Rwanda’s independence celebration began at the country’s city centre, where the current Kigali City Hall is built.
Scores of personalities, political leaders and foreign dignitaries were present at the ceremony.
The Belgian flag was lowered and the Rwandan flag was hoisted to indicate that the Belgian rule had come to an end. All this happened on July 1, 1962, 56 years ago today.
Belgium was then ruling through the traditional system of Tutsi nobles and kings, headed by the Mwami.
By 1962, about 120,000 people, primarily Tutsis, had taken refuge in neighbouring states to flee the violence which had accompanied the gradual coming into power of the Hutu community.
Grégoire Kayibanda, a Hutu journalist became the first president of Rwanda after advocating for the country’s independence from Belgium.
Born in Musambira in 1924, Kayibanda founded the Hutu Emancipation Movement Party in 1957 and led the Hutu fight against Tutsi aristocracy.
In January 1961, the Republic of Rwanda was established. In that same year, elections were held in September, where the Hutu Emancipation Movement Party, otherwise known as Parmehutu party gained most of the seats in the National Assembly, which voted against reinstating the monarchy.
Due to persistence from the UN, Belgium granted Rwanda its independence on July 1, 1962, with Kayibanda as president. His party won the subsequent elections, that is 1965 and 1969, and Kayibanda was given the nod on those occasions.
The Hutus and Tutsis were living peacefully until some of the Tutsis who wanted a return of the previous and exiled monarchical regime organized themselves in neighbouring countries and began several unsuccessful attacks against the Rwandan government.
This increased hatred between the Hutu majority, who were in favour of the Republic and the Tutsi minority.
The situation got worse after some bloodbaths were recorded in neighbouring Burundi in 1972.
The Hutus who were located in central Rwanda grew more intolerant towards the Tutsis and called on President Kayibanda to take action, but his response was not favourable.
This, coupled with corruption allegations in government, led to Kayibanda’s overthrow in a coup d’état by army chief of staff General Juvenal Habyarimana in July 1973.
Habyarimana, who was a northern Hutu, then argued that Kayibanda was doing the bidding of the southern Hutus to the detriment of those from the north.
Parliament and Kayibanda’s party were dissolved after the coup. There then ensued a period of military rule, until 1978, when a new constitution was promulgated and Habyarimana became President.
Kayibanda, who brought the Hutu majority to power for the first time in the country’s history, died in Gitarama in 1976 after being allegedly starved to death by his captors.
Wartime would visit Rwanda again in 1990 in a major civil war led by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front.
President Habyarimana subsequently signed a power-sharing agreement with the Tutsis in the Tanzanian town of Arusha to signal the end of civil war.
But in 1994, Habyarimana and the Burundian president were killed after their plane was shot down over Kigali. RPF launched a major attack which unfortunately led to the infamous Rwandan Genocide.