Ethnic Categories Of Hutu And Tutsi History Essay


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The ethnic categories of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" long predated colonial rule, the two groups lived a peaceful integrated existence, virtually free of violence. It was colonialism that institutionalised ethnicity and infused it with a perverse and distorted "scientific" belief system; naturalising the Tutsi destiny to rule over the majority Hutus. This is not however what was presented by the media at the time. The violence was portrayed as the latest instalment of centuries of conflict, an inevitable by-product of two rival ethnic groups crowded into the same, small geographic space and forced to compete over scarce resources and for power; this naivety of reporting characterised the resulting atrocities. [1] We can go as far back as the late nineteenth century to the first attempts at the colonisation of Rwanda by Germany to see how the divide was in effect propagated and cemented into the psyches of the native people.

An ideology of the God-given superiority of Tutsi was evolving in the second half of the 19th century, in line with the actual conquest and centralization of power by King Kigeli IV. It seems likely that, when the first Germans arrived in Rwanda, the then King was more than happy to make them believe in the longstanding and accepted nature of his rule, and indeed, the Germans, by conquering new territories in the North and backing him up militarily, greatly helped the King extend his power; allowing the Germans to keep control of the population by way of incentives given to the King. [2] This remained the situation until the confiscation of German colonial territories post-WWI, Belgium by way of the 1916 League of Nations Mandate, took the colony under it influence.

The prominent racial misconception active in post-WWI was that there was a social Darwinism; this perverse view based on Darwin's conceptions of evolution and 'survival of the fittest'. Applied to the human race the misconception was that certain racial differences were put down to a lack of development in effect less-evolved than other racial groups. [3] Genetically superior Caucasians sat at the top if the ladder; other people could be ranked on the similarity the bared to a classic Caucasian in physical and morphological structure and the artefacts they produced. [4] This idea was used to explain the perceived pockets of civilization within the African continent. [5] 

The Belgium further applied this twisted logic at the beginning of their colonial reign. The Tutsis were perceived to have a greater resemblance to Caucasians than that of the Hutus. Hence, the Tutu people were deemed naturally superior to that of the less-evolved Hutus. The Belgian's even went as far two identify the nationality of each citizen, handing out identify cards fixing their ethnic identity. This "scientific" classification and its political institutionalization had a profound effect on Rwandan culture. Decades of such messages coming from all parts of society produced an indelible "reality" of Tutsi superiority and Hutu inferiority; creating an institutionalised ethnocracy. [6] 

Specialists have gone to great lengths to correct these grossly inaccurate characterisations of the origins of these ethnic boundaries. In fact, during the genocide Hutus were mistakenly killed because they had "Tutsi" features, and Tutsis were able to pass for Hutu because they had stereotypical "Hutu" features. [7] 


Decolonisation presented a unique opportunity to the Hutu people, they had a vast majority in Rwanda and now they had the chance to take power from themselves. Naturally the desire for a democratic Rwanda fell on ethnic lines; the Hutu looking for majority rule, the guise of democracy was convenient as any means to take power. The Tutsis obviously looked to reject democracy due to their inferior numbers.

In an ironic twist this ethnic arrangement was about to be turned on its head. [8] The "Hutu Manifest," which is the basic political text written by Rwanda's later President Kayibanda (1962- 1973) states that "the problem is basically that of the monopoly of one race, the Tutsi...which condemns the desperate Hutu to be for ever subaltern workers". [9] From exactly the opposite perspective, these people vehiculated identical images.

