King Kigeli Rwabugiri, a Tutsi, and first King of Rwanda
The Rwandan Genocide resulted in an estimated 800,000 deaths during 1994. Racially and socio-economic fueled tensions between Hutus and tutsis fomented the 100 day massacre. However, both groups are now known to share very similar genetic backgrounds. How did such a large and politically enforced divide come to separate the two social classes in Rwanda that led to this genocide? The answer has it’s roots in the social structure of enforced discrimination cemented into place during the colonial period from 1884 to 1962, when the Germans and Belgians exploited and reinforced social differences between Tutsis and Hutus in order to control the region.
In the late 19th century, before any colonial power had officially claimed dominance over Rwanda, Rwandan King Kigeli Rwabugiri established the ubuhake. The ubuhake was a social structure where Hutu’s, traditionally farmers, could rent cattle from the Tutsis, who were traditionally cattle herders, in exchange for personal or military service. The system was very similar to european feudalism, where serfs could rent land from landlords in exchange for service or money.
In Berlin conference of 1884, The Germans were awarded the Kingdom of Rwanda to colonize. Due to the economic benefits of using the existing power structure to establish control of the regions, The germans supported the monarchy of Rwanda and condoned the ubuhake. The Germans at that time believed the two groups to be genetically distinct. The Tutsis were thought to have been from Ethiopia, closer to Europe, and therefore genetically superior and more qualified to lead. Militarily, this allowed fewer troops to be required for policing the area. Tutsi leaders continued to consolidate their economic power during this period, furthering the divide between Hutus and Tutsis.
After World War II, Control of Rwanda Officially transferred to the Belgians in a League of Nations mandate during 1919. Under Belgian control in 1935, the established practice of discrimination was formalized by the introduction of racial identity cards. Previous to this, it was possible, although difficult, for a Hutu to become an “honorary” Tutsi through military service or economic merit. It was now impossible for any movement between the two social classes. In 1957 the first document to officially define the Hutus and Tutsis as genetically distinct races, the Bahutu Manifesto, was written by Hutu writers. Violence and Murder between the two groups became increasingly common. Now that the class imbalance had been legally established, The ground work for an armed rebellion had been set.
Rwanda gained independence from The Belgians in 1962, however the system of politically enforced class divides persisted. Initially, violence decreased after Rwandan independence, however, the civil war during 1990 caused leadership to reassert the tutsi dominance to maintain control, just as the Germans and Belgians had done. In 1993, the hope of peace ended when the first Hutu president to ever be elected was assassinated by Tutsi military leaders, sparking the full revolution known as the Rwandan genocide we know of today.