The tradition of Butare as an academic centre dates back to 1900 when it hosted the first Catholic mission in present-day Rwanda. As prominent intellectuals and religious figures were drawn to the area, Butare grew in favour among the Belgian occupiers. Following the death of Queen Astrid, the Swedish wife of King Leopold III, the town was renamed Astrida in 1935.
After independence in 1962, the town’s name was changed back to Butare as it launched a strong bid to serve as the capital of Rwanda. Although Kigali was eventually chosen, due to its central location, Butare was selected to host the country’s first university, which opened its doors to students in 1963.
In the early days of the 1994 genocide, Tutsis and moderate Hutus fled to Butare in the hope that its intellectual tradition would reign over the ensuing madness. For a short while, the Tutsi prefect of Butare, Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana, managed to maintain peace and order in the town.
Sadly, however, Habyarimana was quickly murdered by the Interahamwe and replaced by Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi. Under his tenure, Butare was the site of horrific massacres that claimed the lives of nearly a quarter of a million people. Although Muvunyi fled to Britain after the genocide, he was eventually arrested and convicted.
In 2006 the name of the town was changed from Butare to Huye following an administrative reorganisation of Rwanda’s 12 former provinces.