Wrong right: How Belgium and Catholic church cultivated Tutsi-Hutu ethnic hate that spilled to Congo and Uganda

Wrong right: How Belgium and Catholic church cultivated Tutsi-Hutu ethnic hate that spilled to Congo and Uganda


The Catholic Church in Rwanda provided the Hutus with access to the press in the 1950s. In those days the Catholic church was in possession of the most powerful press in Rwanda. The church skilfully placed this press into the hands of the Hutu.

As early as the late 1940s, Gregory Kayibanda had published a series of articles in L’Ami, a monthly journal published by the Catholic diocese of Kabgayi. In 1953 Kayibanda moved to Kabgayi to become secretary in the education inspection division and editor of L’Ami. From 1955 through 1957 he served as lay editor of Kinyamateka.

Kayibanda, Munyaganju and other Hutu leaders used these publications to articulate their cause. They strove to raise the consciousness of the Hutus. Let us not inadvertently give the impression that the propaganda activities in the press created a climate of resistance in the Hutus. The outrage was already simmering; what the press activities did was to bring it into the open.  

Ironically, although facing all this Hutu onslaught, the Belgian government as well as the Tutsi authorities did not bring about the badly needed reforms, which the Hutu agitation was calling for. Consequently the Hutus began to doubt the possibilities for peaceful change. Positions were becoming increasingly polarised and opportunities for compromise were diminishing.

Neither the king nor the    High Council was responding to Hutu demands. Then in 1956 Umwami Rudahiga, apparently influenced by Tutsis at court helped defeat a proposal by Maus, a Belgian settler for the provision of separate representation for Hutus in the governor’s Council of Ruanda-Urundi.

Following the lead of the Umwami, the High Council took the view that the issues to be addressed were social and economic. They refused to address the contradiction between the Tutsis and Hutus. It is necessary to point out that the composition of the High Council itself was not reassuring to the Hutus. During the very crucial period between 1956 and 1957, this body, which was expected to assume supreme legislative functions after independence had three Hutus i.e. less than six per cent of its membership. Then as though to deliberately stir up things in 1957, shortly before the visit of the United Nations mission, the High Council issued what it called “Statement of Views”.

The statement called for accelerated progress towards independence. When it came to discrimination, it recognised only one form i.e. the discrimination of Africans by Europeans. It did not recogonise the discrimination against Hutus.

The response of the Hutus to the position of the High Council came in the form of the Manifesto of the Bahutu. This great historic document was signed by Kayibanda and eight other Hutus and was sent to Governor Harroy in Bujumbura in March 1957. Noting that they could have included signatures of a million other Hutus, the signatories asserted the centrality of the “Hutu-Tutsi problem” as well as the need for the Belgian government to recognise it.

These are some of the very words of the document:  “The problem is above all a political monopoly, which is held by one race, the Mutusi; political monopoly which given the totality of the current structures become an economic and social monopoly; political, economic and social monopoly which, given the de facto discrimination in education, ends up being cultural monopoly, to the great despair of the Bahutu who see themselves condemned to remain forever subaltern manual labourers and still worse, in the context of independence which will have helped to win without what they are doing. The buheke is no doubt abolished, but it is replaced even more by this total monopoly which is largely responsible for the abuses about which the population is complaining.”

Not long after, in the middle of 1957 to be precise, Kayibanda formed an organisation called Movement Social Muhutu (Hutu Social Movement). It was designed to promote the objectives articulated in the Bahutu Manifesto. This was followed by the formation of by one of the signatories of the Bahutu Manifesto called Joseph Habyarimana Gitera. (It is important to note the heavy hand of the Catholic church: that both Kayibanda and Gitera were products of Petit Seminaire of Kabgayi and the Grand Seminaire at Nyakibanda.)

The two leaders were of contrasting background and predisposition. Kayibanda was a teacher by profession and a leader of several organisations. Gitera on the other hand was a small businessman with a brick works in Astrida. Politically Gitera was more radical. He had founded his own journal, *Ijwi xya Rubanda Rugufi *(Voice of the Little People) in which he launched vitriolic attacks on the monarchy and the kalinga drum – a symbol of royalty and Tutsi domination. He called upon the people to oppose Tutsi oppression by force if necessary.

