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A Picture from History: The Rwandan Genocide

It was April 6, 1994.

A surface-to-air missile shot down Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane.

Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Dutch prime-minister Dries van Agt toasting.

Habyarimana was a prominent Hutu, and while no one ever discovered who launched the rocket…there’s no mistaking what the assassination caused.

Within one hour, the Rwandan Genocide began.

The Lead-Up

Rwanda was primarily composed of two ethnic groups – the Hutu (85%) and the Tutsi (14%).

For decades the Tutsi experienced legal persecution at the hands of the Hutu.

Tutsi Herdsman
Tutsi Herdsman (Photo: Rwanda Library)

Tutsi were excluded from prominent careers, subject to education quotas, argued to be inferior, and subject to a series of other forms of “legalized” discrimination.

Things were exacerbated after civil war broke out in 1990. This, in turn, led to further anti-Tutsi sentiments.

The country was a powder keg, and it didn’t take long for the fuse to be lit.


Instantly after Habyarimana’s death, calls for the extermination of Tutsi began.

Within an hour, roadblocks popped up throughout Rwanda courtesy of the Presidential Guard, the Rwandan armed forces, and various armed Hutu groups such as “Those Who Attack Together” and “Those Who Have the Same Goal.”

Human Skulls at Nyamata Memorial Site
Human Skulls at Nyamata Genocide Memorial Centre. (Photo: Fanny Schertzer)

And so, the slaughter ensued.

Weapons were stockpiled – particularly machetes. These were used against the Tutsi regardless of where they were found – in the street, church, and in the field.

Once a Tutsi was located, they were attacked with a machete along with the rest of their family.

Rwandan survivor Machete
Rwandan survivor of a machete attack. (Photo: James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth)


For the Tutsi, the slaughter didn’t stop until the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front took over the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Paul Kagame RPF
Paul Kagame, leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. (Photo: Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos)

Ultimately, nearly a million Tutsi and Hutu were killed in the genocide.

Roughly 800,000 of those deaths took place within the first six weeks.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical; if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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14 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    the Montana Trader

    Important, concise & important. Keep it up. Constructive criticism offered in good spirit: a little more details, say 400 words written in old school journalism style- most important stuff first, can stop reading anywhere down article & stillmakes sense. Good list to start: Zimbabwe (bread basket to basket case), S Africa (100 % self sufficient to falling apart), Venezuela. Same idea,

    August 11, 2021 5:20 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jacki Billings, Editor

      Thanks for the feedback! This is not a regular style article, but rather a column we run. Therefore, we skirt traditional journalistic style and length to adhere to the column's style. But thanks for reading and the suggestions!

      August 11, 2021 9:33 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Good article. Please continue posting them. Thank you.

    August 9, 2021 8:28 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Glad you liked it!

      August 10, 2021 2:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article! More History articles please!!!

    August 9, 2021 1:34 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I really loved this; my only complaint is that it could have been much longer! Keep up the good work.

    August 8, 2021 11:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Also important for this discussion is the aid France provided aid to the Hutu, the UN’s response was abysmal, and the US refused to be involved because Clinton had recently allowed US Troops to suffer the worst battle since Vietnam in another African country, Somalia.
    Rwanda is a beautiful country, but you cannot travel anywhere without seeing mass burial graves that show the results of this tragic genocide. Everyone you meet has a story to tell about family members lost or the attacks they witnessed, suffered, etc. But, it is one of the friendliest and most beautiful places I have been to in Africa.

    August 8, 2021 10:00 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Clinton didn’t enter Somalia. George Bush, Sr. did. I was on standby to deploy to Rwanda as an American Airman. We were told TI pack our bags for a 90 day assignment and wait by the phone. We were goi g to take the airport back and then setup a safe pathway for the mass exodus to return through. We were given malaria medicine a d told we could pick between ones that made us nauseated all the time or ones that made us have nightmares. The deployment was canceled and many were murdered. I was 21.

      August 10, 2021 3:13 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bob Garcia

    Loved it!! Thanks, we need more of this.

    August 8, 2021 8:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jon Cox

    I agree. A little more depth would be great. But the length is understandable. I studied the Rwandan genocide for a college report and there are additional, interesting facets to what was going on that would be very relevant to what's going on here, now. I.e, the control of information (dominant political party controlled the one radio station), exacerbated biases (see German occupation of Rwanda), etc. Also, it proves that people will use the tools available to both kill and defend, and if on the defense you better be at least as well armed as those attacking.
    That photo is disturbing and necessary.
    Keep writing these kinds of articles.

    August 8, 2021 6:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Len C

    Great articles and I've read everyone of them.

    August 8, 2021 6:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    d hawxhurst

    good history lesson. too short/brief.

    August 8, 2021 5:29 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jack Hauser

    Good stuff, but way too succinct.

    August 6, 2021 10:30 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jacki Billings, Editor

      There's definitely a lot of ground to cover here, but this series is meant to be a very short, quick looks into events.

      August 6, 2021 12:09 pm
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