Heart of Darkness:
Part One: “By This Sign We Prosper”
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part Three: Doing the Lord’s Work In Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda
In the aftermath of the horrendous bloodletting that took place in Rwanda in 1994, a comprehensive report was produced by the Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda. Most of this post will consist of two lengthy excerpts from one of their reports: Historical Perspective: Some Explanatory Factors, and a third, shorter, excerpt from their Synthesis Report. In total, five reports, including the “synthesis”, were published and are available at the ReliefWeb website. ReliefWeb is administered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
All emphases and sub-headings are from the original. Selected references are given at the bottom of this post, but see the original for complete bibliography and more details on the sources. In particular there is this annotated bibliography as part of the first report.
The main authors for the Historical Perspective report are Tor Sellström and Lennart Wohlgemuth of the The Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden
The Pre-Colonial Period (first excerpt)
The first European travellers who reached central Rwanda noted a socio-economic and “ethnic” stratification between Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. Tutsi were described as distinct in terms of origin, economic activities, social status and physical appearance, although sharing the language, religion and settlement with Hutu (von Götzen, 1895; Kandt, 1921). This description of Rwandese “ethnic groups” – partly based on indigenous mythology – was upheld and diffused by outsiders, colonial agents, ethnographers, anthropologists, historians etc. and came to represent the generalized Western view of the Rwandese people. It seems, however, that the people themselves identified each other rather according to clan affiliation. In a number of studies, David Newbury has shown that while the terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi” existed in pre-colonial times, they did not have the same significance as in the recent era, and the meaning of an “ethnic” identity varied from place to place and over time. There was no single universal definition of ethnic identity, valid for all regions at one time (D. Newbury, 1979, 1980; C. Newbury, 1988).
The amalgamation of the statelets into a united Rwanda was a process spread over several hundred years. The core Nyiginya state in eastern Rwanda slowly expanded by conquest and by giving protection, in return receiving tribute. Not until the second part of the 19th century under mwami Kigeri Rwabugiri was Rwanda united as one country. Under Rwabugiri, the mwami was the source and symbol of all authority in the politically-centralized state. Some smaller states, however, stayed autonomous until 1910-20. This was, for example, the case of the northern region near Ruhengeri, which was only incorporated into the Rwandese monarchy under German colonial rule. It took several military expeditions by the German Schutztruppe, assisted by Tutsi from central Rwanda between 1910 and 1912, before the northern Hutu – also known as Kiga – were defeated, leaving considerable bitterness towards both the Tutsi and the southern Hutu, called Banyanduga, who came with them (Dorsey, 1994; Waller, 1993). Thus, to this day, the northerners form a distinctive sub-culture, in which contacts with Tutsi have been less frequent and the awareness of a pre-Tutsi past more pronounced than in other parts of Rwanda (Lemarchand, 1970 and 1995).
The reign of Rwabugiri, or Kigeri IV, lasted from 1860 to 1895, i.e. just before the arrival of European colonialism, and marks an important watershed in the history of Rwanda. Rwabugiri broke through traditional restraints and increased the prerogatives of the throne. He is considered the last of the great reformers and is also referred to as the great warrior king. His domestic policies reflected two complementary goals, namely centralization of power and extension of the central political structures to peripheral areas of the kingdom. In foreign policy, he led a series of military campaigns against the smaller Hutu statelets in both western and eastern Rwanda, eventually incorporating them under his crown. The northern and south-western parts, however, remained largely autonomous. To undermine the hereditary power held by old Tutsi families, Rwabugiri dismissed incumbent officials and appointed men who were directly dependent on him, notably in regions that previously had been relatively independent, thereby increasing the material resources available to the monarchy (Dorsey, 1994).
The Colonial Period and Independence (second excerpt)
During 40 years of Belgian administration, as under most colonial dispensations, we observe the disintegration, distortion or bastardization of indigenous social and political structures and their consequences. For example, while the indigenous pre-colonial patron/client relationship was flexible and contained an important element of reciprocity, the Belgian colonizers actually rigidified the system and did away with mutual obligations. By “reinforcing” a Rwandese institution, the colonizers in this way introduced forced labour and strengthened the socio-economic divisions between Tutsi and Hutu. The same abuse of other pre-colonial institutions could be quoted. Balandier has described this phenomenon in terms of the following features: the falling into abeyance of traditional political entities, the overall deterioration as a result of depoliticization, the breakdown of traditional systems of power control, the incompatibility of the two systems of power and authority and, finally, the abuse of power (Balandier, 1978). What is of interest here is the extent to which such developments affected ethnic inter-relations in Rwanda.
