When I have mentioned to people that I am going to live and work in Rwanda for a year, possibly more, their reactions have been pretty much the same. Most have expressed their admiration but followed it up with ‘but I couldn’t go there, isn’t it still very dangerous there are wars there?’ or some variant on this. The reality of Rwanda is far different. Over the next few blog posts I will try and address the ‘issue’ of Rwanda; it is a very long and complicated history full of major mistakes and oversights, which lead to the catastrophic events of 1994
Rwanda’s problems cannot be traced back to one single occasion; rather they are a culmination of a number of events which escalated uncontrollably in the 1980s and 1990s due, mainly in part, to the blind eye the Western world turned.
PRE AND COLONIAL ERA
In the mad dash for land in the late 1800s Germany claimed Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi as its own territory. However, because there was little interest in the meagre export potentials of the country, and because there was civil unrest in Tanganyika, the Germans had little interest in the tiny country of Rwanda. During WWI, the Belgians pushed through to Rwanda from the Congo and after the war Germany conceded Rwanda to the Belgians. After WWII the UN declared Rwanda a ‘trust territory’ administered by Belgium and this is where problems started.
Belgian colonists viewed Africans in general were children who needed to be guided; they had a much more hands-on approach with Rwanda and used the divide-and-conquer rule to force their rule over the Rwandese. They introduced identity cards upon which had their ethnic status of Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. However, because of inter-marriage between the three ethnic groups it was difficult sometimes to categorise people, so they merely defined "Tutsi" as anyone with more than ten cows or a long nose. The problems this caused the country and population, from the time of inception in 1933 until 1994, were catastrophic.
Hutu’s tended to be arable farmers whilst the Tutsi’s raised cattle with the Tutsi’s being the main upper and ruling class. The Roman Catholic Church, the primary educators in the country, subscribed to and reinforced the differences between Hutu and Tutsi. They developed separate educational systems for each. In the 1940s and 1950s the vast majority of students were Tutsi.
There was still a system of King-ship in the country at this time and this was passed down through the Tutsi’s; further isolating the two main ethnic groups. The Belgium’s relied upon and exploited this King-ship and thus the Tutsi’s collected taxes and enforced Belgium policies and laws upon the Rwandans.
In 1956 the current king called for independence from Belgium which made the Belgium’s switch alliances from the Tutsi’s to the Hutus. The Tutsi’s favoured a fast-track to independence, whilst the Hutus wanted to go down the slower but more self-governing route of establishing a democracy first. The king died in 1959 and this lead to a major clash of arms between the two main ethnic groups. Whilst the Tutsi’s had been the main clan in power, the Hutu’s had a significantly larger population and this lead to lots of Tutsi’s fleeing to neighbouring countries of DRC and Uganda in the wake of the fighting.
During 1960 and 1962 moves were made to create a democratically free country from Belgium in both Rwanda and Burundi; Burundi managed it and established a constitutional monarchy. However, the elected Prime Minister in Rwanda was soon executed and the monarchy with the help of the military seized power. Finally in 1962 Rwanda was created as a republic governed by the majority Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement.
The new government introduced quotas for Tutsis, limiting opportunities for education and work, and small groups of Tutsi exiles began to launch guerrilla raids from neighbouring Uganda. In the round of bloodshed that followed, thousands more Tutsis were killed and tens of thousands fled to neighbouring countries.
Next time on Joisaway…LOL…I’ll try and explain what happened in the lead up to the 1994 genocide in which (approx) 1 million people lost their lives in only 100 days!