History of Hutu – Tutsi Relations

“The true cause of the Rwandan Genocide was the negative influence of the European colonists on the relationship of the Hutus and Tutsis”

The troubled and complex dynamics of the relationship between the Hutu and the Tutsi far outdate the Rwandan Genocide. One must look back to the 14th century, when the Tutsi first arrived in Rwanda in order to understand how tensions between both sides culminated in a genocide.

For the purposes of understanding the Hutu-Tutsi relationship, let us consider the Hutu or Bantu people to be the indigenous persons of the regions presently known Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. Let it be known that the area was also inhabited by a shorter peoples known as the Twa.

Physical comparison of a Tutsi, Hutu and Twa

The Tutsi, or originally Cushite, people migrated to Rwanda from the southern Ethiopian highlands, and were much taller and thinner in physique than the Bantu or Twa. Throughout the entire history of their population of Rwanda, the Tutsi have never exceeded 15% of the population. Despite their lack of numbers, the Cushite people arrived as conquerors. The Cushite were cattle-herding warriors, and they impressed their power upon the Bantu (and Twa) of the region.

By the 15th century, the Cushite had gained complete rule. They established an pyramid-style political structure, with the head being an Mwami, a king of supposedly divine origin. The reign of the Tutsi Mwami over Rwanda continued for several hundred years very successfully.  Hutus who were wealthy enough were accepted as part of the elite along with the Tutsi, while poorer Hutus lived quite comfortably to themselves, provided they pay a tax to the Mwami. In brief, the Tutsi were in power and as such elevated themselves to higher class than the Hutus . They utilized their status to extort taxes from the poorer Hutus. One race was subservient to the other, but besides that, the relationship remained relatively civil, until approximately the 19th century.

The 19th century brought with it two separate factors that increased racial tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis. These factors were colonisation coupled with land redistribution problems. The land problems created a system of patronage known as Uburetwa or Ubuhake. These words mean “to work for access to land”, and consequently, implementation of this system made the Hutus who were not part of the nobility serfs that worked on the land. The relationship between the Tutsi and the Hutu started to descend to crude lord-vassal interactions at this point in history, and the arrival of the German colonists in the late 1800’s served to add to the problem, as they endorsed the Tutsis’ power over the Hutus’. The colonists did a lot to engender the future tensions between the two races. Their worst contribution was racial science.

British Indian army officer John Hanning Speke was the creator of the racialist hypothesis known as the “Hamitic Theory”. In his writings, Speke suggests that the Tutsis are more European than the Hutus. Their caucasoid facial features, combined with their smoother personalities was proof enough for him that they were more cultured than the Hutus. This theory was basis for all racial and cultural division between the Hutu and Tutsi in later years. It made specific definition as to how one race was superior to the other, therefore giving said superior race much power and influence.

A portrait of John Hanning Speke, the man behind the Hamitic Theory

After World War I, Belgium was given control over Rwanda. The Belgians increased the divide between the Hutus and Tutsis through the use of the eugenics, which was rather popular at the time (i.e. Nazi Germany). Skull measurements showing larger brain size, greater height, and lighter skin tones all reaffirmed the Tutsis’ superiority over the Hutus, by providing proof of their apparent greater purity and closer ancestry to Europeans.

The final step that Belgium took was implementing coffee production in Rwanda. Peasant farmers, for the large part Hutus, were obligated to grow coffee beans on their land on punishment of death from Tutsi officials in a system of corvée rule. Corvée is a semantic that is one step higher than slavery. The only difference is that in corvée rule, the ruler does not own the servant outright. For example, many Hutu farmers were subjected to a standard 10 lashes daily, before work, so as to remind them to maintain a solid work ethic. Essentially, by the time of Rwandan independence in 1962, the Hutu were an oppressed race, facing cruelty from a Tutsi elite, who were manipulated by the colonists.