Because of the vindictive tone of his propaganda, Gitera was more feared by the Tutsis. However Kayibanda was the better tactician and strategist. From his base at Kabgayi Mission, Kayibanda had quietly built an organisation at the grassroots. Ideologically the two parties, MSM and APROMASA,  were also dissimilar. Kayibanda’s PARMENTU stressed the liberation of the Hutus and took a strongly anti-Tutsi stance. In contrast APROMOSA called for the liberation of the freedom of all oppressed groups in Rwanda, namely Hutu as well as poor Tutsis. Be that as it may, Catharine Newbury tells us: “For both groups, of course, the monopoly of power by Tutsi chiefs and the abuse perpetrated by them were a central issue, but the differences between the leaders were also real.”

According to Catherine Newbury from August through October 1959, Rwanda was a simmering cauldron. Mwami Mutara Rudahigwa had died on July 25 1959 in circumstances that were suspicious. The Tutsi believed he was murdered. The subsequent manner of selecting his successor to the throne became what Chalmers Jonson has called an accelerator to the revolution.

Contrary to expected practice, the Belgian authorities were not consulted about the choice of successor, thus showing that the Belgians were losing control. Clearly Tutsis were seizing control. These events were also accelerators to the Hutus. Suspecting that the Tutsis were about to call upon the traditional units of Umwami’s army, the Hutus realised they had to organise more rapidly. Kayibanda took steps to organise Hutus in the northern regions according to a cell-type model. In summary the situation was like a tinderbox that could explode anytime.

Ironically, the action that triggered the revolution came from the Tutsis. On Sunday November 1, 1959, a gang of Tutsis youths attacked Dominique Mbonyumutwa, a Hutu sub-chief. Although the chief managed to escape, rumours spread that he had been killed. Local Hutu youths then moved to avenge his alleged death. The very following day, on Monday November 2 1959, when Hutu youths gathered at the house of Gashagaza, the Tutsi chief of Ndiza. They found four Tutsi notables who had taken refuge in Gashagaza’s house. While sparing Gashagaza, they attacked and killed the four chiefs who included a sub-chief who had earlier threatened retribution against supporters of the Hutu political parties. From Gashagaza’s home in Marangara the violence then spread to the neighbouring chiefdom of Ndiza. Thereafter, like a bushfire, it spread to other areas, reaching Gitarama territory and Ruhengerei and Gishenyi on November 6, 1959. Initially, the violence was limited to areas where PARMEHUTU was influential and later went to other areas as well.

The rapidity with which this uprising spread was testimony to the intensity of the resentment against Tutsis rule as well as desire for change. In its initial stages, the violence was directed at Tutsi chiefs and not the Umwami. It was also limited to burning Tutsis dwellings while Tutsis lives were spared.

“Incendiaries would set off in bands of some 10 persons. Armed with matches and paraffin, which the indigenous inhabitants used in large quantities for their lamps, they pillaged the Tutsi houses they passed by on their way and set fire to them. On their way they would enlist other incendiaries to follow in the procession while the first recruits, too exhausted to continue, would give up and return home. Thus day after day, fires spread from hill to hill.

Generally speaking the incendiaries, who were often unarmed, did not attack the inhabitants of the huts and were content with pillaging and setting fire to them. The most serious incidents involving tragic wounding and death occurred when the Tutsi were determined to fight back, or when there were clashes with the forces of order.”

In due course the Tutsis counter-attacked in a more organised and brutal manner. This caused the Belgian authorities to move and stop them. Then on Friday November 6, 1959 the Umwami requested permission to contain the situation using his own army. Much as the Belgian authorities denied him permission, he went ahead and moblised his forces. Orders were issued from the Umwami’s court for Hutu leaders to be arrested and taken before the king.

Starting from November 7, 1959, units of the Umwami’s army were dispatched and a number of Hutu leaders were killed. Joseph Habyarimana Gitera, the leader of APROSOMA party who was a prime target was protected by the Belgian forces and Kayibanda went into hiding. Those Hutu leaders who got captured were taken to Umwami’s court in Nyanza where they were tortured by UNAR leaders. The Tutsis objective was to eliminate all the Hutu leaders in the hope that that would stop the uprising.

The Belgian authorities had anticipated this kind of instability and had prepared for it. Governor Harroy had approached a friend of his, Colonel B.E.M Guy Logiest who at the time was an officer with Force Publique in the Congo to help him prepare. And so when the upheaval began, a detachment was sent from Bujumbura on October 24,  1959. Then on November 4, 1959, Colonel Logiest arrived accompanied by Force Publique soldiers as well as Belgian paratroopers.

A state of emergency was declared on November 11, military rule was imposed the following day and Colonel Logiest was appointed Special Military Resident of Rwanda. By November 14 relative calm had been restored.

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