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Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa. It has a population of approximately 9 million people. It is bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. It is comprised of fertile and hilly terrain. This explains the title "Land of a Thousand Hills."
The Twa, a pygmoid people, have probably inhabited the region in and around Rwanda for 35,000 years. In recent times the Twa have occupied a very low social status and have often been exploited. Between the 7th and 10th centuries AD, the Bantu-speaking Hutu people arrived from the Congo basin. They began a primarily agricultural way of life. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, the pastoral Tutsi population arrived and formed a number of chieftain-led units based on clan structures. These later merged to form a state centered near Kigali. Land was gradually transferred from Hutu hands to the Mwami, the central leader of the Tutsi.
Between 1860 and 1895, Mwami Rwabugiri consolidated land control centrally. Some Hutu were allowed to "earn" back their land by a system of forced labor similar to sharecropping called uburetwa. Local Hutu administrators appointed by the Mwami ("land chiefs") supervised this system. A similar, but much smaller, system of patronage based upon cattle ownership, known as ubuhake (a "patron/client" relationship), allowed Hutu to earn cattle (and therefore status) through forced labor as well. This system was supervised by a Mwami-appointed "cattle chief," who was always a Tutsi. Tutsi commoners could also earn their way into the Tutsi aristocracy in this system, but were not required to perform similar degrees of forced labor as were the Hutus. In each region the Mwami also appointed a Tutsi "military chief." It was Rwabugiri, therefore, that created the caste system between Hutu and Tutsi.
In many parts of Rwanda the population had been fluid, both through migration as well as through intermarriage, and in these areas Rwabugiri denoted certain clan lineages as being Tutsi aristocracy by the number of cattle they possessed at the time, and by the relationships the clans had with regional Tutsi chiefs. These systems persisted until abolished in 1954.
After signing treaties with chiefs in the Tanganyika region in 1884-1885, Germany claimed Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi as its own territory. Count von Götzen met the Tutsi Mwami for the first time in 1894. However, with only 2500 soldiers in East Africa, Germany did little to change societal structures in much of the region, especially in Rwanda. After the Mwami's death in 1895, a period of unrest followed. Germans and missionaries then began to enter the country from Tanganyika in 1897-98.
By 1899 the Germans exerted some influence by placing advisors at the courts of local chiefs. Much of the Germans' time was spent fighting uprisings in Tanganyika, especially the Maji-Maji war of 1905-1907. On May 14, 1910 the European Convention of Brussels fixed the borders of Uganda, Congo, and German East Africa which included Tanganyika and Ruanda-Urundi. In 1911, the Germans helped the Tutsi put down a rebellion of Hutus in the northern part of Rwanda, who did not wish to submit to central Tutsi control.
During World War I, 1916, Belgian forces advanced from the Congo into Germany's East African colonies. After Germany lost the War, Belgium accepted the League of Nations Mandate of 1923 to govern Ruanda-Urundi along with the Congo, while Great Britain accepted Tanganyika and other German colonies. After World War II Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations (UN) "trust territory" administered by Belgium. The Belgian involvement in the region was far more direct than had been the German involvement and extended its interests into education and agricultural supervision. The latter was especially important in the face of two droughts and subsequent famines in 1928-29 and in 1943. These famines forced large migrations of Rwandans to neighboring Congo.
The Belgian colonizers also accepted the prevailing class rule already in place, i.e., the minority Tutsi upper class and the lower classes of Hutus and Tutsi commoners. However, in 1926 the Belgians abolished the local posts of "land-chief", "cattle-chief" and "military chief," and in doing so they stripped the Hutu of their limited local power over land. In the 1920s, under military threat, the Belgians finally helped to bring the northwest Hutu kingdoms, who had maintained local control of land not subject to the Mwami, under the Tutsi royalty's central control. These two actions disenfranchised the Hutu. Large, centralized land holdings were then divided into smaller chiefdoms.
The fragmenting of Hutu lands angered Mwami Yuhi IV, who had hoped to further centralize his power enough to rid himself of the Belgians. In 1931 Tutsi plots against the Belgian administration resulted in the Belgians deposing the Tutsi Mwami Yuhi. This caused the Tutsis to take up arms against the Belgians, but because of their fear of the Belgians' military superiority, they did not openly revolt.