After World War II, Belgium took a different approach to Rwanda. In 1946, Rwanda, then known as Rwanda-Urundi, became a UN trust territory, with Belgium as the administrative authority. In the interest of increased democracy, and under the auspices of the UN, Belgian elite and King Mutara Rudahigwa, the Mwami at the time,  started to integrate more Hutus into the administration. King Rudahigwa also abolished the system of Ubuhake. Some Tutsi elite were angered by this, because they assessed the situation as a threat to Tutsi rule (arguably an astute observation).

Mwami Mutara Rudahigwa

By 1954, King Rudahigwa insisted total independence for Rwanda and the end of the Belgian occupation. During the independence movement, under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, a Hutu catechist name Gregoire Kayibanda published the Hutu Manifesto, a document that demanded that political authority be granted to the Hutu majority (when the Belgians leave). This was the basis for the ideology of Hutu Power during the genocide. The Church further encouraged Kayibanda and his associates to form political parties. This resulted in the creation of two political parties that championed Hutu interests: APROSOMA (L’Association pour la Promotion Social des Masses) and RADER (La Rassemblement Democratique Rwandais). During this time of political upheaval, King Rudahigwa mysteriously perished in Bujumbura, Burundi. Common speculation is that Belgian elite were involved in his death. Rudihigawa was succeeded by his half brother, King Kigeli V Dahindurwa. At this time a third political party, Parmahetu (Parti du Mouvement de l’Emanicpation Hutu) came to the forefront. They were also formed under the direction of the Catholic church, by proponents of independence, who were also openly anti-Tutsi. While the politics of Rwanda wass undergoing radical change, Belgian Commando Colonel, G. Logiest, organized a large group Hutus and killed thousands of Tutsis and forced the exile of hundreds of thousands others. Soon, King Kigeli was also forced into exile, having reigned for only a few months. The newly ‘democratized’ Rwanda held an election in 1960. Many believed that the Belgians tampered in the results, but ultimately Parmehetu won, and their leader, the aforementioned  Gregoire Kayibanda became Prime Minister of the provisional government. On September 25th of the same year, the UN held a referendum in Rwanda in order to determine whether the monarchy should be abolished. Through the referendum process, the abolition of the monarchy won the popular vote, and thus ended the reign of the Tutsi Mwami in Rwanda. This gave the Hutus the position of power through Gregoire Kayibanda, the new President and Prime Minister. In 1962, the Belgians left Rwanda and it was officially declared an independent state.

With a Hutu led government in place, after hundreds of years of Tutsi rule, the roles reversed. During Kayibanda’s tenure as leader, there was an increasing exodus of Tutsi from Rwanda into neighbouring nations. Hutu power quickly became centralized and all Tutsis were removed from positions of power. At this point, Tutsi rebellions occurred, which all failed, and Tutsi killings began. Under President Kayibanda, anti-Tutsi legislature was passed, such as the 10% quota for Tutsis, which applied to school and university seats, and the civil service.

Gregoire Kayibanda

In 1965, Gregoire Kayibanda was re-elected and Juvenal Habyarimana became Minister of Defence. In 1969, Parmehetu was renamed MDR (Mouvement Democratique Republicaine) and Kayibanda was once again re-elected, despite accusations that the election was not valid. During this entire period, Tutsi killings continued.

In 1973, Major General Habyarimana topples the Kayibanda government in a smooth military coup. But effectively, the policies and views of the government remain the same, and Tutsi killings continue. The violent attacks even intensify when in 1974, there is public outcry (mainly Hutu) that there was Tutsi overrepresentation in elite fields such as education and medicine. Many Tutsi professionals are forced into resignation and exile. In 1975, President Habyarimana established the MRND (Mouvement Revolutionaire et National pour le Developpement), the ruling party from 1975 through to 1994 and during the genocide. The widespread killings of Tutsis continue, and increase with advent of the government paid militia, the Interahamwe, which were a militant wing of the MNRD.