What emerged over the following years came to known as the "Hutu Revolution"; the mythologies that had legitimized Tutsis rule were now "inverted like a photographic negative". A new myth arose; the Tutsis were now "foreign invaders" that had descended from the north to impose an aristocratic dictatorship on the native Hutu. After independence was ratified it was the Hutu that took political power, years of oppression and inferiority finally rose to the top, the newly installed President Kayibanda was more than willing to use ethnic terror and sow divisions to maintain his rule; there had been years of justification to do so. [10] 

A stunningly perceptive and prophetic 1961 UN Trusteeship Council report stated, "The developments of these last 18 months have brought about the racial dictatorship of one party … An oppressive system has been replaced by another one … It's quite possible that some day we will witness violent reactions against the Tutsi". [11] 


In line with its ideology of the "social revolution," the new Hutu elite developed a policy of systematic discrimination against Tutsi, especially in areas of political power (the army, the government, the single party) and of vertical mobility (education, foreign training, and state jobs). A quota system was installed that limited access to higher education and state jobs to a number supposedly equal to the Tutsi proportion of the population. The system of ethnic identity papers introduced by the Belgians was kept intact by the post-colonial governments, and indeed continued to exist until the 1994 genocide, greatly facilitating and antagonising its execution. [12] 

The quota systems and the ethnic IDs, combined with the prejudicial ideology of the social revolution, served more to keep the ethnic divisions alive, to allow for social control by the state, rather than to implement actual discrimination. These were in effect structural reminders not only that the government was there looking out for the Hutu but also an ingrained reminder of this political division which would slowly seep into the mass consciousness of the people as a whole. [13] 

The genocide was preceded by a civil war launched late 1990 by Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) against the Hutu-led government. [14] On independence of Rwanda there was a dramatic power shift from Tutsi to Hutu rule, what followed was what Bertrand Russell described as "the most horrible and systematic massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazi's." The violence drove many Tutsis into exile in neighbouring countries, and it was from within the borders of Uganda, to the north of Rwanda, that the surge to reclaim power would come. [15] 

In looking to the work of Fein on the Holocaust we should have seen a stark comparison: "One condition that may predict genocide in the making is the practice of denying groups access to political and/or economic positions. In Germany prior to Nazi rule, the Jews were only marginally integrated politically. Economically Jews were overrepresented in the professions, but traditionally had been excluded from the guilds and civil service. The anti-Semitism that denied Jews access to political office, education and the professions eroded slowly during the 19thcentury, only to remerge at the end of the century; Prior discrimination and prejudice made the Jews a convenient target for Nazi ideologues". [16] 

The genocide…

Radicalisation and propagation

The death of President Habyarimana was undoubtedly a catalyst for the atrocities to follow, some analysts suggest that there several facts that link this heavily to the massacres that followed, suggesting that this in fact have been the planned intention, 'the two sides of the same plot'. [17] Sensing inevitable defeat extremists within the Hutu government were of thought to be involved in the killing of their own president; these radicals in a desperate bid to remain in power propagated the complete annihilation of all Tutsis. This evidently organised social degradation got quickly out of control and years of oppression and racial prejudice let lose, Pandora's Box was open. All these processes are well planned at the highest levels, their execution passed on with Rwanda's typical efficiency through the usual channels to local authorities. As the International Inquiry Commission for Human Rights Violations since October 1, 1990 observed "these massacres...have never been the result of chance or spontaneous popular movements or even the result of competition between different parties; There seems to be a central hand, or a number of hands, that master the genesis and the unfolding of these events". [18] The initial killings were of a much organised fashion as one witness described, [19] "There was no anarchy, no chaos", "In Kigali, there was order." Another army officer confided that every day a lorry-full of arms and ammunition was distributed during a tour of the roadbloacks. [20] In the fall out of the Presidents death RTLMC [21] started to broadcast direct incitements to deliberately murder 'to avenge the death of our president'. Within the next few hours the calls turned into hysterical appeals for even greater quantities of blood. It was difficult to credit that normal people could broadcast such things as "You have missed some of the enemies in this place or that place. Some are still alive. You must go back there and finish them off." Or "The graves are not yet quite full. Who is going to do the good work and help us fill them completely?" [22] 

