What is now Rwanda was one of the ancient kingdoms of Africa that was conquered in the 14th or 15th century by cattle herders called the Tutsi from Ethiopia or the Sudan. The Tutsi then ruled the kingdom with a king, 'The Mwami', and the original inhabitants of the area, the Hutu, lived as second class citizens. Unlike the Congo with its 300 tribes and Nigeria with some 250 tribes, Rwanda was populated by the Banyarwanda, but it was a nation of three castes (above): The Tutsi, who represented 14% of the population but who were the lords and masters, the Hutu who represented >85% of the population, but who were effectively vassals, and the Twa who at 1% of the population were servants and labourers.
It was a genuinely feudal relationship with the Hutu cultivating the land and giving a proportion of their harvest to their Tutu masters in return for which they received protection and the use of cattle, which they were not allowed to own, only to lease from their feudal overlords. This feudal arrangement lasted very much until the 1884 Berlin Conference which was to carve up Africa amongst European colonial powers and Rwanda was given to Germany becoming part of the Germany East Africa colony named Ruanda-Urundi. From 1899 Berlin favoured indirect rule of the colony via Dar-as-Salaam however during the First World War, and following the defeat of Germany in Tanganyika, Ruanda-Urundi was given to the Belgians under a League of Nations mandate. Just like the Germans before them, the Belgians treated the Tutsi preferentially, providing them with education and offering them positions within the governing body.
They also introduced a cash crop economy that they administered harshly, driving further divisions between the Tutsi and the Hutu and in 1933 introduced a discriminatory national identification on the basis of ethnicity pushing Hutu further down the social scale including limiting their education to what was just required for working in mines or on the land. This only served to fuel the Hutu's feeling of resentment against a backdrop of rising nationalism and resentment across Africa towards imposed powers. In 1959 the Hutu rebelled and sent the Tutsi King Kigeri V into exile in Uganda proclaiming a Hutu republic in 1962 with Gregoire Kayibanda, a young Hutu journalist and Chief Editor of the Catholic newspaper Kinyamateka, as president. Many Tutsi also fled to Uganda as the Belgians failed to protect them from Hutu violence however they did not settle and were often treated cruelly by the regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin as they watched events back home from the border. In neighbouring Burundi, the opposite had taken place with the Tutsi suppressing the Hutu upon independence and in 1963 attacking Rwanda from there, however in this incursion many Tutsi were killed by Hutu Rwandans.
It is this symbiotic relationship between Rwanda and Burundi and their Hutu and Tutsi tribes that help to understand events from the late 1960s through to the genocide of 1994. In Rwanda in 1967 there was yet another anti-Tutsi surge with Tutsi murdered and their carcasses disposed of in rivers whilst in 1972 the Tutsi army in Burundi wiped out nearly the entire educated Hutu class in Burundi, some 200,000 people. In 1973 President Kayibanda of Rwanda was ousted in military coup led by Juvenal Habyarimana, the defence minister in his government, who held elections in 1978 under a new constitution in which Habyarimana was elected president. Under the new regime suppression of the Tutsi continued unabated. Simultaneously the oppression of Hutus in neighbouring Burundi gathered pace and forces of the mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda in 1990, however talks ensued and Habyarimana signed a power sharing deal with the Tutsis known as the Arusha Accords in an effort to bring some peace between the warring factions. However the relationship between the two ran too deep with too much hatred.
A collapse in coffee prices in 1989 left hundreds of thousands of Rwandan farmers destitute whilst the Tutsi populated RDF stepped up its campaign against the Hutu Rwandan army the following year whilst Burundi's own army continued to slaughter Burundi Hutu many of who fled into southern Rwanada awaiting revenge on the Tutsi. With relations on edge it didn't take much for the full fury of racial hatred to erupt and the trigger came when President Habyarimana of Rwanda and the Burundian president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were assassinated when a rocket shot down their plane over Kigali airport in 1994 triggering what is now known as the Rwanda genocide. In all likelihood this assassination was carried out by Hutu extremists within Rwanda who genuinely believed that the Tutsi wished to enslave them. The extremists saw Habyarimana and others as collaborators with the Tutsi and, rather than accept reform, they believed that the only solution was to eradicate all Tutsi from Rwanda like pest control. The genocide narrative is explored here.
Rwanda History: Volunteer in Rwanda
Rwanda History: Rwanda Genocide
Rwanda History: Child Sponsor Rwanda
Rwanda History: Rwanda Country Profile
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