Yesterday, we concluded the national commemoration week for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
During this period, I can’t help but think that had it not been for the role and involvement of the Catholic missionaries and especially the Belgian government authorities, the |Genocide which resulted in the extermination of over one million innocent Rwandans, would not have happened.
The genesis of the Hutu-Tutsi animosity began with the advent of the Belgians and there is no doubt about that.
The Germans, who first colonized Rwanda, had found a country where Umwami (king) enjoyed absolute powers over his subjects, over the land and over the cattle, in a hierarchical society where just a few Batutsi families held positions of authority.
In exchange for his recognition, the German resident administrator in Rwanda supported the authority of the Umwami, leaving his existing local administration system intact, avoiding any form of interference in his existing social rapports with his people.
But when the Belgian administration later took over from the Germans, it fully exploited the complicity between colonialism and evangelization, through the missionaries, especially the Roman Catholics - the White Fathers.
The Belgians, unlike the Germans never took into account the specific unity of the Bahutu and the Batutsi people, nor the fact that ninety percent of the Batutsi belonged to the masses of poor peasants.
As a strategy to gain influence and to protect their interests, they shifted their alliance with the Bahutu or the Batutsi at will.
What the Belgians did in the first years of their influence, was to systematically support the Bahutu in their relationship with the traditional authority, unlike the Germans who had favored respect for the tradition.
Also, because King Yuhi IV had right from the beginning, stubbornly and ferociously resisted the white man’s civilization, especially Christianity, the Belgians, in connivance with the missionaries deposed and banished him from the country, and then they set about taking their revenge on him, and by extension on the Batutsi. How?
They reigned without scruples, constantly frustrating the Batutsi in every way; they incited the people to disobey the rules and took unfair positions against the Batutsi chiefs on all issues.
In order to humiliate them, these were even flogged in public before their subjects. Missionaries encouraged new Christian converts, mainly the Bahutu, not to obey traditional authority, and the Church would support them. Basically, it was as if the vision of the missionaries was to create a ‘Bahutu Church in a Bahutu State.’
But later there came on the Rwandan political scene, one Bishop Leon Classe. Also a Roman Catholic, Classe was a French missionary who was very influential in persuading the Belgian colonial administration to favour the Batutsis as a ruling caste in Rwanda.
When he arrived, he was immediately aware of the anti-Batutsi feeling within the clergy and worked overtime to turn the situation around. He initiated a policy declaration on the part of the Church informing all the missionaries that from then on, the Church would rally itself around the Batutsi.
He convinced the authorities in Belgium that Rwanda’s administration should be run by the Batutsi who, in his eyes, were superior to the Bahutu.
This is how a recruitment policy of administrators solely from among the Batutsi was set in motion, and a rigid social barrier among the people was inexorably set, and this position had far-reaching implications in generating feelings of resentment and hatred within the Bahutu population, who saw themselves excluded from participation in their country’s affairs.
In Belgium, convinced that concentrating power in the hands of the few Batutsi would serve both the colonial and Church interests, the administration went along with this Catholic Church’s position without question.
As a result, the Batutsi benefited from educational, political, administrative, and economic favours at the expense of the majority of Bahutu and Batutsi of modest origin, who lost many of the advantages they held before colonialism.
Maybe now this begins to explain the source of dissent among the Bahutu, and the disastrous and genocidal consequences of the ill-fated revolution, engineered and supported by the Belgians themselves.
The Belgians used the Tutsi minority to exert their rule, then they steadily increased their administrative control; in particular, they changed the notion of Rwandan ethnicity, and shifted the Bahutu-Batutsi distinction from one that had involved ethnicity and class, to a solely and purely ethnic definition introducing the mention of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa on individual identity cards.
In 1959, after the seed of discord had been sowed, they helped the Bahutu usurp power from the Batutsi and conveniently left the scene, facilitating the establishment of a regime in which for several years there would be frequent massacres of Batutsi.
With time, the seed grew and later hatched into a full fledged Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Be that as it may, Rwanda and its people are on the mend. Slowly but steadily.
Unlike what some western ideologues and genocide deniers would like the gullible world to believe, the true cause of the Rwandan Hutu-Tutsi discord was never the innate hatred between the Bahutu and the Batutsi, but the negative influence of the Belgian colonialists and the catholic missionaries on the relationship between these two indigenous groups.
The writer is an editor of Izuba Rirashe, a sister paper to The New Times