While Hutu and Tutsi subgroups have existed since pre-colonial times in Rwanda, major interethnic violence is a much more recent phenomenon. During the 1950s, issues of race, power and privilege became highly politicised. As decolonisation loomed, the intersections between race and power became bitterly contested, leading to the 1959 Hutu Uprising. The Hutu Uprising was the first major outbreak of interethnic violence in Rwanda, however following this, such violence recurred repeatedly. This article explores key issues that contributed to and emerged from the Hutu Uprising, including the conflation of political and ethnic issues, perceptions of the Tutsi minority as a threat to the Hutu majority, and the politicisation of ethnicity for party political advantage. These factors came to dominate the political agenda in Rwanda at times of national stress, leaving it particularly vulnerable to escalating interethnic violence. Ultimately this led to the 1994 genocide.