Encounters with conflict and peace


How did Rwanda get to the point where tens of thousands of people were prepared to brutally murder their neighbours?

This section looks at what happens when people in power decide to use inequality and prejudice for their own benefit. Sometimes the blatant racism is easy to spot; other times it’s more subtle…

Mzungu 'junk science' divides Africa

Early colonists - first the Germans and later the Belgians - brought with them a strange collection of pseudo-scientific race theories that were popular at the time. They also found the Tutsi easier to deal with, so decided that the Tutsi were probably the ancestors of the Europeans…
Fergal Keane
Notions and obsessions

“Thus grew up the notion of Tutsis… as pastoralists who had come down from the north, possibly Ethiopia, into the dark and savage lands in the heart of Africa to impose their superior civilisation. The truth is that nobody really knows where the Tutsi clans came from, but it probably wasn't Ethiopia and certainly nowhere remotely close to Europe.

The obsession with physical appearance, aided and abetted by the Tutsi ruling class, led the Europeans to all manner of humiliating folly: measuring of skulls and noses and all the discredited junk of the race theorists who thrived in the heyday of African colonialism. One Belgian doctor wrote: [The Tutsi] ... have a distant, reserved, courteous and elegant manner ... The rest of the population is [Hutu]. They are negroes with all the negroid characteristics ... they are childish in nature both timid and lazy, and as often as not, extremely dirty.”

From Season of Blood. A Rwandan Journey

At best it was a natural but misguided attempt to understand a very different culture. At worst, it was the humiliating and self-serving application of “junk science” theories which deepened the division between Hutu and Tutsi and set up Rwanda for decades of inequality, resentment and violence.
Not surprisingly, these ideas translated into very tangible discrimination. Opportunities for education, or a job in the administration or the army, were mainly given to the Tutsi.

Rwandan ID card

Compulsory ID cards introduced

Fergal Keane
Protecting wealth and privilege

“The introduction in 1933 of a mandatory identity card system deepened social divisions. Every Rwandan citizen was obliged to carry the card. which stated his name and ethnic identity, i.e. Tutsi, Hutu or Twa. After the introduction of the ID card system a Hutu was a Hutu for life. Hutus were in effect told that their mission in life was to toil (forced labour on the lands of Tutsi nobles was commonplace) and serve…”

For the colonists it was a perfect partnership. What had existed prior to the colonists' arrival was a society in which the rich… ruled and the peasants toiled. It suited the interests of the colonists to rule through the existing Tutsi elite, who showed themselves to be willing and compliant, more interested in the preservation of privilege and material wealth than in any question of national identity.

In return for their co-operation… the Tutsi overlords were given extended powers over the lives of the Hutus. In practice this allowed many minor Tutsi chiefs to exploit their Hutu 'subjects' and demand higher contributions of their crops and longer working hours.

From Season of Blood. A Rwandan Journey

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