The term originally referred to the youth movement of the MRND, created after 1973 and tasked with supervising Rwandan youth in the development effort demanded by Juvénal Habyarimana, who introduced the collective interest work known as umuganda (the term Interahamwe means ‘those who work together’).
This youth movement was transformed into a militia after the start of the war in October 1990 and first participated in a massacre at the end of 1992, assisting the civil authorities in Kibuye and Bugesera. Numbering, together with the Impuzamugambi militia, nearly 50,000 men in 1994 (Braud, 2001: 787), the Interahamwe militia mostly recruited from among the poorest sections of the population, and from the Burundian refugees who arrived in Rwanda after the 1972 massacres and then during the new upsurge in violence in 1988 and 1993.
Essentially armed with machetes (panga ), the Interahamwe took part in the genocide, first of all in Kigali under the supervision of the Presidential Guard, and then throughout the country. Possessing only very few firearms, they were not in a position to confront the FPR and followed the FAR’s retreat to Zaire in June 1994. They were reconstituted in the refugee camps of Kivu.