From colonisation to independence

From the 17th century, Rwanda was a kingdom dominated by the Tutsi. The king and his court had a strong hold on the rest of the population. In 1885, after the conference of Berlin in 1884, which organized the division of Africa between the European colonisers, Rwanda became a German protectorate. At that time, the country was based on a system of clientelism installed by the Tutsi monarchy, starting from the royal courts and spreading to all levels of society. This system was kept under German protectorate, which exploited it to impose its own administration mode. Therefore, on top of the royal authority, was now the “White” authority, transforming the ultimate power of the king into a subaltern power. This was an indirect administration.

In 1916, Germany, weakened by the 1st World War, lost its protectorate on Rwanda. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles gave Rwanda’s protection to Belgium, which managed it until its independence in 1962. Basing themselves on the Hamitic theory, the Belgian colonial authorities and the catholic clergy who were their ally, considered the Tutsi as closer to the white race, and therefore superior to the Hutu and the Twa of negroid race. This theory gave rise, especially between 1928 and 1932, to several decisions with disastrous consequences. Thus, access to public administrations and education was almost exclusively reserved to the Tutsi. This political strategy allowed the Tutsi in general to acquire an upper hand over the Hutu population, which heightened the ethnic division that already existed. The delivery, in 1931, of an id card to each Rwandan indicating their ethnic group, paved the way to a systematic separation of the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. It especially anchored the ethnic divide between the two first, which allowed focusing all the social stakes around this duality Hutu/Tutsi.

This policy lasted approximately three decades. Then, all of a sudden, at the end of the 1950s, the colonial authorities and the Belgian clergy completely changed their political strategy and decided to favour the Hutu at the cost of the Tutsi. The official reasons given at the time were that the Belgians had all of a sudden realized the real injustice inflicted on the Hutu. This is a hypothesis. However, there is another completely realistic one. Indeed, the wind of decolonization had started to blow at that time in Africa, and the Tutsi elites began shyly demanding independence and the exit of their Belgian coloniser. Thus, Belgium decided to replace the whole of its Tutsi collaborators by an elite from the Hutu group.

In 1957, Hutu intellectuals wrote a booklet entitled the Manifeste des Bahutu, demanding the entry of the Hutu in the political, economical and social realms of the country. Their demands collided with opposition from the members of the Council of the King. They issued a letter denying the Hutu any fraternity with the Tutsi. They declared that, in Rwanda in the past, the Hutu had been the servants of the Tutsi, and that, therefore, there was no common legacy to both ethnic groups. In 1958, a superior Council gathered to analyse the Hutu-Tutsi problem. The Tutsi authority refused to take this grave problem seriously. The debates therefore led to a deadlock. The harmony between the representatives of the Hutu movement and of the Tutsi authority became impossible. The Belgian administration, officially and solemnly, favoured the Hutu cause and authorized, in 1959, the creation of political parties in Rwanda.

The consequences of Belgium’s support to the Hutu’s demands were the revolution of 1959 that overthrew the Tutsi, and the replacement of the monarchy by a Republic on the 28th of January 1961. The independence of Rwanda was proclaimed on the 1st of July 1962. Unfortunately, these political changes took place in a violent context; the Tutsi resistance was indeed severely suppressed. Several houses were burnt down, the king fled, several members of his party were killed and a lot of deaths were counted all over the country. These pogroms led to the exile of several thousands of Tutsi to adjacent countries.