Rwanda Before the Genocide: Catholic Politics and Ethnic Discourse in the Late Colonial Era

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Ethnic Conflict: Rwanda

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J.J. Carney | Creighton University - tisolofo.tk

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Rwandan Revolution

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Shop Our Brands. And while this process of increasing ethnic stratification began before the colonialists arrived, Hutu and Tutsi were inscribed with new and more ridged meanings during the colonial period. Despite the fact that there were Hutu chiefs and elites, as well as poor Tutsi, the White Fathers and Belgians facilitated the development of Hutu and Tutsi into rigid and highly stratified racial categories by legally inscribing them through identity cards in the s.

These identities also corresponded to various political, economic and ecclesiastical advantages and disadvantages. While Tutsi enjoyed access to property rights and roles in important institutions, Hutu, on the other hand, faced disadvantages through taxes, forced labor, and discrimination. The White Fathers and Belgian colonial administration did not create ethnicity in Rwanda, and many Tutsi elites manipulated the socio-biological ideologies of the Europeans to secure power and advantages.

Nevertheless, the White Fathers and the colonial powers inscribed Hutu, Tutsi and Twa with new meanings, resulting in a more stratified society marked by these enduring identities. Following World War II, sensibilities concerning human rights and colonialism began to change, prompting young missionaries to advocate for the interests of the Hutu.

During this time, the Catholic Church, like the Belgian colonial administration, transferred its allegiance from the Tutsi elite to the Hutu elite. This pattern of providing explicit and implicit support to those in power continued through the presidency of Juvenal Habyarimana, as Catholic and Protestant leaders aligned themselves and their churches with those in political power.


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  • During the Habyarimana regime, a system of patron-client relationships developed between the Habyarimana government and church leaders, channeling government resources and political positions as rewards for support of the political authorities. The genocide, which occurred in a span of days, was perpetrated in the context of a civil war that took place between October and August Catalyzed by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana after his plane was shot down in April 6, , massacres erupted across Rwanda, as the genocidal plan was set into motion by elites of the post-Habyarimana government and military.

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    Yet, the Rwandan churches did not simply commit sins of commission, but sins of omission as well: most church leaders failed to name and rebuke the genocide. This tacit support of violence enabled many Christians to perceive the genocide as consistent with Christian practice and belief. The church is indebted to Longman for offering a book, which raises important questions for Christians as the church remembers the devastation of the genocide and contemplate the witness of the church today. What does it look like for Christians in Rwanda to embody forgiveness and repentance given the culpability of the church in the past?

    If fear, social pressure and obedience were some of the drivers of the mass participation in the genocide, how can faith, hope and love shape Christian witness in Rwanda today? Carney argues that there was a tension built into the actions of the first missionaries. See J. Oxford: Oxford University Press, You are commenting using your WordPress.

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