Among the European civil servants and missionaries operating in the Great Lakes region at the turn of the century, the so-called Hamitic thesis became generalized. According to this thesis, “everything of value in Africa had been introduced by the Hamites, supposedly a branch of the Caucasian race” (Sanders, 1969). When the well-known British explorer John Speke arrived in the Buganda kingdom (in present-day Uganda) with its sophisticated political organization, he attributed this civilization to an indigenous race of nomadic pastoralists related to the (Ethiopian) Galla “Hamites”. For Europeans, the attractiveness of this hypothesis lay in the fact that it allowed for linking physical characteristics with mental capacity: the “Hamites” were supposed to be born leaders and, in principle, had the right to a history and a future almost as noble as that of their European “cousins” (Linden, 1977). In Rwanda, the “Hamites” were Tutsi: “they resemble the negro only in the colour of their skin” (Jamoulle, 1927); “before becoming black these people were tanned” (de Lacger, 1961); “his stature resembles more closely that of a white person rather than that of a negro – in fact, it would not be an exaggeration to state that he is a European who happens to have a black skin…” (Gahama, 1983). This racist thesis was expressed in innumerable ways, but, in short, Tutsi were considered to be related to Europeans and, therefore, the Europeans could easily work with them. It, thus, also served the colonial policy of divide-and-rule (Adekanye, 1995).
By the end of the 1920s, the Hamitic hypothesis was to be utilized with far-reaching consequences for ethnic relations in Rwanda. Within the framework of an administrative reform process (culminating in the Programme Voisin of 1926-1931), especially a regrouping and enlarging of chiefdoms (out of around 200 chiefs only 40 remained in the new system), it was decided to give preferential treatment to Tutsi when recruiting indigenous political authorities. It would seem that the particular position taken on the matter by Monsignor Leon-Paul Classe, the Vicar Apostolic to Rwanda, was of considerable influence. In a letter dated 21 September 1927, he wrote to Georges Mortehan, the Belgian Resident Commissioner:
If we want to be practical and look after the real interest of the country we shall find a remarkable element of progress with the Mututsi youth […] Ask the Bahutu whether they prefer to be given orders by uncouth persons or by nobles and the answer will be clear: they will prefer the Batutsi, and quite rightly so. Born chiefs, the latter have a knack of giving orders. […] Here lies the secret of how they managed to settle in this country and hold it in their grip (de Lacger, 1961).
Faced with what he sees as “hesitations and foot-dragging of the colonial administration regarding the traditional hegemony of the well-born Batutsi”, Monsignor Classe – in 1930 – issues a stern warning:
the greatest harm the government could possibly inflict on itself and on the country would be to do away with the Mututsi caste. Such a revolution would lead the country straight into anarchy and towards a viciously anti-European communism. Far from achieving progress, this will annihilate any action taken by the government for the latter would be deprived of auxiliaries who are born capable of comprehension and obedience. […] As a rule, we cannot possibly have chiefs who’d be better, more intelligent, more active, more capable of understanding the idea of progress and even more likely to be accepted by the population, than the Batutsi (Classe, 1930).
The Vicar Apostolic’s message was seen as a strong plea in favour of – at least in principle – a Tutsi monopoly. His intervention put an end to the “hesitations and foot-dragging” of the administration. The Hutu chiefs and deputy-chiefs were removed and replaced by Tutsi. Furthermore, a policy favouring protection and strengthening of the Tutsi hegemony was vigorously pursued. Therefore, and given that traditionally Hutu, and even Twa, exercised certain political power, albeit at lower levels, the “Tutsification” of the 1930s resulted in a monopoly of political and administrative power in the hands of Tutsi. With the abolition of the three-fold hierarchy of the chiefs (army chief, cattle chief and land chief), this policy accentuated the ethnic divisions (Reyntjens, 1985). It was also reinforced by the introduction of identity cards in 1933. Every Rwandese was henceforth (on the basis of quite arbitrary criteria) registered as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa (Reyntjens, 1985).
