Rwandan Genocide’s Relationship to Colonialism: Blog Assignment #2




     In 1894, Germany colonized the small landlocked nation of Rwanda. The nation passed over to Belgian rule after World War I with the authority of the newly established League of Nations. To better gain control over the region, Belgium sought to stratify the society. Tutsis, a minority group, were perceived to be higher on the social ladder than the Hutu majority due in part to the Tutsi ownership of cattle, and their natural elegance and height. For these reasons, the Belgians proclaimed Tutsis to be the superior group to the Hutu. Cards were handed out at birth to signify social standing, although social mobility was possible in the pre-colonial times, and Tutsis were given higher education and government positions while Hutus were denied the same privileges. By the time that Belgium withdrew from Rwanda in 1962, widespread resentment of Tutsi privilege and oppressiveness was already prevalent among the Hutus. In the Belgian absence, a Hutu majority government gained power, and over the next several decades, cultural violence erupted periodically. In 1990, a Civil War erupted between the Hutu majority government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting predominately of displaced Tutsis from previous violence. After years of fighting a cease-fire was announced, angering conservative Hutus. In April, 1994, the Rwandan majority President’s plane was shot down while attempting to negotiate for peace. It is widely held that radical Hutus were behind the attack, but a bloody scourge of Tutsis began almost immediately. In total, roughly 800,000 men, women, and children died at the hands of the rampaging Hutus.

All of the carnage can be attributed to Belgian rule during the mid-20th Century. Before, Rwandan society was still split into Hutu and Tutsi, but the meanings were fundamentally different. Tutsis were simply those who owned more than ten heads of cattle, and Hutus those who owned less. Social mobility was feasible and clear; if a Hutu worked his way up to own ten heads of cattle, he was now a Tutsi. But the Belgians destroyed the previous social structure by creating hereditary social classes with no possibility of upward social mobility. By placing the minority Tutsi population in power and bestowing them with multiple privileges, the Belgians created an atmosphere of hatred toward the oppressive regime among the Hutus. The forced social stratification also altered the ideological landscape of Rwandan culture. Tutsis acquired a sense of arrogance and elitism stemming from the power Belgians bestowed among them, and Hutus developed a resentment of the Tutsi upper class’s power and condescension.

The resentment among the Hutu people boiled over following the Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda in 1962. Long oppressed by the Tutsi elite, a Hutu majority party seized control of the country. Violence against Tutsis was not just allowed but encouraged under the new regime, forcing many to flee to Ethiopia. But the violence of the 1960’s and 1970’s was nothing compared to the genocide carried out in the summer of 1994.



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