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(en) ucl-saguenay, Collectif Emma Goldman: Rwanda and Burundi, 1894-1990: the colonialist origins of genocide (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]
Sat, 3 Aug 2019 11:04:18 +0300
Translation by us of an article by Tony Sullivan published on Libcom.org: A history of
Rwanda and Burundi, two African countries ruled by the Western imperialist powers until
independence in 1961. Burundi has for its part become an independent state in 1962. ----
The genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in which militias of the Hutu majority murdered 500,000 to
1 million people of the Tutsi minority, is well known. The complicity and even help given
to the Hutu government by the United Nations and the French government are, however, less
well known. ---- Knowledge of the antecedents of Western imperialist intervention that led
to the events that culminated in genocide is essential to understanding how they occurred.
---- Hutus and Tutsis: a tribal war? ---- The 1994 genocide targeted mainly the Tutsi
population, a minority in Rwanda. Its perpetrators came from the Hutu majority. In the
Western media, the massacres were presented as hostilities between tribes.
But Tutsis and Hutus are not "tribes". They belong to the same Banyarwanda people. They
share the same languages, religions and clan and kinship systems.
Prior to white colonial rule, Tutsis were simply a privileged social stratum, accounting
for about 15 percent of the population who controlled livestock and weapons. Hutus were
farmers. Most of the land was under the control of a Tutsi king, although some Hutu areas
The Legacy of European Domination
The Germans arrived in what would become Rwanda in 1894 and, like other Western
imperialists, began by intensifying local divisions to reinforce their own stranglehold.
They led through the Tutsi king and made the previously independent Hutu areas under the
control of the central administration.
The northern and western borders of Rwanda were essentially decided between the colonial
powers in 1910. The borders with Tanzania and Burundi began as internal administrative
divisions in East German Africa. Colony whose territory included the three current countries].
Before their departure in 1916, the Germans had crushed a rebellion and established coffee
as the great commercial crop of the colony.
After the First World War, Rwanda fell under Belgian control. The Belgians continued to
rule through the Tutsi king, although in the 1920s they overthrew a king who had
obstructed their plans and chose their own candidate to replace him, ignoring the lineage
The Belgian colonial regime was explicitly racist. Early in its mandate, the Belgian
government declared: "The government should seek to maintain and consolidate the
traditional frameworks of the Tutsi ruling class because of its important qualities, its
undeniable intellectual superiority and its potential for domination." Belgians only
educated Tutsi men. ( Frank Smyth, The Australian 10.6.94 )
In the 1930s, Belgium introduced a system of identity cards similar to that of the
Apartheid system. in South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia)], which identified
its bearers and bearers as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa (Pygmy). Their efforts to establish a racial
basis for dividing Tutsis and Hutus through physical characteristics such as skin color,
nose and head size have led to nothing; instead, they established the division of economic
reality and defined Tutsis as owners of more than 10 cattle. Nevertheless, the division
was now rigorously applied: it was no longer possible for Hutus and Tutsis to change their
After the Second World War, the Belgians continued to lead the economy to their advantage.
The goods were exported via the Belgian colonies on the Atlantic coast, although the route
to the ports of the Indian Ocean was far shorter and made much more sense in terms of
future economic development. But neither Belgium nor the other Western powers have planned
to develop Rwanda.
Repression and revolt
The Hutu resistance was brutally crushed. Amputations and other mutilations were common
punishments ordered by the Belgian authorities and administered by Tutsis. Until the
1940s, thousands of Hutu fled to Uganda. But in the 1950s, a powerful Hutu opposition
movement developed from an agrarian crisis, caused mainly by the scale of coffee
monocultures as a cash crop and by the King's cancellation of the custom of the exchange
of labor for land - a custom that gave Hutus a small chance to acquire land.
The Belgian authorities were at the time concerned by the rise of radical nationalist
sentiments among the middle class urban Tutsi.
A rebellion of Hutu agricultural workers broke out in the late 1950s. The colonialists
decided to reach an agreement with the latter by granting independence in 1961 and
allowing free elections.
At the same time, with astonishing hypocrisy, the colonialists encouraged the development
of an atmosphere of anti-Tutsi violence to deflect Hutu rage towards them.
The elections were won by the Hutu Emancipation Movement Party, also known as Parmehutu.
He immediately began to persecute the Tutsi.
Burundi separated from Rwanda in 1962 and remained under the control of Tutsis. The
following year, Tutsi refugees in Burundi invaded Rwanda and attempted to take over its
In response, the Parmehutu government crushed their movement and unleashed a wave of
deadly reprisals against Tutsi civilians in Rwanda, described by philosopher Bertrand
Russell as "the most horrific and systematic massacre we have seen since extermination of
Jews and Jews by the Nazis. ( Smyth, The Australian 10.6.94)
In 1973, General Juvenal Habyarimana took power and became president. He established a
highly centralized authoritarian regime. He formed the National Revolutionary Movement for
Development (MRND), which became the only legal political party in Rwanda. He created
groups of campaign co-operatives led by MRND loyalists. He co-opted the Catholic Church
and ironically controlled the small labor movement in the country.
At the same time, racist policies of the past were intensified: Tutsis were banned from
the armed forces and marriage between Tutsis and Hutus was prohibited.
Despite these policies, a growing number of Hutus opposed the regime.
Free market paralyzes Rwanda
The proportion of Rwandan workers involved in agriculture was the highest in the world. In
1994, agriculture employed 93% of the workforce (compared to 94% in 1965). Industry
contributed only 20% of the gross domestic product and this was largely limited to the
processing of agricultural products.
The dependence on inefficient agriculture left Rwanda praying in drought in 1989.
Environmental damage was also one of the causes. Formerly well wooded, Rwanda has only 3%
of its territory covered with forest. Erosion is endemic and destroys both natural
vegetation and food and cash crops, despite tree planting programs. Under these
conditions, disease and famine spread.
Thanks to its colonial heritage, 60 to 85% of Rwanda's external income depended on coffee
The consequence of this was an external debt of $ 90 per person, in a country where the
total wealth per person was only $ 320. The average calorie consumption of the population
was only 81% of the required intake. Less than 10% of children reached high school and one
in five babies was dying before the age of one.
In 1990, in a gesture of desperation, the Habyarimana government adopted the Structural
Adjustment Program of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for credit and
foreign aid. Massive cuts in the already meager public investments followed.
The regime has prepared for resistance by intensifying the repression of political
opponents, whether they be Hutus or Tutsis. But he has also started a new campaign to
overthrow Tutsis accusing them of being responsible for the economic crisis. Government
radio was relentlessly propagating hate propaganda and, in the context, the regime began
to organize death squad militias.
It is in this context of economic crisis that the genocide of Tutsis took place.
Anarchist Collective Blog Emma Goldman
Other sources not cited throughout the text:
Economist Intelligence Unit, Zaire / Rwanda / Burundi, 1991-2; Europa Year Book 1993;
Socialist Worker 10 June 1994; Rwanda, Randall Fegley; Socialist Review 178, September 1994
Collectif Emma Goldman
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