Finally, the possibilities of most Hutu were further limited by the discrimination introduced in the Catholic schools, which represented the dominant educational system throughout the colonial period. Tutsi who had resisted conversion became increasingly enrolled in the Catholic mission schools. To accommodate and further encourage this process, the Church adjusted its educational policies and openly favoured Tutsi and discriminated against Hutu. With some exceptions, Hutu received only the education required for working in the mines and in industry (C. Newbury, 1988).
In summary, the monopolization of power in the hands of Tutsi constituted a crucial and undisputed factor in firmly establishing (“structuring”) the ethnic cleavage. This colonial intervention caused the groups to become distinct political categories. In a certain sense, we have here an instance of ethnogenesis (Roosens, 1989), which in the case of Rwanda would inevitably lead to a reaction on the part of Hutu that they had been excluded from power. Tutsi discourse has drawn inordinate conclusions from the alleged ethnogenesis by claiming that, before the arrival of the Europeans, the people of Rwanda (and Burundi) were quite homogeneous and that, through their policy of divide-and-rule, the colonial authorities deliberately introduced ethnic cleavages. Yet the ethnic groups existed before colonialism. Colonial policies were merely grafted onto a foundation that already contained a potential for conflict (Reyntjens, 1994).
From the mid-1950s, political demands in Rwanda were formulated in ethnic terms. The opposing theses were expressed, rather stereotypically, in three main documents: on the one hand, the Bahutu Manifesto of March 24, 1957 and, on the other, two letters by the great Tutsi chiefs (“Abagaragu b’ibwami bakuru”) (Nkundabagenzi, 1961). Putting the ethnic problem in a social context, the Bahutu Manifesto demanded Hutu emancipation as well as democratization. Starting from the colonial thesis that Tutsi were outsiders/foreigners and claiming that Hutu (in majority) were true Rwandese nationals, and thus the rightful rulers of Rwanda, the manifesto was a significant statement for both the social revolution from 1959 and the deepening ethnic cleavage. This important document, originally published as “Notes on the Social Aspect of the Racial Native Problem in Rwanda” and aiming to influence a United Nations Trusteeship mission to the territory, was drafted by nine Hutu intellectuals. Among the signatories was the future president, Grégoire Kayibanda. It attacked the whole concept of Belgian administration and maintained that the basic problem of Rwanda was a conflict between Hutu and Hamitic – i.e. foreign – Tutsi (Dorsey, 1994; Prunier, 1995). The two letters written by the conservative great chiefs (and which did not necessarily express the point of view of the whole Tutsi political elite) rejected Hutu participation “because our kings conquered the land of the Bahutu, killed their ‘little’ kings and thus subjugated the Bahutu; how, then, can they now pretend to be our brothers?” (Reyntjens, 1994).
When political parties were set up in the late 1950s, political structures had already been established along the ethnic cleavage: Parmehutu (Parti du mouvement de l’émancipation des Bahutu) and APROSOMA (Association pour la promotion sociale des masses) were essentially Hutu, whereas UNAR (Union nationale rwandaise) and RADER (Rassemblement démocratique rwandais) were essentially Tutsi. At the parliamentary elections of September 1961, the cleavage was confirmed: the Hutu parties obtained about 83% of the vote, corresponding roughly to the proportion of Hutu among the population. In other words, a demographic majority came to be matched by a political majority. From 1965 onwards, following the elimination of the opposition (partly by physical, partly by political means), Rwanda was a de facto single party state; and in essence (Hutu) mono-ethnic (Reyntjens, 1985).
From the time of mwami Rwabugiri until the monarchy was abolished in 1961, the kingdom of Rwanda was a highly organized and stratified state. This was reinforced by communal reforms during the colonial period. The latest major communal reform took place in 1960, once again confirming the very organized structure of the Rwandese state. The country was divided into 10 préfectures, each divided into a number of communes. These, which numbered 143 in total, formed the basis for development. The communes were each divided into 4-5 secteurs and these into “cells” (10 “cells” per secteur). Taking after the Tanzanian model, the final organizational unit was the 10-household cell comprising some 80 people. Few African countries were so well organized and also used the structures set up so extensively as Rwanda (Reyntjens, 1985).
