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Rwanda: Pre-independence

By on May 28, 2011 in Rwanda with No Comments


The media in the west often portrayed Rwanda as a land of warring tribes. This was not so. The Hutus, Tutsis, and Twa had lived in Rwanda for many centuries. Over the centuries intermarriage had occurred and the ethnic groups were no longer completely distinct.  All Rwandans spoke the same language and there was no significant difference in religion or culture. The categories Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clan, which could change with personal circumstance.

Under Belgian colonial rule the distinctions were made racial and identity cards were introduced in 1932. The Belgians divided the country into 15% Tutsi, 84% Hutu, and 1% Twa.  Originally the colonists identified anyone with ten cows as a Tutsi, and anyone with less than ten cows as a Hutu. Anthropologists also developed ideas that would promote racism and discrimination. Because the Tutsis were generally taller and thinner than many Hutus, they suggested that the Tutsis originated from a superior race in the Nile valley who were more like the European whites. Compared to the ‘Bantu’ Hutu majority, the Tutsis were considered more intelligent and hard-working.  Extensive tests, such as measuring the length of one’s nose and head, also served to group Rwandans into divisive categories.

One’s ethnic identity now determined much of an individual’s opportunity in Belgian-run Rwanda – with the Tutsis nominally given the premier positions in civil service. However, when independence was gained in 1962 Rwanda’s first government was run by Hutu extremists determined never to lose power to the Tutsis again.

And so the persecution and ethnic cleansing began.

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