Misconceptions into chaos

At the top of the list of misunderstandings to be corrected is the status of the 'Hutus' and 'Tutsis'. The media and the majority of the press at the time were describing the 'tribal' nature of the natives, this could not be further from the truth; these groups had none of the sociological, linguistic, or political characteristics of tribes, and in fact they largely lived together on a fairly equal social basis. [23] The more accurate picture was one of an ethnic divide; yet interbreeding and multiculturalism was prominent between the two groups in Rwanda. So to suggest that the groups came from distinct gene pools would be another misconception. To illustrate the existence of these biological boundaries, many reports noted how these ethnic groups had distinct physical characteristics: the Hutus are short and squat and have Negroid facial features, while the Tutsis are tall and lean and possess angular facial features. [24] Specialists have gone to great lengths to correct these grossly inaccurate characterisations of the origins of these ethnic boundaries. In fact, during the genocide Hutus were mistakenly killed because they had "Tutsi" features, and Tutsis were able to pass for Hutu because they had stereotypical "Hutu" features. As the sociologist W. I. Thomas noted, if objects are perceived as real, they will be real in their consequences. [25] 

Anyone who felt they had been unjustly treated rose up and had he provocation and justification to kill, and not just on ethnic lines, chaos ensued. They had the blessings of a form of authority to take revenge on socially powerful people as long as they were on the wrong side of the political fence. They could steal, they could kill, they could rape and get drunk for free; a dark carnival emerged with no end in sight. [26] Herd mentality undoubtedly took over people joined in the degradation just to seem 'one of the boys' technically becoming 'part time' interahamwe. [27] Discipline was obviously poor the resulting carnage developed into a devils playground no one knew what they were fighting for anymore. [28] When the authorities gave the orders to kill and most of the group around you complied, with greater or less enthusiasm, it took a brave man indeed to abandon solidarity with the crowd and refuse to go along. [29] Ordinary peasants were driven into the massacre becoming part of it themselves as testimony from a veteran Hutu explains, "I regret what I did. […] I am ashamed, but what would you have done if you had been in my place? Either you took part in the massacre or else you were massacred yourself. So I took weapons and defended the member of my tribe against the Tutsi."

Tutsi were killed simply because they were Tutsi, they were labelled "ibyitso" (accomplices or cockroaches) sympathisers of the RPF, and this extended to all Tutsi whether they had allegiances or not. Hutu who were ether members or simple sympathisers of democratic opposition parties were also killed because their opposition to the "democratic majority" had turned them into objective "ibyitso," no better than Tutsi. Among the casualties were also journalists and even priests and nuns who had tried to protect individuals or intervened in the massacre. [30] 

The overriding feature in the mechanics of the genocide was geographical. The dense population, the open landscape, left few place to hide and people were simply hunted down and killed. Many people were being attacked by their neighbours and many people's neighbours tried to hide their friends and family. Many tried to resort to collective protection heading to the churches or schools, this just did the hunters job for them, people were left sitting ducks, and there was no stop to the brutality and onslaught. Some teachers even resorted to giving up their Tutsi pupils in order to save the rest. I do not feel it is necessary to go into the true horrors of this atrocity here, which are widely known; instead I shall remain focused on the social-political aspects of the conflict. [31] 

Heroes or villains

The genocide phenomenon placed people in incredibly complex moral and social situations. While some could be denounced and sent to death by their neighbours whom they had known all their lives, others could - incredibly - be saved from kind hatred Interahamwe. [32] Some people were denounced by their colleagues who wanted their jobs or killed by people who wanted their property, while others were saved by unknown Hutu disgusted by the violence. The situation was particularly difficult for mixed couples; a husband would offer all his money at exit roadblocks to allow his wife to live. A Tutsi wife who had managed to run away with her Hutu husband asked him to kill her after they had been hunted in the hills for several weeks. They both knelt to pray for God's forgiveness, and then he killed her as she had asked. The man later confessed his "crime" to a priest and asked him if God would forgive him." The distinction between heroes and villains no longer existed. [33] 

