Rising From Ashes (Part 2)
Before colonialism, Rwanda was a ‘developed state’. Its citizens lived in harmony.
‘When the first Europeans arrived a century ago, they found a true nation: the Banyarwanda people. The Banyarwanda were divided into three groups: Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. The three shared the same language, the same customs, the same political institutions, and the same territory. What made them separate was not that they were distinct “tribes”, but that they were distinct categories within the same nation. […] A hierarchical but nonetheless flexible and reciprocal political system was transformed into a rigid politicised caste structure.’ – Omar and De Waal (1995:10).
Majority of those who belonged to the Tutsi group kept cattle, while the majority of the Hutu, cultivated land. The Twa, who’s ancestors are believed to have been the first ones to settle in Rwanda, were mainly hunter-gatherers. With time the Belgians decided to determine the differences between the three groups by how much cattle was owned by individuals or families. Even though Rwanda’s institutions were shaped by both pastoral and cultivators, and clarity that the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa spoke the same language, the Belgians decided to favour the Tutsi men and women as a way of enforcing their rule. It is believed that the colonisers saw the Tutsi’s as the more educated, civilised and European-looking (because of their paler skins and long noses). The Belgians also limited the administrative posts and higher education to the Tutsi (Newbury, 1998). The Hutu, now officially excluded from power, began to experience the solidarity of the oppressed. Scholars like Hintjens (1999), Kamukama (1993), De Waal (1995), Mamdani (2000 and 2001) and Newbury (1998) hold the view that the Hutu-Tutsi conflict started when Belgian colonialist made sure that there were differences between these two groups.
To maintain the conflict between the two groups, the Belgians went ahead and introduced identity cards with information about the holders’ ethnicity, a feature that was not readily recognisable (as it was already difficult to tell which of the three groups each Rwandese belonged). New born children were also required to be registered as Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. In his 1993 book ‘Pride and Prejudice in Ethnic Relations: Rwanda‘ Dixon Kamukama writes that the idea of recording everyone’s ethnicity enhanced and changed the behaviour and character of the Rwandese.
Although there is evidence that Rwandese embraced the distinctiveness of ethnicity amongst the citizens, the Rwandese government today promotes no single identity but that of Umunyarwanda.