In 1961 the victorious Hutu-led Parmehutu party, having been elected to power, proclaimed a republic and abolished the Tutsi monarchy. In the following year, 1962, Rwanda achieved independence and Grégoire Kayibanda was elected the first president of the Rwandan Republic. Tutsis became the victims of official discrimination in virtually all public services and in political involvement.
Kayibanda was overthrown by his National Defence Minister Juvénal Habyarimana in a coup in July 1973. Habyarimana’s Second Republic claimed to be sympathetic to Tutsis; but this was not borne out in fact. In the years that followed under the leadership of the one party system, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND), Tutsis continued to experience violence, arrests, intimidation and abuse.
Violence was never far from the surface in these times. In 1959 King Rudahingwa of Rwanda had died in mysterious circumstances while under the care of a Belgian doctor. The outbreak of violence that followed marked the beginning of a Rwandan ‘social revolution’, with a peasant revolt that left 20,000 Tutsis dead. Thousands more were forced to flee as refugees, and an estimated 200,000 settled in Uganda. From 1963 to 1967, 100,000 Tutsis were butchered with machetes and dumped in rivers, and in 1973, Tutsi students were massacred in their thousands. Habyarimana’s regime used ethnicity as a political strategy in order to hold on to power at any cost. Regional divisions increased, with northerners (the president’s henchmen) taking over virtually all economic and political power.
Meanwhile, Rwandans living in exile were pressing to return home, but were met with no response from the government. Finally, in 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an invasion from Uganda. A series of agreements backed by the international community was signed between the RPF and the government of Rwanda to ensure a peaceful settlement of the Rwandan crisis. On 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana signed a final agreement with the RPF, but on his way back from Dar-es-Salaam to Kigali his plane was shot down and he was killed.