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Rwandan Revolution

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Title: Rwandan Revolution  
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Subject: History of Rwanda, Rwanda, Grégoire Ndahimana, Hutu Power, Parmehutu
Collection: 1959 in Africa, 20Th-Century Revolutions, Ethnicity-Based Civil Wars, History of Rwanda, Revolution-Based Civil Wars
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Rwandan Revolution

The Rwandan Revolution, also known as the Social Revolution or Wind of Destruction [1] (Kinyarwanda: muyaga),[2] was a period of ethnic violence which occurred in Rwanda from 1959-1961, preceding Rwanda's independence from Belgian control on 1 July 1962. It was the culmination of years of tension between the Hutu and Tutsi groups. The violence began in November 1959, following the beating up of a Hutu politician, Dominique Mbonyumutwa by Tutsi forces. Believing Mbonyumutwa to have been killed, groups of Hutus began systematic assaults on the Tutsi. It upended the power structure of Rwanda by dissolving the monarchy, which was headed by a Tutsi mwami, in favor of a Hutu-led republic. Tutsi chiefs and vice-chiefs were replaced by Hutus. Many Tutsi civilians were killed in the revolution, which was the nation's first ethnically-based conflict, while others fled to semi-permanent refugee settlements in neighboring countries. In 1965, 130,000 (one third of all Tutsis) lived in exile in Congo-Léopoldville, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.[3] These exile communities later gave rise to Tutsi rebel movements, one of which was the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR).

An estimated 20,000 to 100,000 Tutsis were killed and many thousands more, including the Mwami, fled to neighboring Uganda before Belgian commandos arrived to quell the violence. Several Belgians were subsequently accused by Tutsi leaders of abetting the Hutus in the violence. The report of a United Nations special commission reported racism reminiscent of "Nazism against the Tutsi minorities" that had been engineered by the government and Belgian authorities.


  • Background 1
    • Precolonial Rwanda and origins of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa 1.1
    • Colonization 1.2
  • Prelude 2
    • Growth of a Hutu counter-elite 2.1
    • Deterioration of Hutu–Tutsi relations 2.2
    • Death of Rudahigwa and the formation of UNAR 2.3
  • Revolution 3
    • Attack on Mbonyumutwa and Hutu uprising 3.1
    • Arrival of Guy Logiest 3.2
    • PARMEHUTU rise to power 3.3
    • Exodus of Tutsi 3.4
  • Aftermath 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6


Precolonial Rwanda and origins of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa

Photograph of King's palace in Nyanza, Rwanda depicting main entrance, front and conical roof
A reconstruction of the King of Rwanda's palace at Nyanza

The earliest inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were the Twa, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who settled in the area between 8000 BC and 3000 BC and remain in Rwanda today.[4][5] Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, and began to clear forest land for agriculture.[6][5] The forest-dwelling Twa lost much of their habitat and moved to the slopes of mountains.[7] Historians have several theories regarding the nature of the Bantu migrations; one theory is that the first settlers were Hutu, while the Tutsi migrated later and formed a distinct racial group, possibly of Cushitic origin.[8] An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady, with incoming groups integrating into rather than conquering the existing society.[9][5] Under this theory, the Hutu and Tutsi distinction arose later and was a class distinction rather than a racial one.[10][11]

The population coalesced, first into clans (ubwoko),[12] and then, by 1700, into around eight kingdoms.[13] The country was fertile and densely populated, and the kingdoms were governed with strict social control.[14] One of the kingdoms, the Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became increasingly dominant from the mid-eighteenth century.[15] From its origins as a small toparchy near Lake Muhazi,[16] the kingdom expanded through a process of conquest and assimilation,[17] achieving its greatest extent under the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri from 1853–95. Rwabugiri expanded the kingdom west and north,[18][15] and initiated administrative reforms; these included ubuhake, in which Tutsi patrons ceded cattle, and therefore privileged status, to Hutu or Tutsi clients in exchange for economic and personal service,[19] and uburetwa, a corvée system in which Hutu were forced to work for Tutsi chiefs.[18] Rwabugiri's changes caused a rift to grow between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.[18]