The Roman Catholic Church and Belgian colonial authorities considered the Hutus and Tutsis different ethnic races based on physical differences and patterns of migration. However, because of the existence of many wealthy Hutu who shared the financial (if not physical) stature of the Tutsi, the Belgians used an expedient method of classification based on the number of cattle a person owned. Anyone with ten or more cattle was considered a member of the aristocratic Tutsi class. From 1935 on, "Tutsi", "Hutu" and "Twa" were indicated on identity cards.
The Roman Catholic Church, the primary educators in the country, subscribed to and reinforced the differences between Hutu and Tutsi. They developed separate educational systems for each. In the 1940s and 1950s the vast majority of students were Tutsi. In 1943, Mwami Mutari III became the first Tutsi monarch to convert to Catholicism.
The Belgian colonialists continued to depend on the Tutsi aristocracy to collect taxes and enforce Belgian policies. It maintained the dominance of the Tutsi in local colonial administration and expanded the Tutsi system of labor for colonial purposes. The United Nations later decried this policy and demanded a greater self-representation of the Hutu in local affairs. In 1954 the Tutsi monarchy of Ruanda-Urundi demanded independence from Belgian rule. At the same time it agreed to abolish the system of indentured servitude (ubuhake and uburetwa) the Tutsis had practiced over the Hutu until then.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, a wave of Pan-Africanism swept through Central Africa, with leaders such as Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. Anti-colonial sentiment stirred throughout central Africa, and a socialist platform of African unity and equality for all Africans was forwarded. Nyerere himself wrote about the elitism of educational systems, which Hutus interpreted as an indictment of the elitist educations provided for Tutsis in their own country.
Encouraged by the Pan-Africanists, Hutu advocates in the Catholic Church, and by Christian Belgians (who were increasingly influential in the Congo), Hutu sentiment against the aristocratic Tutsi was increasingly inflamed. The United Nations mandates, the Tutsi overlord class, and the Belgian colonialists themselves added to the growing unrest.
The Hutu "emancipation" movement was soon spearheaded by Gregoire Kayibanda, founder of PARMEHUTU, who wrote his "Hutu Manifesto" in 1957. The group quickly became militarized.
In reaction, in 1959, the UNAR party was formed by Tutsis who desired an immediate independence for Ruanda-Burundi, to be based on the existing Tutsi monarchy. This group also became quickly militarized. Skirmishes began between UNAR and PARMEHUTU groups.
Then in July 1959, the Tutsi Mwami (King) Mutara III Charles was believed by Rwandan Tutsis to have been assassinated, when he died following a routine vaccination by a Flemish physician in Bujumbura. His younger half-brother then became the next Tutsi monarch, Mwami (King) Kigeli V.
In November 1959, Tutsi forces beat up a Hutu politician, Dominique Mbonyumutwa, and rumors of his death set off a violent backlash against the Tutsi known as "the wind of destruction." Thousands of Tutsis were killed and many thousands more, including the Mwami, fled to neighboring Uganda before Belgian commandoes arrived to quell the violence. Several Belgians were subsequently accused by Tutsi leaders of abetting the Hutus in the violence.
Tutsi refugees also fled to the South Kivu province of the Congo, where they called themselves Bunyamalengi. They eventually became a primary force in the First and Second Congo Wars.
In 1960, the Belgian government agreed to hold democratic municipal elections in Ruanda-Urundi, in which Hutu representatives were elected by the Hutu majorities. This precipitous change in the power structure threatened the centuries-old system by which Tutsi superiority had been maintained through monarchy.
An effort to create an independent Ruanda-Urundi with Tutsi-Hutu power sharing failed, largely due to escalating violence. The Belgian government, with UN urging, therefore decided to divide Ruanda-Urundi into two separate countries, Rwanda and Burundi. Each had elections in 1961 in preparation for independence.
In 1961, Rwandans voted, by referendum and with the support of the Belgian colonial government, to abolish the Tutsi monarchy and instead establish a republic. Dominique Mbonyumutwa, who had survived his previous attack, was named the first president of the transitional government.
Burundi, by contrast, established a constitutional monarchy, and in the 1961 elections leading up to independence, Louis Rwagasore, the son of the Tutsi Mwami and a popular politician and anti-colonial agitator, was elected as Prime Minister. However, he was soon assassinated. The monarchy, with the aid of the military, therefore assumed control of the country, and allowed no further elections until 1965.
On July 1, 1962, Belgium, with UN oversight, granted full independence to the two countries.
Sources: Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook
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