Publication Details

Mayersen, D. 2010, '"Race" relations in Rwanda: An historical perspective', "Challenging Politics: New Critical Voices" Emerging Scholars Conference, University of Queensland,


„“Genocide” Charge in Rwanda‟ blared the headline in The Times; a few days later it was „Rwanda Policy of Genocide Alleged.‟ Yet these headlines are not from 1994, but 1964. And while the massacres to which they refer occurred on a far smaller scale than the 1994 genocide, they are unprecedented as massacres targeted at the Tutsi minority as a group. They occurred at the end of a decade of radical change for the tiny nation. In 1954, Rwanda was administered as part of Ruanda-Urundi, a United Nations Trust Territory under Belgian trusteeship. The Tutsi minority was regarded as racially superior, enjoyed preferential access to privilege and almost exclusive access to indigenous positions of authority. Their position seemed stably entrenched. Yet an examination of Rwanda just ten years later reveals a starkly contrasting picture. By 1964, the newly independent Republic of Rwanda was ruled almost exclusively by the Hutu majority. More than 300,000 Tutsi refugees were scattered around its borders; thousands had been killed in massacres following a failed refugee invasion. In the intervening decade the nation had experienced the full throes of rapid decolonisation, revolution and its first democratic elections. Crucial to understanding this extraordinary decade in Rwanda‟s history is an understanding of issues surrounding ethnic identity. Moreover, many of the root causes of the 1994 genocide can be found in the events of this tumultuous period. This article will shed insight on both, through an exploration of ethnic polarisation in Rwanda between 1954 and 1964.