Prior to European colonisation, Rwanda was the site of one of the region’s most complex monarchical systems. The earliest known inhabitants of the region were the Twa, a Pygmy people.
Rwanda is one of the few states in Africa to closely follow its ancestral borders. The Kingdom of Rwanda, controlled by a Tutsi royal family, ruled the region throughout recorded history. While the upper echelons of this society were largely Tutsi, ethnic divisions were not stark. Many Hutu were among the nobility and significant intermingling took place. The majority of the Tutsi, who made up 15-18% of the population, were poor peasants, as were most of the Hutu.
In 1895 Rwanda became a German province. The Germans, however, were at first completely dependent on the existing government. The German authority kept the indigenous administration system by applying the same type of indirect rule established by the British Empire in the Ugandan kingdoms. After Germany’s loss in World War I, the protectorate was taken over by Belgium with a League of Nations mandate. Belgian rule in the region was far more direct and harsh than that of the Germans. However, the Belgian colonisers did realise the value of native rule. Backed by Christian churches, the Belgians used the minority Tutsi upper class to rule over lower classes of Tutsis and Hutus.
Belgian-forced labour policies and stringent taxes were mainly enforced by the Tutsi upper class, whom the Belgians used as buffers against people’s anger, thus further polarising the Hutu and the Tutsi. Many young peasants, in order to escape tax harassment and hunger, migrated to neighbouring countries. They moved mainly to Congo but also to Ugandan plantations plantations, looking for work. After the Second World War, Rwanda became a UN trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority.
In 1959 King Mutara III, who was baptised into the Catholic faith and renamed Charles, was assassinated despite allowing Hutus greateraccess to positions of authorityin his 28 years of rule. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa, known as King Kigeri V. He was overthrown soon after in the Hutu revolt, encouraged by the Belgian military, of November 1959 and fled into exile to Uganda.
Through a series of processes the Hutu gradually gained more and more power until, upon Rwanda’s independence in 1962, the Hutu held virtually all power.