Scholars of Rwanda’s history advocate the old cliché that “ever since the beginning of Rwanda’s existence as a colony and as a country, the two ethnic groups of Hutu and Tutsi have been constantly at odds”.
For them the Tutsi genocide was just an ethnic and barbaric struggle in which Hutu killed Tutsi and Tutsi killed Hutu. Some are not even ashamed to claim that there has been a double genocide. But is that so? Can we provide more accurate information about the Hutu-Tutsi relationships in traditional and colonial Rwanda and about what really happened during genocide?
Filling this gap with first hand information would help heal the Rwandan nation and pave a path for the future. But where should this information come from?
The information we need may be drawn from genocide survivors’ accounts and other relevant sources such books, documentaries and films about the Rwandan genocide. But a forum in which all components of the Rwandan nation would be most welcome.
As a genocide survivor and a Rwandan born and raised in this country, I feel I can draw from my own experience and also from the many documents published on the Rwandan genocide to give a balanced view on the matter.
Today one of the overwhelming challenges of the post-genocide Rwanda is the cleavage between the Hutu and the Tutsi inside and outside Rwanda. This article is a contribution to this issue.
In fact, the Rwandan history demonstrates that there has been harmony between Hutu and Tutsi for more than eight centuries of known Rwandan history. The factors of this harmony were, among others, the awareness that Rwandans formed a united nation governed by a monarchy that stood over tribal cleavage and was a bond of unity. There was also the fact that all Rwandans had the same culture, spoke the same language, and had intermarriages that made a population intertwined in close relationships.
Hutu and Tutsi shared life problems and struggled to solve them, each one contributing to the welfare of the other and bringing in what was specific to their skills in terms of farm work, cattle breeding, pottery and entertainment.
My life experience as a child, and then as a student until 1959, also taught me that I had close friends in both ethnic groups. Nobody among my schoolmates or my neighbours had either a strong or even a slight feeling of being different from, or antagonist to, one another. None presented themselves as Tutsi, Hutu, but all knew they were Rwandans. Rather, all identified themselves according to the 15 Rwandan family clans and their totems.
Where did discrimination and hatred come from and how did they build up to culminate into genocide? To our best knowledge and understanding, genocide took place as a result of the colonial policy to divide the population in order to maintain their hegemony and sustain their economic interests.
German and Belgian colonial rulers first favoured Tutsi who helped them to impose and have forced labor and chores executed by Hutu, to foster better production and increase imports of tropical products such as coffee, tea and minerals. Likewise Hutus, known for their hard work, have even been imported from Rwanda into the Belgian Congo to work as miners in Katanga.
However, when the Tutsi in power asked for independence in the 1950s, the Belgians switched alliances and helped the Hutu to overthrow monarchy and install the republic. The quest for independence sounded the death knell for the monarchy with the mysterious death of King Charles Mutara III Rudahigwa in Burundi in 1959, and the destitution by the same Belgian colonists of King Jean Baptiste Kigeli Ndahindurwa in 1961.
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