In the post-Cold War era profit motive had replaced East-West concerns and is not the main stimulus behind the sale of weapons. The market was becoming increasingly saturated and weapons were changing hands for less than cost price. During the cold war both the US and the Soviets generously donated and back up regimes in line with their own national interest, as the iron curtain fell so did outside control. [34] More than a dozen nations helped fuel the Rwandan war, and both sides appear to have purchased considerable weaponry through private sources on the open market; Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Slovaks, and others began aggressively promoting arms sales. In amidst the changing dynamics of world international scene many nations and individuals were out to make money, morals consciousness and consequences were not high on the agenda. [35] The country was already flooded with guns due to the on-going civil war. The government was relying on previous weaponry from colonial rule [36] which gave the RPF the upper hand, based in Uganda they were not only given military support backed by the Habyarimana regime, but were also advanced due to a high level of French complicity. [37] 

UN and its response - guilty hands

Initial action

I now turn my attention to the other dynamic of the genocide the external factors that influenced and perhaps failed to influence the events that unfolded in Rwanda. Initial progress was slow, the UN agreed to talks after the commencing cease-fire between the RPF and the Rwandan Government, a small number of troops were deployed to maintain the cease-fire and to promote the approaching Arusha talks. [38] A request for "a neutral international force" was made even before the resolution was passed and was consequently rejected amidst Boutros-Ghali's pleas for patience. On a more positive note months of demanding negotiations had culminated in the creation of the Arusha Accords; on the surface Arusha promised a brighter, more stable and democratic Rwanda. [39] 

The western powers were under continuing pressure from populous opinion over the necessity of sending troops to Africa; this was intensified by the escalating situation and gross failings of UN operations in Somalia. [40] US troops were killed in Somalia two days before the Council was to vote on whether or not to provide peacekeepers for Rwanda. With public opinion so low, not helped by the misconceived naive reporting from the media, it was perhaps surprising that a mandate was granted at all. [41] 

Shortly after the announcement of the Arusha Accords, a UN report was created, albeit by a different part of the bureaucratic system, it was the first to raise "The Genocide Question". [42] The rapporteur was clearly alarmed by his findings and the patterns of violence he had encountered, this violence was not directly related to the civil war, it had a more sinister complex source, and it should have been a warning for all to see. Amazingly this report never found its way into the proceedings in deciding peacekeeping actions to take in Rwanda; it was not heard in the Security Council and therefore did not come to the attention of those planning the peacekeeping operation. These findings were already known to anyone who knew anything about Rwanda but the UN clearly was not one of them. [43] This gross failing of the UN goes to highlight their deep misunderstanding of the Rwandan conflict; in believing the country was committed to reproach and reconciliation via the Arusha Accords, when in reality this certainly was not the case. In effect the UN were going in blind Boutros-Ghali despatched a team, for a reconnaissance mission, headed by General Romeo Dallaire. [44] Although qualified and educated by NATO and in domestic military operations, his knowledge of Rwanda and even Africa was very limited. He later recalled his reaction when he was first approached about leading the UNOMUR operation: "When I got the call, I said, 'Yes, sir, that's in Africa, right?'" Others on his team were not that much better versed on the ins-and-outs of Rwanda. [45] 

Once on the ground they encountered largely what they expected from the briefing, everyone's attitude was upbeat, people were confident about the future believing that they had turned the corner on their violent past. Their limited understanding of the complexities of the situation limited their reasoning; they had only encountered moderate factions of the hierarchy and did not meet a single extremist on the entire trip. Dallaire confidently predicted that "restoration of order and stability in the country makes it possible to deploy international peacekeeping forces here soon. These forces will supervise the fulfilment of the peace agreement and the transit of the country to democratic rule." [46] Even going as far to proclaim on his return to New York that "the people do not want war any more … The situation is calm and everybody has a clear desire for peace." [47] Was there really any peace to keep?

