Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Rooted in precolonial inequalities and divisive colonial policies, the rise of Hutu political power in Rwanda led to the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy, the flight of thousands to neighboring countries, and other atrocities. In addition to brutal massacres, Tutsi were described as inyenzi, or cockroaches, and were scapegoats for all difficulties and failings faced by Hutu governments. The atrocities foreshadowed an even more brutal genocide thirty-five years later.

Summary of Event

According to oral tradition, a centralized kingdom spread over most of present-day Rwanda by the mid-eighteenth century. The Tutsi mwami (“king” in Kinyarwanda) was the pinnacle of ubuhake, Ubuhake system a manorial system that subjugated the agrarian Hutu. Treated as semidivine beings, mwamis collected tribute from their subjects and controlled chiefs and subchiefs who did their bidding. Revolutions and coups;Rwanda Rwandan revolution of 1959 Hutus Tutsis Belgian colonies Postcolonialism;Rwanda [kw]Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy (Nov., 1959) [kw]Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy, Rwandan (Nov., 1959) [kw]Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy, Rwandan Hutus (Nov., 1959) [kw]Tutsi Monarchy, Rwandan Hutus Overthrow (Nov., 1959) Revolutions and coups;Rwanda Rwandan revolution of 1959 Hutus Tutsis Belgian colonies Postcolonialism;Rwanda [g]Africa;Nov., 1959: Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy[06230] [g]Rwanda;Nov., 1959: Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy[06230] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov., 1959: Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy[06230] [c]Government and politics;Nov., 1959: Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy[06230] [c]Independence movements;Nov., 1959: Rwandan Hutus Overthrow Tutsi Monarchy[06230] Kayibanda, Grégoire Kigeli V Ndahindurwa[Kigeli 05 Ndahindurwa] Mutara III Rudahigwa[Mutara 03 Rudahigwa]

The Tutsi kingdom’s zenith of power was under Kigeri IV Rwabugiri Kigeri IV Rwabugiri[Kigeri 04 Rwabugiri] (r. 1860-1895), who reorganized the army and received German explorers as alternatives to dominance by Buganda or Belgium. The 1890 Brussels conference gave Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda and Burundi) to German East Africa. Five years later, Yuhi Musinga Yuhi Musinga inherited the throne when Mibambwe IV Rutalindwa Mibambwe IV Rutalindwa[Mibambwe 04 Rutalindwa] and his family were killed in a rebellion. After Germany’s defeat in World War I, Belgium administered Ruanda-Urundi as a League of Nations mandate. Recognizing the mwami’s authority and ruling indirectly, the Belgians consistently favored the Tutsi, romanticizing their origins with myths of “Hamitic” racial superiority. Harsher than German rule, Belgian administration created much enmity between Hutu and Tutsi. In 1935 the Belgians introduced identity cards based on ethnicity. Differences became deeper, less flexible, and more formal.

Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa—son of Mwami Yuhi Musinga and Queen Mukashema, and the future Kigeli V Ndahindurwa—was born in western Rwanda. His family had been forced to leave Rwanda in 1931 when the Belgian government deposed his father, allegedly due to his inability to work with subordinate chiefs, but more likely because of his adherence to precolonial traditions. Converted to Roman Catholicism and baptized Charles, another son of Yuhi Musinga (and Kigeli V’s older half-brother) was enthroned as Mutara III Rudahigwa.

Throughout the 1950’s, profound transformations occurred in Rwanda, which was then a Belgian-ruled United Nations trust territory. The Belgian authorities—and the Roman Catholic Church—grew uncomfortable with the plight of the Hutus, and they shifted their support from the Tutsi aristocracy to the Hutus, withdrew their backing of the mwami, and abandoned their policy of indirect rule. With Belgian encouragement, Mutara III instituted many changes, including land reforms in 1954. He presided over the dissolution of the ubuhake system and increased Hutu education and recruitment into the civil service and the police force. The Hutus began to feel a sense of liberation from Tutsi rule, while Tutsi traditionalists resisted further reform as threats to their interests.

Encouraged by the Belgian governor of Rwanda-Urundi, and the Swiss head of Rwanda’s Catholic hierarchy, the Hutus began to develop a group consciousness, as the Belgians instituted electoral representation and secret ballots for all Rwandans. In 1956, Mutara III demanded an end to Belgian rule. Anticolonial movements;Rwanda In 1957, Grégoire Kayibanda authored the “Hutu Manifesto,” "Hutu Manifesto" (Kayibanda)[Hutu Manifesto] which called for changes in Rwanda’s power structure and would give Hutus a voice in the country’s affairs commensurate with their numbers. Two political parties, L’Association pour la Promotion Sociale des Masses Association pour la Promotion Sociale des Masses, L’ and Le Rassemblement Democratique Rwandais Rassemblement Democratique Rwandais , were formed to champion Hutu interests.

On July 27, 1959, Kigeli V came to the Rwandan throne following his half-brother’s mysterious death in Burundi. His death was alleged to have come from either a brain hemorrhage, heart attack, or murder by injection.

Following an education at Groupe Scolaire d’Astrida in Rwanda and Nyangezi College in the Congo, Kigeli V had worked in the Belgian administration in Astrida (now Butare) from 1956 to 1958 and then in 1959 in Bufundu in Gikongoro. A mainly Tutsi political party, the Union Nationale Rwandaise Union Nationale Rwandaise was formed by Prosper Bwanakweli Bwanakweli, Prosper to press for immediate independence under the mwami as a constitutional monarch. The Hutus contended that the new mwami had not been properly chosen.

Nurtured by the authorities and church, a new Hutu party, Parmehutu Parmehutu (Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation Hutu) was established to delay independence until Hutu dominance could be assured. Openly and virulently anti-Tutsi, the Hutu party was led by Kayibanda, then prime minister of a provisional government. Furthermore, despite tensions with the Belgians, Kigeli V traveled to advance the cause of Rwandan independence. However, political instability and tribal conflict grew despite his efforts.

