1959 revolution in Rwanda was not genocide at all

Saturday January 25 2014

By Yoga Adhola

Speaking at the 5th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region on Peace and Security in Luanda, Angola, President Museveni made the following remarks about Rwanda:

“The Belgian sponsored genocide of 1959 in Rwanda created a Tutsi Diaspora that dispersed in the region -- Uganda, Congo, Burundi and Tanzania”. “The colonial manipulation of the indigenous castes (occupational specialisations) of Rwanda and Burundi in the colonial period, climaxing into the first genocide organised by the Belgians in Rwanda in 1959 and 1960.”

These two statements are totally false. What took place in Rwanda in 1959 was a revolution. To show the falsehood of these statements we need to go into the history of Rwanda from the time the Tutsis and Hutus first arrived in the present day Rwanda.

Of the two, the first people to arrive in the present day Rwanda and Burundi were/are Bantu speaking people whose cradle is supposed to be somewhere in West Africa, most probably present day Cameroon. These Bantu speaking people are the ones called Hutus today. They were and are agriculturists.

The Tutsis were to arrive later. It is believed they came from around present day Ethiopia. The Tutsis are differentiated from the Hutus by their looks. They tend to be tall and thin. They also tend to have elongated noses like Caucasians.

When they first arrived they were pastoralists and are still predominantly pastoralists up to the present day. With their cattle and some rudimentary political organisation which the Hutus did not have, the Tutsis overawed the Hutus and established a monarchy as well the caste system that President Museveni referred to above in central Rwanda.


In 1884, Germany colonised Rwanda as part of its Rwanda-Urundi colony. Later, following Germany’s defeat in the First World War, Rwanda-Urundi was put under Belgian colonial rule as a United Nations Trusteeship territory.

Both colonial powers were to use the pre-colonial administrative structure of the Tutsis to run the colony through the rubric of indirect rule. By so doing, colonialism reinforced Tutsi dominance. Colonialism also expanded the area of Tutsi domination.

To rationalise Tutsi domination, colonialism gave the Tutsis superior education. The Tutsis were educated in the colonial language i.e. French and Hutus were taught in Kiswahili or Kinyarwanda. Much as the chiefly hierarchy were already a preserve of the Tutsi, this differential education made Tutsis appear superior to Hutus.

In spite of this discrimination, some Hutus acquired education. Incidentally, the first Rwandan to get a university degree was a Hutu called Anastase Mukuzu. He graduated from the Centre Universitaire de Kisatu (Congo-Kinshasa) in 1955. However, despite his university education, he failed to get a job.

In the late 1930s there began a change in the social character of the Belgian priests. Increasingly, they were being recruited from the provinces of Wallonia in Belgium. The province of Wallonia was discriminated against in Belgium. Because of that discrimination, the Wallonia priests empathised with the downtrodden Hutus and began to empower them.

It was through this empowerment that Gregore Kayibanda, the first leader of independent Rwanda, emerged. At one time, Kayibanda was the personal secretary to the apostolic vicar of Rwanda and later became the editor of Kinyamateka, the Catholic church-owned Kinyarawnda language newspapers.

In December 1956 the church authorities founded a cooperative and Kayibanda became its president. The expanding grass-root level organisation of the cooperative was to serve as an organisational base for the development of the Hutu political movement.

And then in June 1957 Kayibanda launched a cultural association called Movement Social Muhutu. This was to be transformed into a fully-fledged political party, paramehutu in October 1959.
Shortly after the formation of paramehutu, there occurred confrontations between the militants of paramehutu on the one hand and the militants of the Tutsi party (UNAR), and the Tutsi chiefs on the other. These confrontations became violent in November of 1959. In the ensuing violent clashes some Tutsi chiefs were killed and others simply resigned.

The Belgian authorities saw red. Fearing possible reprisals from the Tutsi then in power, the Belgian authorities declared a state of emergency and put the country under the command of Colonel Guy Logiest.

Col Logiest took steps to replace Tutsi chiefs with Hutu chiefs.
In doing so, Professor Mamdani argues, the colonel shepherded a revolution against what had been the colonial power’s own local authorities. This is what President Museveni describes as the Belgians sponsoring genocide.