The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany, but with the boundaries not precisely defined.[20] When explorer Gustav Adolf von Götzen explored the country in 1894,[21] he discovered that the Kingdom of Rwanda included a fertile region to the east of Lake Kivu. Germany wanted this region, but it was also claimed by Leopold II as part of the Belgian Congo. To justify its claim, Germany began a policy of ruling through the Rwandan monarchy, and supporting Tutsi chiefs around the country; this system had the added benefit of enabling colonisation with small European troop numbers.[22] Yuhi V Musinga, who emerged as king following a succession crisis caused by death of his father Rwabugiri,[23] and had also endured fighting with Belgian troops, welcomed the Germans and used them to strengthen his rule.[21] German rule thus allowed Rwabugiri's centralistion policy to continue, while the rift between Tutsi and Hutu grew wider.[22]

Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi during World War I, and the country was formally passed to Belgian control by a League of Nations mandate in 1919.[24] Belgium initially continued the German style of governing through the monarchy, but from 1926 began a policy of more direct colonial rule.[25][26] The reforms included simplifying the complex chieftaincy system so that one chief, usually a Tutsi, controlled all aspects of rule for a local area rather than the previous three, who were typically split between Tutsi and Hutu. Belgian reforms also extended uburetwa to apply to individuals rather than whole communities, and spread it to regions not previously covered by the system.[27] Simultaneously, the Tutsi chiefs began a process of land reform, with Belgian support. Grazing areas traditionally under the control of Hutu collectives were seized by Tutsi and privatised, with minimal compensation.[28]

From the late 1920s, the Catholic Church became increasingly important in Rwanda. The Belgian government encouraged this, as the priests knew the country well and made administration easier. A large number of Rwandans, including elite Tutsi, became Catholics, as this was increasingly a prerequisite for social advancement.[29] King Musinga refused to convert, and in 1931 was deposed by the Belgian administration; his eldest son, Mutara III Rudahigwa, succeeded him and eventually became the country's first Christian king.[30] In the 1930s, the Belgians introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works, and agricultural supervision, including new crops and improved agricultural techniques to try to reduce the incidence of famine.[31] The country had been modernised but Tutsi supremacy remained, leaving the Hutu disenfranchised and subject to large scale forced labour.[32] In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes.[33]


Growth of a Hutu counter-elite

Belgium continued to rule Rwanda as a UN Trust Territory after World War II, with a mandate to oversee eventual independence.[34][35] The economic landscape had changed considerably during the war, including growth of the cash economy[36] and economic opportunities in neighbouring countries, for example demand for labourers in the Congolese mines of Katanga, and in the coffee and sugar plantations of Uganda.[37] Simultaneously, there was a shift in the sympathies of the Catholic Church.[38] Prominent figures in the early Rwandan church such as Léon-Paul Classe, who were from a wealthy and conservative background,[39] were replaced by younger clergy of working-class origin, with a greater proportion of Flemish rather than French speaking Belgians, who sympathised with the plight of the Hutu.[40] The economic conditions, and seminarial education provided by the church, allowed the Hutu social mobility not previously possible, which in turn led to the development of an elite group of Hutu leaders and intellectuals.[41] This elite, consisting of Hutu derived from the precolonial Kingdom of Rwanda, was joined by prominent citizens of kingdoms acquired during colonialism, including the Kiga people.[42]

