwelling Twa were forced to relocate to the mountain slopes after losing most of their home. Historians have various hypotheses about the nature of the Bantu migrations; one hypothesis holds that the initial immigrants were Hutu, and that the Tutsi moved later to create a separate racial group, perhaps of Cushitic ancestry. Another hypothesis holds that the migration was gradual and steady, with new tribes assimilating rather than invading the existing civilization. The Hutu and Tutsi difference, according to this view, emerged later and was a socioeconomic one rather than a racial one.
The clan was the area’s first form of social organization (ubwoko). The clans were not restricted to genealogical lines or geographical region, and the majority of them comprised Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Clans started to consolidate into kingdoms in the 15th century, and by 1700, there were about eight kingdoms in present-day Rwanda. From the mid-eighteenth century, one of them, the Kingdom of Rwanda, controlled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became more powerful. During the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri in the nineteenth century, the kingdom expanded to its maximum size. Rwabugiri conquered several smaller states, expanded the kingdom west and north, and instituted administrative reforms such as ubuhake, a corvée system in which Tutsi patrons ceded cattle and thus privileged status to Hutu or Tutsi clients in exchange for economic and personal service, and uburetwa, a corvée system in which Hutu were forced to work for Tutsi chiefs. The developments in Rwabugiri created a schism between the Hutu and Tutsi communities. The Twa fared better than in pre-Kingdom days, with some becoming royal court dancers, but their numbers continued to decrease.
The area was given to Germany as part of German East Africa during the Berlin Conference in 1884, ushering in the colonial period. In 1894, the explorer Gustav Adolf von Götzen was the first European to make major inroads into the nation, crossing from the south-east to Lake Kivu and meeting the monarch. The Germans did not substantially change the country’s social structure, but they wielded authority by backing the monarch and the existing hierarchy and transferring power to local chiefs. During World War I, Belgian troops seized control of Rwanda and Burundi, ushering in an era of more direct colonial administration. Belgium streamlined and centralized power structures and implemented large-scale initiatives in education, health, public works, and agricultural oversight, including new crops and better agricultural methods, in an attempt to decrease the frequency of famine. Both the Germans and the Belgians advocated Tutsi dominance, despite the fact that the Hutu and Tutsi were distinct races. Belgium issued identification cards in 1935, labeling each person as Tutsi, Hutu, Twa, or Naturalised. Previously, it was conceivable for exceptionally affluent Hutu to become honorary Tutsi; however, the identification cards prohibited any further mobility between the classes.
After WWII, Belgium ruled Rwanda as a UN Trust Territory, with a mission to supervise independence. Tensions rose between the Tutsi, who advocated for early independence, and the Hutu emancipation movement, culminating in the 1959 Rwandan Revolution, in which Hutu militants started murdering Tutsi, causing more than 100,000 to flee to neighboring nations. Belgians, now pro-Hutu, conducted a referendum in 1961, and the nation decided to remove the monarchy. Rwanda seceded from Burundi in 1962 and achieved independence. Exiled Tutsi attacked from neighboring nations, and the Hutu retaliated with large-scale murder and persecution of the Tutsi. Juvénal Habyarimana seized power in a military coup in 1973. Pro-Hutu prejudice persisted, although there was more economic success and less violence against Tutsi. The Twa remained marginalized, and by 1990, the government had almost completely driven them out of the woods; many became beggars. Rwanda’s population had grown from 1.6 million in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989, creating competition for land.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel organization made up mainly of Tutsi exiles, stormed northern Rwanda in 1990, kicking off the Rwandan Civil War. Neither side was able to achieve a decisive victory in the conflict, but by 1992, it had damaged Habyarimana’s power; public protests prompted him to form a coalition with the domestic opposition and ultimately sign the Arusha Accords with the RPF. On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana’s aircraft was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him. The downing of the aircraft acted as a trigger for the Rwandan Genocide, which broke out within a few hours. Between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were murdered in well-planned assaults on the interim government’s instructions over the period of around 100 days. Despite not being specifically targeted, several Twa were murdered. The Tutsi RPF resumed their assault and gradually seized control of the nation, taking control of the whole country by mid-July. The international reaction to the massacre was minimal, with major countries unwilling to expand the UN peacekeeping force, which was already overstretched. Fearing retaliation, nearly two million Hutu fled to neighboring countries, particularly Zare; in addition, the RPF-led army was a major combatant in the First and Second Congo Wars. With the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the restoration of Gacaca, a traditional village court system, Rwanda entered an era of reconciliation and justice. Rwanda’s economy, tourist numbers, and Human Development Index have all risen quickly since 2000; between 2006 and 2011, the poverty rate fell from 57 percent to 45 percent, while life expectancy increased from 46.6 years in 2000 to 59.7 years in 2015.