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Conflict in Rwanda, 1960-1964

The Tutsis originally came to Rwanda from the Horn of Africa, where they soon subjigated the native Hutus and established a Tutsi monarchy and nobility, while relegating the Hutus to near feudal serfdom. However, these strict ethnic and class boundries began to blur over time.

To understand the post-independence political process in Burundi, it is necessary to be aware of the parallel process in its twin country, Rwanda. Both countries have the same culture, virtually the same language, and the same "ethnic" mix. They are roughly equivalent in size, in population and in geographical characteristics. In Rwanda, however, the royal family and the nobility were Tutsi. Tutsis had exercised for centuries the monopoly of power. Rwanda had been a unified, independent monarchy even longer than Burundi at the time of the German conquest.

Rwanda became a UN Trust Territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. The Belgians began a series of democratic reforms in the late 1950s, but these were opposed by Tutsi traditionalists who saw them as a threat to Tutsi rule. This angered Rwanda's Hutu population, who first in 1957 issued a manifesto calling for increased rights for the Hutus.

To counter Tutsi pressure for independence on their terms, the Belgians favored a Hutu uprising in Rwanda in 1959, which led to a state of emergency and the effective end of Tutsi supremacy. The revolt against the Tutsis sought to overthrow the Tutsi monarchy. It was prompted by a dispute over the succession to the Tusti-controled throne, which the Hutus claimed was illegitimate. The revolt (with Belgian military support) caused more than 160,000 Tutsis to flee to neighboring countries. In 1961 a republic was proclaimed and the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) won an overwhelming majority in a UN-supervised referendum later that year.

Independence was granted on July 1, 1962 under an elected Hutu Government led by Grégoire Kayibanda. Tutsis lost all effective political power. In December 1963, there was a massacre of some 20,000 Tutsis by Hutus, the first in recorded history, and great numbers went into exile. Persecution and exile of Tutsis continued during the years that followed. Most of these exiles went to Uganda, but a great number settled in Burundi and other countries.

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Page last modified: 14-12-2015 14:17:04 ZULU