The most prominent figure in the movement was Grégoire Kayibanda.[43] Like most of the Hutu counter-elite, Kayibanda had trained for the priesthood at Nyakibanda seminary, although he was never ordained.[43] On completion of his education in 1948 he became a primary school teacher, and from 1952 edited Catholic magazine L'Ami, taking over from Alexis Kagame.[44] In the late 1950s, Kayibanda sat on the board of the Travail, Fidélité, Progrès (TRAFIPRO) food cooperative,[45] edited the pro-Hutu Catholic magazine Kinyamateka,[43] and founded the Mouvement Social Muhutu (MSM).[45] The second major figure in the Hutu elite was Joseph Gitera, whose base was in the south of the country.[45] He was also an ex-seminarian,[46] but had left the Church to start a small brickworks business;[47] Gitera founded the Association pour la Promotion Sociale de la Masse (APROSOMA) party.[46] Religious historians Ian and Jane Linden described Gitera as "more passionate and perhaps compassionate" than Kayibanda and other Hutu ex-seminarians, but also described him as "often erratic and sometimes fanatical".[46] Gitera's, unlike Kayibanda, was already calling for forceful action against the "oppression" of the monarchy as early as 1957,[48] but his rhetoric focussed less on the Hutu-Tutsi divide and more on the emancipation of the poor.[48]

Deterioration of Hutu–Tutsi relations

The monarchy and prominent Tutsi, which had always assumed that power would be transferred to them on independence, sensed the growing influence of the Hutu and began to agitate for immediate independence.[49] In 1956, King Rudahigwa and the Tutsi dominated Conseil Superieur, proposed creating new ministries of finance, education, public works and the interior, which would be run by them, independently of Belgium.[50] Kayibanda and the counter-elite, fearing that the new ministries would cement Tutsi pre-eminence in post-independence Rwanda,[50] began work on the "Bahutu Manifesto", published in 1957.[51] The manifesto was critical of Belgian indirect rule, and called for the abolishment of ubuhake and establishment of a middle class.[52] The manifesto was the first document to label the Tutsi and Hutu as separate races, and called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu based on what it termed "statistical law".[51]

In 1958, Joseph Gitera visited the King at his palace in Nyanza; Gitera had considerable respect for the monarchy, but Rudahigwa treated him with contempt, at one point grabbing his throat, and labelling him and his followers as inyangarwanda, or haters of Rwanda.[53] This humiliation prompted the MSM, APROSOMA and the pro-Hutu Catholic publications to take a more hardline stance against the monarchy.[53] Kinyamateka published a detailed report of Rudahigwa's treatment of Gitera, and refuted his traditional semi-divine image, accusing him instead of pro-Tutsi racism;[54] the magazine also published stories citing myths on the origins of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, labelling the King's policies as inconsistent with these.[54] These articles did not immediately challenge the King's authority amongst the Hutu peasants,[55] but their exposure of Rudahigwa's lack of moderation led to a permanent schism between him and both the Hutu counter-elite and the Belgian authorities.[56] The Belgian Colonial Ministry attempted in 1958 to strip Rudahigwa of his powers, rendering him a mere figurehead,[57] but his popularity amongst the regional chiefs and the Tutsi masses, who were fearful of the growing Hutu movement, and staged a series of strikes and protests,[58] made this difficult to implement.[57]

Death of Rudahigwa and the formation of UNAR

In early 1959, Belgium instigated a parliamentary commission to examine options for democratisation and eventual independence;[59] it also scheduled elections for the end of the year.[60] With the Belgians[58] and the majority of the clergy on their side,[61] Munyangaju and Gitera began a campaign targetting Kalinga, the royal drum and one of the most potent symbols of the monarchy.[62] Rudahigwa became increasingly fearful, smuggling the drum out of the country and drinking heavily.[62] He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in July 1959, while seeking medical treatment in Usumbura, Burundi.[62] Many Rwandans believed that Rudahigwa had been assassinated by the Belgians, via a lethal injection;[63] an autopsy was never performed, following objections from the queen mother, but an evaluation by independent doctors confirmed the original diagnosis of haemorrhage.[63] The Tutsi elite believed that Rudahigwa had been murdered by the church with the help of the Belgians, and immediately began a campaign against both.[61] Rudahigwa's brother, Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, was installed, against the wishes of the Belgians,[48] and without involving them in the process;[64] Linden and Linden have described this succession as a "minor Tutsi coup".[64]

