An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview
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26. Ruanda-Urundi

Nearly 5 million people inhabit this small mountainous region just south of the Equator. The population density averages 200 per square mile, in some areas rising to 380. Although remote and land- locked, Ruanda and Urundi have developed a thriving export trade in coffee, which is grown on the high slopes by the Africans themselves (in 1959 there were only 6,500 Europeans and 2,500 Asians there).

Formerly German territory (30), Ruanda-Urundi passed to Belgium under League of Nations mandate in 1919; after 1945 the mandate became a trusteeship under the United Nations. Belgium linked it with the Congo, but treated it separately for many purposes. As Germany had done, Belgium recognized the authority of the traditional ruler ( Mwami) of each of these two interlacustrine (25) states. The (Banya-)Ruanda had a tighter central organization than the (Ba-)Rundi, whose Mwami was and is more of a titular ruler surrounded by powerful local chiefs.

Even more than other interlacustrine monarchies, Ruanda and Urundi were marked by a clear distinction between a dominant minority -- about one-sixth of the population -- here known as (Wa-)Tutsi and conspicuous for the height that reveals their Nilotic origins, and the Bantu majority (known as (Ba-, Wa-)Hutu). The Tutsi, a cattle-owning aristocracy, did not let their pastoral tradition stop them from getting the lion's share of the coffee profits, though the Hutu did the work. In 1959 the Hutu of Ruanda rose against their masters, and about a quarter of the Tutsi fled into Kivu, Uganda and Tanganyika, or took refuge in less disturbed parts of their own country. Urundi remained quiet, and there seem prospects of Tutsi and Hutu working together there for political progress. But in Ruanda there was still tension in 1961 between the main Hutu party, Parmehutu, and the unreconciled Tutsi factions, with which the exiled Mwami aligned himself. While both called for independence from Belgian rule, the Tutsi demanded it at once, hoping that they could then restore their domination, while the Hutu radicals wanted time to organize first. Parmehutu won elections held under UN supervision in 1961. Meanwhile the situation had been complicated by the collapse of order in the ex-Belgian Congo (23), the arrival of Belgian refugees from Kivu, and the involvement of Belgians in Ruanda-Urundi in the Congolese factions' struggle for control of Bukavu, just across the border.

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