On November 1, 1959, violence broke Civil unrest;Rwanda out when Parmehutu leaders were assaulted by Tutsi youth. Also, enraged by their loss of power, Tutsis unsuccessfully attempted to kill Kayibanda. Ensuing riots killed three hundred Tutsi and led to a widespread Hutu uprising, encouraged by Belgian interests. When reported in the Western press, references were made to the “age old” or “ancient” hostilities between Hutu and Tutsi, yet this was the first recorded systematic violence between the groups. The Belgian government responded by sending troops. Contrary to expectations, however, the troops did not attempt to crush the Hutu revolt, but adopted a pro-Hutu policy and appointed more than three hundred Hutu chiefs and subchiefs to replace deposed, killed, and exiled Tutsi incumbents. Massacres of Tutsi by Parmehutu thugs, some organized by Belgian commandos, were common. By May, 1960, Belgian authorities had set up an indigenous military guard of 650 soldiers, based on ethnic proportionality. Local elections in June-July, 1960, left the Tutsi-dominated parties with only 16 percent of the vote, thereby assuring Hutu dominance.

On June 29, Kigeli V left Rwanda to attend independence celebrations in the Congo, never to return. Early in 1961, while in Léopoldville (Kinshasa) to meet with U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, Kigeli V was informed that the Belgian authorities would not allow him to return to Rwanda. Belgian policy encountered severe criticism in the U.N. General Assembly, which on different occasions between December, 1960, and June, 1962, called for reconciliation with the Tutsi. A coup in the central town of Gitarama, carried off with the tacit approval of the Belgians, formed an all-Hutu provisional government in January, 1961. On September 25 a U.N.-supervised referendum gave overwhelming support for a republic, thereby abolishing the monarchy. Parliamentary elections the same day resulted in a crushing Parmehutu victory. On July 1, 1962, the Belgians declared Rwanda an independent republic, with Kayibanda as president.

Tutsi exiles launched futile attacks against Kayibanda in 1963 and 1964. Massacres Human rights;Rwanda continued, and forced resettlement moved Tutsis to marginal lands. Ethnically specific identity cards continued to be issued, and mixed marriages were discouraged. A system of quotas was established, which allowed the Tutsi only 10 percent of school and university places and civil service posts. A Hutu could freely murder a Tutsi and never be prosecuted. By this time some 50,000 to 100,000 Tutsi had been killed and another 150,000 had fled to neighboring countries.

Closely intertwined with the Catholic Church, the Parmehutu regime banned all other political parties in 1965. Four years later the Parmehutu was renamed the Mouvement Democratique Republicain. In 1973, Kayibanda was deposed in a coup d’etat by his minister of defense, Major General Juvénal Habyarimana Habyarimana, Juvénal , who formed a one-party state two years later. Following public protests in 1974, thousands of Tutsi were forced to resign from medical and educational positions. Sham elections in 1978, 1983, and 1988 returned Habyarimana as president.


Rwanda’s Hutu revolution, which began in November, 1959, and culminated in the proclamation of independence on July 1, 1962, saw the deposing of Kigeli V, the exile of large numbers of Tutsi, the virtual exclusion of Tutsi from public life, and the concentration of power in authoritarian movements. This spawned far-reaching consequences for Rwanda and its neighbors.

By 1987, Rwandan refugees established the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front). Tried and tested by service in the forces that brought Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni to power, the highly disciplined RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda on October 1, 1990. Unlike past attempts by exiles, this offensive proved increasingly successful. Habyarimana was forced to negotiate with the RPF.

Returning from talks in Tanzania, an airplane carrying Habyarimana and the Burundian president was shot down as it approached Kigali in 1994, killing the two leaders. Over the next one hundred days, Rwandan army units and Hutu militias killed at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Four million Rwandans fled to Tanzania and the Congo. In July, 1994, this shockingly rapid genocide ended when the RPF captured Kigali. The pursuit of the perpetrators of genocide over Rwanda’s eastern border led to the replacement of the Congolese (then Zairian) dictator and years of bloodshed in eastern Congo. Meanwhile, Rwanda struggles with its horrific past and daunting issues of reconciliation and national unity.

After thirty years in exile in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, Kigeli V was granted political asylum by the United States in 1992. Traveling widely to speak on behalf of the Rwandan people, he advocates reconciliation between the country’s groups and heads the King Kigeli V Foundation, which provides humanitarian assistance to Rwandan refugees. Revolutions and coups;Rwanda Rwandan revolution of 1959 Hutus Tutsis Belgian colonies Postcolonialism;Rwanda

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fullerton, Maryellen. “The International and National Protection of Refugees.” In Guide to International Human Rights Practice, edited by Hurst Hannum. 4th ed. Ardsley, N.Y.: Transnational, 2004. Examines the international community’s role in protecting political and other refugees. Recommended for study of the legal implications of refugee status and human rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maquet, Jacques. The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. Maquet’s study details the workings of the Tutsi hierarchy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mwami Kigeli V’s Web site. http://www.king-kigeli .com. Offers background on Kigeli, his life in exile, the history of Rwanda, and more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newbury, Catharine. The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. This excellent work examines the historical relationships among Rwanda’s ethnic groups.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Prunier, Gérard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. An account of the 1994 genocide with much material on Rwanda’s ethnic and political history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shelton, Dinah L., ed. Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. 3 vols. Detroit, Mich.: Macmillan Reference, 2005. That there exists a three-volume encyclopedic work on genocide and crimes against humanity is most relevant here. Includes a glossary, maps, primary sources, and an index.

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Categories: History