Following the installation of the new king several Tutsi chiefs and palace officials who desired speedy independence formed their own party, the Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR).[64] UNAR was pro-monarchy, but outside the control of the king;[65] it was also anti-Belgian, a stance which earned it backing from the Communist bloc.[66] UNAR immediately began a campaign to promote Rwandan nationalism, vowing to replace the teaching of European history with a study of the conquests of Rwabugiri,[67] and overtly calling for whites and missionaries to be removed.[67] This rhetoric prompted the Catholic church, and many of its Rwandan students, who credited the church with bringing them out of poverty, to protest UNAR as anti-Catholic,[68] which was in turn seized upon by Gitera, who used the Church's anti-UNAR sentiment to falsely proclaim its backing for APROSOMA.[69] The colonial government also moved to limit UNAR's power, attempting to depose three chiefs who were prominent in the party, and opening fire on protesters at a rally.[70] Meanwhile, Kayibanda registered the MSM as an official party, renaming it to the Parti du Mouvement de l'Emancipation Hutu (PARMEHUTU).[71] He began to mobilise cells of supporters across the country, calling for an independent Hutu state under a constitutional monarchy.[72] Historian Catharine Newbury described the situation in late 1959 as a "simmering caldron",[48] and by late October, with the parliamentary report due and elections approaching,[60] the tension had reached breaking point.[73]


Attack on Mbonyumutwa and Hutu uprising

On 1 November 1959 Dominique Mbonyumutwa, one of the few Hutu sub-chiefs, and a PARMEHUTU activist, was attacked after mass near his home in Gitarama Province, by nine members of UNAR's youth wing.[70] Mbonyumutwa had angered UNAR because he refused to join them in condemning the Belgian axing of the three Tutsi chiefs.[70] Mbonyumutwa fought off the attackers and survived,[70] but rumours began to spread that he had been killed.[74] American professor J.J. Carney has postulated that Mbonyumutwa may have started these rumours himself.[70] The next day, a Hutu protest took place in the district headquarters, Ndiza, and on 3 November a large group of Hutu killed two Tutsi and forced the local chief into hiding.[75] The protests quickly turned to riots, with the violence at this stage consisting predominantly of arson rather than killing,[76] except in cases where the Tutsi attempted to fight back.[76] Starting in Ndiza itself, and spreading across the country, Hutu burned the homes of Tutsi to the ground,[75] using paraffin, which was widely available for use in lamps, ignited with matches.[76] As they progressed, the arsonists recruited local peasants to their ranks, ensuring the rapid spread of the revolt.[76] Many Hutu still believed in the myth of the king's superhuman status, and claimed they were carried out the attacks on his behalf.[77] By 9 November the violence had spread to the whole country except for Gitera's home province of Astrida (Butare), and the far southwest and east.[60] The rioting was heaviest in the north west; in Ruhengeri, every single Tutsi home was burnt and destroyed.[73]

King Kigeli was the first to mount a counterattack against the rioters.[78] He requested permission to form his own army, and was turned down by Belgium,[78] but decided to go ahead and form one anyway.[78] Mobilising thousands of loyal militia,[75] Kigeli ordered the arrest or killing of a number of prominent Hutu leaders, in the hope that this would quash the peasant revolt;[78] this included the killing of Joseph Gitera's brother, a prominent member of APROSOMA.[79] Many of those arrested were brought to the king's palace at Nyanza, where they were tortured by UNAR officials.[78] However, Kayibanda, who was in hiding, and Gitera, under the protection of the Belgians in Astrida, were spared from capture.[78] Kigeli and UNAR remained more powerful and better equipped than the Hutu parties, but knew that the Belgians were now strongly supporting the latter, and that given enough time the Hutu would be able to gain the upper hand.[80] UNAR therefore sought to ostracise Belgium completely from the engines of power, and to gain independence as soon as possible.[80]

