How Colonialism Affected the Rwandan Genocide
By Troy Riemer
So exactly what role did European colonialism of Rwanda play in the ethnic divide of Hutu and Tutsi? A new kind of racism was brought to Rwanda upon the arrival of Europeans in the 20th century. Colonists assumed their own superiority and valued those physically and geographically close to themselves. From this racism the Hamitic hypothesis was born.
According to the Hamitic hypothesis pastoralists from the north had brought civilization to the rest of the continent through conquest or infiltration (History and Society: Hamitic Hypothesis). In other words, the Tutsi (more commonly tall, narrow-featured and elegant) came in from Ethiopia and brought civilization to the Hutu (The Ungodly Missionary Legacy). The Tutsi were the ideal Hamites. Additionally, Tutsi even wore togas as a part of their daily attire. This in itself was confirmation to Europeans of a faint connection with the Roman colonies of North Africa (Dikötter, 1485).
Thereupon, pigeonholed intellectual and moral qualities were ascribed to the Hutu and Tutsi. The Tutsi, being most like the Europeans, were labelled the more intelligent of the two and were naturally born to rule. While on the other hand, the Hutu were labelled as dumb, but good-natured and loyal subjects. Once in practice these postulations limited posts in office along with the higher education necessary to fill the positions. This gave the Tutsi unavoidable admission into occupations in the administration. And to further ensure that entrance was limited to Tutsi alone, each person was branded Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa at birth. Even though these political ethnic groups existed before the colonial period, the racist ideology of the Europeans had sweeping ramifications, breeding the idea of a superior race. This was solidified by European colonial policies and internalized by Rwandans themselves (Michelle, Change.org).
In the initial classification of tribal groups, authorities used cattle ownership as the criterion for sorting. Those with ten or more cows were branded Tutsi, and those with fewer were labelled Hutu. This classification process produced profound effects that echoed later in history. During the Rwandan genocide, these identification cards told Hutu extremists who to kill and who to reprieve (The Ungodly Missionary Legacy). Thus from the application of the Hamitic hypothesis to the Hutus and Tutsis not only did a great ethnic chasm emerge but a hatred of Tutsi by Hutu.
Over a series of decades this rift was further developed by the implementation of a collaboratively dubious history of Rwanda. Europeans and Rwandan intellectuals contrived a history of Rwanda that assimilated to European assumptions and moreover harmonized with Tutsi interests. As Alison Des Forges says in The Ideology of Genocide, “the Tutsi, politically astute by training not by birth, readily understood the prejudices of the Europeans and exploited them fully to their own benefit” (Des Forges). So that is exactly what they did. A new history was written with the Tutsi as the supreme being, second to the European of course.
The first inhabitants of the area were the Twa, hunters and gatherers. Then came the Hutu with agriculture and loose political organizations in the form of clans and petty kings. Next came the Tutsi, a superiorly intelligent minority swooping in from Ethiopia and usurping the majority. Some said by offering the grant of their cattle, others said by their eminence alone. And finally, the Europeans, the most advantageous minority of them all, established control over all the others. Subsequently packaged and delivered to the masses as fact, the perverted past backed by substantial data became the accepted account of the growth of the nation. By cleverly offering up a history that outlined the supremacy of the Tutsi, both groups developed a belief that Tutsi were seemingly worthier while the Hutu simply were not (Michelle, Change.org).
Belief in this racialized Rwandan history can clearly be seen in the 1957 Hutu Manifesto drafted on the eve of independence. It demands democracy and freedom from the oppressive rule of the Tutsi aristocracy. Additionally it refers to Tutsi rule as ‘colonialism,’ an idea rooted in the erroneous Hamitic hypothesis that the Tutsi came from Ethiopia and usurped the Hutu majority. This in itself reveals the internalization of this dubious history and the characterizations of the Hutu and Tutsi identities (Michelle, Change.org).
Thus a bloody revolutionary uprising ensued in 1959. What began as a peasant revolt transformed into a political upheaval and comprehensive restructuring of the government by 1962 into Hutu hands (History of Rwanda, EconomicExpert.com). In the minds of the Hutu, they had liberated themselves from the oppressive rule of the Tutsi. In the mind of the Tutsi, after 160,000 had fled to outlying countries and nearly 20,000 had been killed, they had become the victims. In 1964, more violence ensued and for years after a system that described Tutsi as ‘cockroaches’ was instituted. Hutu could freely murder their Tutsi neighbor without fear of prosecution and even more were executed and exiled (History of Rwanda, EconomicExpert.com). Tutsi subjugation had ceased, and extremist Hutu ideals had come to the forefront of this ethnic conflict creating violent civil war within Rwanda.
Beginning in 1973, military rule succeeded the Kayibanda government that had governed following the bloody revolt in 1959. Under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Juvénal Habarimana, though still Hutu dominated, a new order was instituted and a constitution was eventually drafted along with political elections. Habyarimana remained president until his death in April 6th, 1994. It is widely believed that the presidents plane was shot down by extremist Hutus who did not want a peace he was organizing at the time to become effective (History of Rwanda, EconomicExpert.com). The subsequent weeks that shadowed were flooded with Tutsi bloodshed by the hands and machetes of Hutu. United Nations activity was quite questionable over this period that came to be known as the Rwandan genocide. According to Pancrace Hakizamungili, a Hutu, “rule number one was to kill. There was no rule number two. It was an organization without complications” (Hatzfeld, 10).
Over the course of European occupation in Rwanda, elitism was successfully refashioned into racism. By preventing Hutu access to higher education and administrative jobs, they were essentially closed off from the political arena and representation in such. Moreover, the documentation of ‘ethnic groups’ enhanced the importance of these rigid classifications. No longer was there flexibility between groups. Ethnic boundaries were clearly defined. So Hutu, excommunicated from power experienced the solidarity of the oppressed. Over time this rift, this pronounced separateness between Hutu and Tutsi, blossomed into hatred. Why? Because of the Europeans who came to colonize and bring the wealth of western knowledge, but instead brought racist ideologies.
And when y’all anon pigs say you’re black nobody believes you. Especially when you can’t even suppress your white supremacist “evolutionary” rhetoric in a message when you’re pretending to be one of us. We don’t talk like that. Have a blessed day.