Juvenal Habyarimana

In 1978, President Habyarimana introduced a new constitution that entrenched MNRD as the sole political party, banning all others. In direct response, in 1979 Rwandan Tutsi exiles in Kenya formed RANU (Rwandan Alliance for National Unity).  Their objectives included the welfare of Rwandan Tutsi refugees and supporting the struggle against the MNRD in Rwanda. By 1987, RANU grew, and they renamed themselves the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Forces). Just three years later in 1990, the RPF began an armed struggle against the MNRD, which was the Rwandan Civil War, a precursor to the genocide. In 1991, the violence became so severe that both sides sign N’Sele Ceasefire Agreement in order to work out something for peace. Despite this, widespread Tutsi killings in Rwanda continued during this time in locations such as Kibirira, Bigogwe, Bugesera, and Kibuye. During this ceasefire, on August 4th, 1993, the Arusha Peace Accords were ratified by both parties. The accord stated that a transitional government would be instituted giving both the MNRD and the RPF power. It seemed as if peace had been brokered.

Seven months later, in April of 1994, the terms of the Arusha Accords had yet to be implemented, when President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and he was killed. The MNRD and other Hutu interest parties pinned the blame on Tutsi “cockroaches”. They spread propaganda messages of Tutsi hate and Hutu power throughout the media. This quickly instigated the Rwandan Genocide. The genocide was 100 days of horrific massacre of Tutsis and other innocent Rwandans by the Interahamwe Hutu militia. Millions of lives were lost in the genocide, and the UN did nothing to stop it. Their mandate was immensely inadequate for the situation. They only recognized the Rwandan massacre as a genocide after extensive “investigation” by the UN High Commission of Human Rights, long after it mattered.

By examining the history of the Hutu-Tutsi relationship, one is able better understand the Rwandan Genocide. It is a possible conclusion that the unique culture of  the old cattle-herding warriors of the southern Ethiopian highlands, the Cushite, lead to hundreds of years of Tutsi tyranny over the indigenous Hutus, creating a lingering resentment amongst them, which created racial tensions that led to the Rwandan Genocide. However, it would be far better, more accurate and succinct to conclude that the Rwandan Genocide was the direct result of the negative influences of European colonists on Rwanda. The Europeans manipulated the Tutsi elite into the oppression of the Hutu, and thus created a lingering resentment within the Hutu. They then helped the Hutu usurp power from the Tutsi, and conveniently left the scene, permitting the establishment of a regime of Hutu power, in which their would be frequent massacres of Tutsi. This combined with Tutsi rebellions, culminated in the Rwandan Genocide. Analyzed carefully, it is clear that the relationship of the Hutus and Tutsis were nowhere as strained before the European colonists arrived. Despite the Hutus being subservient, their relationship with the Tutsi was relatively comfortable. The colonists were the factor that soured the relationship, and led to the Rwandan Genocide.

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11 thoughts on “History of Hutu – Tutsi Relations

  1. Important is both of them are humans and deserves to live the enjoyable life.
    None supposed to be on top of the other forget about the past because it looks like their past can never build a future if things are going as they’re presented here.
    Both had enough time to show off. Now it’s time to end all the me and build a new society teach their children the true meaning of life not super race or something stupid.
    If only they could understand what humans are supposed to be they couldn’t be pushing one another.

  2. The Hutu and Tutsi story is a reminder of the inherent greed in man and the consequent disaster attached. Never you toy with the majority it is the basis of true democracy.

  3. Being an African-American in the U.S., i have only been taught the american slave aspect of my African heritage, and consequently i have a only a vague notion of African politics and culture. Having seen the movie starring Don Cheadle, and after reading this article, i now have a clearer understanding to war between the Tutsis & Hutus.

  4. Pingback: The Physical Differences in the Skin Tone of Hutus and Tutsis | Sociology - Popular Question & Answer

  5. Sometime in April and Hotel Rwandan show case Hutu and Tutsi.
    We need 2 live as a family and let 4get about racial discrimination.

  6. I have a close friend who is Tutsi. He says that whenever he goes home to Rwanda he knows some one hates him when he walks on the street, because of how he looks they know he is Tutsi 😦

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