December 22, 2004

The History of Rwanda before April 6, 1994


Don Cheadle in the new movie Hotel Rwanda is playing the role of a courageous hotel manager who saved the lives of both Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the genocidal attacks by the Hutu on the Tutsi men and women. Anyone familiar with what happen during these genocidal attacks knows that close to one million people were killed. Many in the media and especially those in the West dismissed what happened in Rwanda as the continued and ongoing ethnic conflict that has been part of that region and culture since time immemorial as witnessed in Former Mayor of New York Ed Koch statements when he stated that what was happening in Rwanda was simply “tribal warfare involving those without the veneer of Western civilization."

Most folk in the West when telling the story of Rwanda and what happened there usually began with the events on April 6, 1994, when a jet carrying the President of Rwanda and Burundi Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntarymira respectively was shot down as it closed in on the airport in Kigali. It was believed that Tutsi’s shot the plane down and thus began the genocide. However, there is a history prior to April 6, 1994 that the west do not like to discuss and this history sheds light on the lie about their being ethnic conflict between Hutu and Tutsi’s since time immemorial.

Human Rights Watch points out in its report titled “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda” After the Berlin Conference of 1884 that Chopped Africa up into pieces and handed it out to European nations, the Germans ruled Rwanda until the end of World War One. After the war the Belgians took control of Rwanda. However, during their rule the Germans found it difficult to control the men and women in Rwanda based on their societal hierarchies. The Belgians in an effort to not have the problems the Germans had, changed the political system in Rwanda;

“They eliminated the competing hierarchies and regrouped the units of administration into “chiefdoms” and “sub-chiefdoms” of uniform size. They used force to install state officials in the autonomous enclaves, destroying the power of the heads of lineages and of local small states. They fixed and made uniform the goods and services that local officials could demand, thus—they thought—reducing the burdens on the population.”

As in all cases of colonialism and slavery, none of it could happen without the help of those from amongst the people who wanted to benefit from the exploitation of their people. The Tutsi’s were the primary beneficiaries during early colonialism in Rwanda. Hutu men and women were not allowed to hold any positions of power and were excluded from higher education. The Belgians effectively set up a Tutsi monopoly throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s.

We must be mindful that prior to the arrival of the European colonialist, the Hutu and Tutsi were not the best of friends but the distinctions that would later set them apart and set the climate for the genocidal attacks of 1994 were not factors in early Hutu and Tutsi life. Early Hutu and Tutsi distinction were class based and not based on physical distinctions. Tutsi’s controlled the wealth while the Hutu’s were without wealth. The wealth status of the individual determined what group he or she would be a part of;

“The word “Tutsi,” which apparently first described the status of an individual—a person rich in cattle—became the term that referred to the elite group as a whole and the word “Hutu”—meaning originally a subordinate or follower of a more powerful person—came to refer to the mass of the ordinary people”

Thus one could start life as a Hutu and end life as a Tutsi and though it was rare it was not uncommon for Hutu and Tutsi classed men and women to marry.

When the European changed the political system in Rwanda and systematically empowered the Tutsi’s they did so under the guise that the Tutsi’s looked more like them; they were taller, lighter skinned than the Hutu’s and the TWA thus assumed by the colonialist using their racist ideology that they were natural leaders. Keep in mind while the European colonialist thought of the Tutsi as being superior to the Hutu and TWA, he believed all of them were inferior to him.

Drunk with their new found superiority as deemed by the European because of their features being more like the European, the Tutsi did not hesitate to start a quest of rewriting the history of Rwanda and ascribing all things of good and power to themselves and the colonialist could not have been more willing to accept the lies and later print them as the first written histories of Rwanda. These lies were believed until the 1960’s when a new generation of scholars foreign and Rwandan question many of the lies in the books

In the 1959 the Tutsi’s like all people on the earth wanted to be free from Colonial rule and began to fight against Belgian rule. As a result of the Tutsi fight against colonialism the Belgians began to favor the Hutu’s and began to replace Tutsi chiefs with Hutu chiefs, again playing the Hutu against the Tutsi. In an act of desperation the Belgians allowed the Hutu’s to burn down the houses of Tutsi’s and allowed the “Hutu elite to engineer a coup” and by 1962 independence was granted to Rwanda when it became clear to the Belgians that colonial rule in Rwanda was on its last breath. Prior to independence being granted upwards of 100,000 Tutsi’s were killed and possibly 500,000 fled the country.

This op-ed only covers the effects of Colonialism and did not delve into the problems the World Bank created for Rwanda nor does it cover the evil IMF actions in Rwanda. The point is to always be mindful when the West says that a problem is one that has been around since time immemorial. The truth is European Colonialism created the atmosphere under which the 1994 genocidal attacks would eventually happen but this seems to be ignored. Most problems on the continent of African can be traced directly back to the European Colonialism. What happened in Rwanda in 1994 is indeed one of the worst things to happen on the earth in the last twenty five years, but when reading the history of what happen and telling stories of courage that took place during the genocidal attacks, the impact of Colonialism in Rwanda and in African in general should not be ignored.


At 1:34 PM, Blogger Noah TA said...

Indeed brother. Some folk have a propensity to prefer the “snap shot” and not the “video”. The reason being is that the “snap shot” allows them to replace facts with lies, propaganda and conjecture. All one can see from the snap shot is a still point in time….and not CAUSE AND EFFECT. They avoid the video for this reason….it captures the CAUSE, EFFECT and ACTIONS and REACTIONS that culminated into the point in time up to and including the snap shot.

Another example of this is Iraq and all the Empirical British control of that Area, during the era of Lawrence of Arabia and beyond and how the US lay in bed with Saddam so that the dictator could be our proxy against Iran. Furthermore, the current administration no longer wants to talk about the erroneous pretext and choice to go to war…..they just want people to focus on the fact that we are there now and must make certain sacrifices. They are avoiding the past for the same reasons most people do….they do not want to be held responsible for their actions.


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