Arrival of Guy Logiest

Before the start of the revolution, Ruanda-Urundi governor Jean-Paul Harroy, had requested for his friend Breveté d'État-major Guy Logiest, a Belgian army colonel working in the Belgian Congo, to come to Rwanda to perform an evaluation of the country's military options in the colony.[78] On 4 November, after the outbreak of violence, Logiest arrived in the country with a number of soldiers and paratroopers, and began to re-establish law and order.[78] Following the retaliation against the Hutu by Kigeli and UNAR, Logiest and his troops prioritised the protection of Hutu leaders, including Gitera.[78] On 12 November, following the declaration of a state of emergency by Harroy, Logiest was appointed to the post of Special Military Resident with a mandate to re-establish law and order in Rwanda.[78] Logiest, supported by Governor Harroy, immediately began a programme of installing Hutu in senior administrative positions within the government,[81] ostensibly to counter the threat of speedy independence posed by UNAR and the Tutsi leadership.[81] Logiest regarded his options at this point as essentially a binary choice between a Tutsi dominated independent kingdom, and a Hutu republic.[81] He made a conscious decision to encourage the latter outcome, by overtly favouring the Hutu over the Tutsi, believing this course of action to be the best for the peasant masses.[81]

Logiest thus began a series of actions that ensured permanence of the revolution begun by the Hutu uprisings.[77] Logiest replaced more than half of the country's Tutsi chiefs, and many sub-chiefs, with Hutu, predominantly those from the PARMEHUTU party.[77] Many UNAR members were tried and convicted for crimes committed during the Tutsi counter-revolution, while their Hutu compatriots from PARMEHUTU and APROSOMA, guilty of inciting the Hutu arson attacks, escaped without charge.[77] In December, Logiest was appointed to the new post of "special civil resident", replacing the more conservative colonial resident André Preud'homme.[77] The Belgian government then granted Logiest the right to depose the king, and veto any of his decisions, effectively consigning him to the role of constitutional monarch.[82]

PARMEHUTU rise to power

Following the November 1959 violence, Belgium decided to postpone the commune elections that had been scheduled for January 1960, until June.[83] This move was partly a response to a request from PARMEHUTU which, despite Logiest's large scale installation of Hutu leaders across the country, claimed it needed more time for the Hutu people to become "sufficiently emancipated to defend their rights effectively."[84] In March 1960, a delegation from the United Nations visited Rwanda to assess the country's progress towards independence.[83] The major political parties encouraged numerous street demonstrations during the UN visit, which deteriorated into fresh outbreaks of violence.[85] Further Tutsi homes were burnt, in full view of the UN delegation,[85] leading the delegation to declare in April that the Belgian plans for elections in June were unworkable;[84] they proposed instead a round table discussion involving all four political parties, to seek an end to the violence.[86]

Despite this UN call for postponement, the Belgian authorities pressed ahead with the elections for the communes as planned in June and July 1960.[87]

Exodus of Tutsi

As the revolution progressed, Tutsi began leaving the country to escape the Hutu purges, settling in the four neighbouring countries Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire.[88] These exiles, unlike the Banyarwanda who migrated during the pre-colonial and colonial era, were regarded as refugees in their host countries,[89] and began almost immediately to agitate for a return to Rwanda.[90] They formed armed groups, known as inyenzi (cockroaches), who launched attacks into Rwanda; these were largely unsuccessful, and led to further reprisal killings of Tutsi and further Tutsi exiles.[90] By 1964, more than 300,000 Tutsi had fled, and were forced to remain in exile for the next three decades.[91]


After independence, pro-Hutu discrimination continued in Rwanda itself, although the indiscriminate violence against the Tutsi did reduce somewhat following a coup in 1973, which brought President Juvenal Habyarimana to power.[92]

In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War.[93] Neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage in the war,[94] but by 1992 it had weakened Habyarimana's authority; mass demonstrations forced him into a coalition with the domestic opposition and eventually to sign the 1993 Arusha Accords with the RPF.[95] The cease-fire ended on 6 April 1994 when Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him.[96] The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000[97] Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government.[98] The Tutsi RPF, under the command of Paul Kagame, restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically, gaining control of the whole country by mid-July.[99] A period of reconciliation and justice began, and during the 2000s Rwanda's economy, tourist numbers and Human Development Index grew rapidly.[100][101]


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  2. ^ Prunier 1999, p. 41.
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  63. ^ a b Halsey Carr & Halsey 2000.
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