Transition to independence
The revolution of 1959-1961, with the support of the Belgian administration (Harroy, 1984; Logiest, 1988), led to the abolition of the monarchy and to the removal of all political and administrative Tutsi structures on which, for decades, Belgium had based its policy of indirect rule. The peasants’ (or Hutu) revolt was largely provoked by the intransigence of a conservative political and administrative elite, which flatly refused any democratization, demanded not only by an emerging Hutu elite, but also by a Tutsi counter-elite, far more progressive than the one in power (Reyntjens, 1994). Though, initially, the number of victims was rather small, the attempts on the part of the Tutsi-led traditional power-elite to maintain authoritarian rule led to violent clashes. The Belgians supported the revolt. The abolition of the monarchy and the rise of a Hutu elite became definitive in September 1961 when, at a referendum, 80% of the electorate voted in favour of a republic. At the same time, the results of the parliamentary elections showed a correspondingly clear victory for the Hutu-dominated parties.
The events of 1959-62: reversal and confrontation
Most observers agree that the revolutionary transition from the Tutsi-dominated monarchy to the Hutu-led republic, which took place between November 1959 and September 1961, culminating in the proclamation of Independence on 1 July, 1962, constitutes a crucial period for the understanding of the subsequent ethnic division of the country (Reyntjens, 1985; Lema, 1993; C. Newbury, 1988). During this brief period – initiated by the 1959 jacquérie or so-called peasant revolt – the historical tables were turned. Under pressure from the democratic winds of change over Africa, the Belgian authorities shifted their support from the Tutsi aristocracy to the majority Hutu, withdrew their backing of the mwami, abandoned the policy of indirect rule and hastily brought Rwanda (and Burundi) to national independence. This process, as noted by Linden (1995), marked the beginning of a cycle of turbulent clashes for power, where “capture of the Rwandan state from political opponents has been a violent zero-sum game in which the winner takes all”. The struggle for state power in an arena abandoned both by the colonial power and its former ally, the traditional monarchy, explains why the ethnic exacerbations came to the fore. While Tutsi, through their dominant position in colonial society, already saw themselves as a group, it was now felt necessary by the emerging Hutu political elite to appeal to a common “Hutu-ness” of the underprivileged to challenge the indigenous leadership successfully, compete for the vacant state and redress historical injustices.
Towards the end of the 1950s, the Belgian authorities suddenly started to pay marked attention to the situation of the Hutu peasant majority. A similar, radical change of mind occurred within the Catholic church, as exemplified by the pastoral letter issued by Monsignor André Perraudin in the late 1950s, in which he adopted a pro-Hutu attitude by stating that the social discrimination faced by the Hutu was no longer consistent with a sound organization of Rwandese society (Reyntjens, 1994).
On 1 November, 1959, ethnic violence broke out as a result of a leader of the Parmehutu party being molested by Tutsi youth. The ensuing riots led to a widespread Hutu uprising, during which hundreds of Tutsi were killed. The Belgian government responded by sending troops to the country. Contrary to contemporary expectations, however, the Belgian military did not attempt to crush the Hutu revolt, but adopted a de facto pro-Hutu policy through the installation of a military-led administration and the appointment of more than 300 Hutu chiefs and sub-chiefs to replace those Tutsi incumbents who had been deposed, killed or had fled during the initial stages of the uprising. (C. Newbury, 1988; Prunier, 1995). Soon thereafter – in May 1960 – the Belgian authorities confirmed the new policy through the setting up of an indigenous military territorial guard of 650 men, based on ethnic proportionality, with 85% Hutu and 15% Tutsi.
As stated above, the tables were turned. This was further confirmed in the local elections held in June-July 1960, which left the Tutsi-dominated political parties with merely 16% of the votes and, thus, resulted in an overwhelming Hutu victory. Following the elections, no less than 211 out of 229 bourgemestres were Hutu (C. Newbury, 1988). In this situation, and against a background of continued ethnic clashes, mwami Kigeri V opted to leave Rwanda on 29 June, 1960, officially to attend the independence celebrations in the Congo. He was, however, never to return.
