Rwandan Revolution

The Rwandan Revolution, also known as the Social Revolution or Wind of Destruction[1] (Kinyarwanda: muyaga),[2] was a period of ethnic violence in Rwanda from 1959 to 1961 between the Hutu and the Tutsi, two of the three ethnic groups in Rwanda. The revolution saw the country transition from a Belgian colony with a Tutsi monarchy to an independent Hutu-dominated republic.

Rwanda had been ruled by a Tutsi monarchy since at least the 18th century, with entrenched pro-Tutsi and anti-Hutu policies. Germany and Belgium successively controlled Rwanda through the early 20th century, with both European nations ruling through the kings and perpetuating a pro-Tutsi policy. After 1945 a Hutu counter-elite developed, leading to the deterioration of relations between the groups. The Tutsi leadership agitated for speedy independence to cement their power, and the Hutu elite called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu (a stance increasingly supported by the Roman Catholic Church and the colonial government).

The revolution began in November 1959, with a series of riots and arson attacks on Tutsi homes following the attack of the only Hutu sub-chief Dominique Mbonyumutwa by Tutsi extremists. Violence quickly spread throughout the country. The king and Tutsi politicians attempted a counterattack to seize power and ostracise the Hutu and the Belgians but were thwarted by Belgian colonel Guy Logiest, who was brought in by the colonial governor. Logiest reestablished law and order, beginning a programme to promote and protect the Hutu elite. The Belgians then replaced many Tutsi chiefs and sub-chiefs with Hutu, consigning King Kigeli V to figurehead status; Kigeli later fled the country. Despite continued anti-Tutsi violence, Belgium organized local elections in mid-1960. Hutu parties gained control of nearly all communes, effectively ending the revolution. Logiest and Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared Rwanda an autonomous republic in 1961, and the country became independent in 1962.

The revolution caused at least 336,000 Tutsi to flee to neighbouring countries, where they lived as refugees. Although the exiles agitated for an immediate return to Rwanda, they were split between those seeking negotiation and those wishing to overthrow the new regime. Some exiles formed armed groups (called inyenzi, or "cockroaches", by the Hutu government), who launched attacks into Rwanda. The largest occurred in late 1963, when a surprise attack approached Kigali. The government fought back, defeating the rebels and killing thousands of the remaining Tutsi in Rwanda. No further threat was posed by the refugees until the 1990s, when a civil war initiated by the Tutsi-refugee Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) forced the Hutu government into negotiations. This led to a rise in Hutu extremism and the 1994 genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed before the FPR took control.


Precolonial Rwanda

Photograph of King's palace in Nyanza, Rwanda depicting main entrance, front and conical roof
Reconstruction of the King of Rwanda's palace at Nyanza

The earliest inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were the Twa, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who settled the area between 8000 and 3000 BC and remain in the country today.[3][4] Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda and began clearing forests for agriculture.[5][4] After losing much of their habitat, the forest-dwelling Twa moved to the mountains.[6] Historians have several theories about the Bantu Migrations. According to one, the first settlers were Hutu; the Tutsi migrated later and formed a distinct racial group, possibly of Cushitic origin.[7] An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady, with incoming groups integrating into (rather than conquering) the existing society.[8][4] In this theory the Hutu-Tutsi distinction arose later as a class distinction, rather than a racial one.[9][10]

The population coalesced, first into clans (ubwoko)[11] and into about eight kingdoms by 1700.[12] The country was fertile and densely populated, with its kingdoms strictly controlled socially.[13] The Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became increasingly dominant beginning in the mid-18th century.[14] From its origins as a small toparchy near Lake Muhazi[15] the kingdom expanded through conquest and assimilation,[16] reaching its zenith under King (Mwami) Kigeli Rwabugiri between 1853 and 1895. Rwabugiri expanded the kingdom west and north,[17][14] implementing administrative reforms which included ubuhake (where Tutsi patrons ceded cattle—and privileged status—to Hutu or Tutsi clients in exchange for economic and personal service)[18] and uburetwa (a corvée system in which Hutu were forced to work for Tutsi chiefs).[17] Rwabugiri's reforms developed a rift between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.[17]


The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany, with imprecise boundaries.[19] When Gustav Adolf von Götzen explored the country ten years later,[20] he discovered that the Kingdom of Rwanda included a fertile region east of Lake Kivu. Germany wanted this region, which was also claimed by Leopold II as part of his own Congo Free State (annexed by Belgium to form the Belgian Congo in 1908). To justify its claim, Germany began a policy of ruling through the Rwandan monarchy and supporting Tutsi chiefs; this system allowed colonisation with few European troops.[21] Yuhi V Musinga, who emerged as king after a succession crisis following the death of his father Rwabugiri[22] and a struggle with Belgian troops, welcomed the Germans and used them to consolidate his power.[20] The territory became the western border of German East Africa. German rule allowed Rwabugiri's centralisation policy to continue, and the rift between Tutsi and Hutu deepened.[21]

A 1916 postage stamp from the Belgian Occupied East African Territories, captured during the East African Campaign in World War I

Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi during World War I, and the country came under Belgian control in a 1919 League of Nations mandate,[23] named Ruanda-Urundi.[24] Although Belgium initially continued the German method of government through the monarchy, in 1926, it began a policy of direct colonial rule in line with the norm in the Congo.[25][26] Reforms included simplifying the complex three-chieftain system, so one chief (usually Tutsi) instead of three (typically split between Tutsi and Hutu) ruled a local area. Belgian reforms also extended uburetwa (forced labour by Hutus for Tutsi chiefs) to individuals, not just communities, and to regions not previously covered by the system.[27] Tutsi chiefs began a process of land reform with Belgian support; grazing areas traditionally controlled by Hutu collectives were seized by Tutsi and privatised with minimal compensation.[28]

Beginning in the late 1920s, the role of the Catholic Church grew. This was encouraged by the Belgian government, since the priests knew the country well and facilitated its administration. Many Rwandans (including elite Tutsi) converted, since Catholicism was an increasing prerequisite for social advancement.[29] King Musinga refused to convert, and in 1931 he was deposed by the Belgian administration; his eldest son, Mutara III Rudahigwa, succeeded him and eventually became Rwanda's first Christian king.[30] During the 1930s the Belgians introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works and agricultural supervision, including new crops and agricultural techniques to improve food supply.[31] Though Rwanda was modernised the Tutsis remained in power, leaving the Hutu disenfranchised and subject to large-scale forced labour.[32] In 1935 Belgium introduced identity cards, labelling an individual as Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. Although wealthy Hutu had previously been able to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards ended further social mobility.[33]