The cross examinations coming from those on the Security council concerned not a detective's investigatory skills or a historian's knowledge but rather a politician's working understanding of Rwanda's recent past and a bureaucrat's concern with making sure that the proposed operation satisfied the minimal conditions. [48] 

The Security Council voted in favour of resolution 872 and the establishment of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). The council's responsibilities, in short, were qualified and contingent on the behaviour of the Rwandans. UNAMIR was deployed naively and was undernourished, a deadly combination, a gift from member states who hoped for a quick victory and were willing to take shortcuts to get there. [49] 

Operation begins

In neighbouring Burundi the timing could not have been worse. Just as operations on the ground in Rwanda got underway, Burundi's president, a Hutu and a champion of democracy, was assassinated by officers from the Tutsi dominated army; a full military coup followed which saw the removal of all the democratic leadership. [50] Rumours of an import of a French military presence within Burundi brought about the move, with the Tutsi armed-forces sceptical of the French intentions in light of the active support France was giving the Hutu Government in Rwanda. [51] There could be no clearer sign even at this early stage of the operation that things were not quite how they understood them in Rwanda and the surrounding area; ethnic trouble was clearly evident.

The limitations and bureaucratic nature was only too well now to the hierarchy on both sides of the divide in Rwanda with the problems in Somalia well known the this in fact heavily influenced the reluctance of the UN to get involved in a similar situation, in effect the warring factions were just waiting in the knowledge that the most likely eventuality would be complete withdrawal of UN troops leaving them free to progress with their cleansing operation. [52] 

The wrong approach was taken resulting in a mandate not designed specifically to the correct situation contributing in the ground troops not being equipped to take control of the situation. If UNAMIR were to use force, then authorisation would be needed for the Security Council. The original mandate would not be sufficient to allow the UN forces to interfere with the internal affairs of the Rwandan state. [53] Writing from Geneva, the secretary-general sent a letter to the president of the Security Council, Colin Keating [54] , in which he suggested the withdrawal from Rwanda of UNAMIR. [55] Plans were discussed for the alteration of the UN mandate, however, the correction of human rights abuses was not top of the agenda, and emphasis was solely given in context of rescuing expatriates. Any discussion over any feasible plans to strop the massacres was simply dismissed as constituting interference in Rwanda's internal affairs. [56] The US were the first too plan for total withdrawal, this stance was quickly followed and adopted by the UN; this non-risk approach was reiterated to ground commanders. Dallaire was explicitly told, "You should make every effort not to compromise your impartiality or act beyond your mandate." There was an element of discretion implied, however, "This should not, repeat not, extend to participation in possible combat except in self-defence." [57] 

Roger Winter [58] wrote an article exhaling his perception of the situation; his article explained how the violence was political in nature, and the killing part of a conspiracy by an extremist clique determined to cling to power, using ethnicity to achieve its ends. [59] To compound this there were many Great Lakes experts in the USA, with extensive knowledge of Rwanda; however, they were dismissed or ignored as misguided or unimportant. [60] 

This was exemplified by the response and naive reporting by the western media, although the news coverage had been handicapped by events on the ground, the characterisation of the genocide as tribal anarchy was "fundamentally irresponsible". [61] The media's failure to report that genocide was taking place stifled any public pressure that would have been generated to force the western powers to act, and in effect contributed to international indifference of the situation, and possibly to the crime itself. [62] 

Dallaire in realising truth of the terror and the possibilities of the escalating situation thought he could prevent the situation for escalating with further support from the UN, he say no reason why the Chapter IV mandate, dealing with the pacific resolution disputes, should prevent him from taking action. [63] It was clear to him that any crimes against humanity were specifically to be tackled by any possible necessary action. [64] Only a lack of means prevented him from taking action. a report predating the genocide by three years back up his claim that with increased military support including air, logistics and communications could have prevented the killing of half a million people. [65] 

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