Belgium’s policy in Rwanda encountered severe criticism in the General Assembly of the United Nations. From December 1960 to June 1962, it called on different occasions for reconciliation with both the mwami and imprisoned Tutsi representatives, also urged Belgium to keep Rwanda and Burundi together, but to no avail. Instead, the Belgian authorities proceeded to strengthen the process towards Rwandese independence through the granting of internal autonomy under a temporary government led by the founder of Parmehutu, Grégoire Kayibanda, a Hutu leader from the Gitarama region in central Rwanda. Throughout this period the ethnic confrontation between Hutu and Tutsi not only continued, but escalated, with mainly Tutsi killed, expelled or exiled.
The transition from Tutsi to Hutu political domination was sealed through the parliamentary elections of 25 September 1961, which resulted in a crushing victory for the Hutu-led parties. Parme- hutu obtained no less than 78% of the votes, gaining 35 seats out of 44, while UNAR (the Tutsi-dominated party) received 17% and seven seats. A simultaneous referendum led to an equally massive rejection of the monarchy in favour of a republican system of government. Following the elections, Grégoire Kayibanda was elected President by the new parliament on 26 October, 1961, appointing a government that initially was composed of members of Parmehutu, UNAR and APROSOMA. Eight months later, on 1 July 1962, Rwanda and Burundi finally gained formal independence as two sovereign states, a fact the General Assembly of the United Nations reluctantly had to endorse.
During the ensuing three decades, the Hutu jacquérie of 1959 and the events leading to independence in 1962 came to constitute crucial points of reference in the political life of Rwanda, positively or negatively, depending on the fears or hopes of those involved.
Some Explanatory Factors (third excerpt)
[Taken from the summary of Study I, Historical Perspective: Some Explanatory Factors, which was prepared by Lennart Wohlgemuth and Tor Sellström.]
The German colonial (1899-1916) and Belgian trusteeship (1916-1961) policy of indirect rule, favouring the strengthening of Tutsi hegemony and resulting in a political and administrative monopoly in the hands of the aristocratic Tutsi overlords of the Nyiginya clan from the 1920s. Under the influence of the so-called hamitic thesis, this policy culminated in 1933 with the introduction of compulsory identity cards, reinforcing and accelerating the late pre-colonial process towards a separation of Tutsi and Hutu (and Twa). From then on, all Rwandese had to relate to “their” respective ethnic group, which in turn determined avenues and fortunes in society. Under European colonialism, a policy of “ethnogenesis” was actively pursued, i.e. a politically-motivated creation of ethnic identities based on socially-constituted categories of the pre-colonial past. The minority Tutsi became the haves and the majority Hutu the have-nots.
The abrupt change by Belgium only some 25 years later, when – under the influence of the general decolonization process in Africa, the build-up towards political independence in the Congo (Zaire) and in a belated attempt to redress past injustices -the colonial administration (and the Catholic church) shifted support from the minority Tutsi to the majority Hutu. This eased the way for the so-called peasant, or Hutu, revolution of 1959-61, through which Rwanda underwent a profound transition from a Tutsi dominated monarchy to a Hutuled independent republic in less than three years. The replacement of one political elite by another introduced a new dimension of political and social instability and a potential for future ethnic violence. The events of 1959-61 also forced tens of thousands of Tutsi into exile in neighbouring countries, from where groups of refugees began to carry out armed incursions into Rwanda, sowing the seeds of the country’s ethnically-defined refugee problem.
Developments in Rwanda are, finally, closely related to developments in the Great Lakes region, comprising Rwanda, eastern Zaire, Uganda, north-western Tanzania and Burundi. This is the historical region of the Banyarwanda, i.e. the people who speak the language of Rwanda, Kinyarwanda, and who throughout modern history share a common heritage. It was violated by European powers, who at the turn of the century divided the region and the people into Belgian, British and German colonial dominions, with far-reaching consequences for later, including the most recent, events. Thus regional political, economic, social and cultural dynamics – taking the form of, among other things, cross-border flows of refugees, weapons, ideas and fears – must be borne in mind when considering solutions to Rwanda’s problems, as well as the problems of -above all – Burundi and Zaire. If not, the ghastly events in Rwanda in 1994 could easily draw the entire region into similar, or still greater, human tragedies.
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