The tightening knot
Mother Earth, witness how my enemies spill my blood – Tupac
Why didn’t we fight? That is a question every African has asked themselves, indeed, any colonised people. Why didn’t we fight? Why did we just accept colonialism? Why didn’t we just buy guns and fight off the White Man, or at least negotiated terms that were favourable to our needs? All over the world, people accepted that they were lesser and took the yoke of slavery, somewhat willingly. Every time, the leaders were faced with the same options in the face of a threat. You can accept defeat, fight, or play the waiting game and exploit the system to your benefit. All nations that capitulated eventually chose to work within the system, Rwanda was no exception but there are scientific reasons to explain how nations are colonised. Colonialism in politics is a relationship between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders – so it is a relationship between a servant and a master, it is never equal. But it can be beneficial for some locals, and that is what makes it pernicious, collaboration always becomes easier. I will look at the 3 options, and then look at Rwanda according to the colonial index by Jared Diamond.
Montezuma was the last King of the Aztecs in modern Mexico, their empire reached its height under him as he subjugated all tribes under his rule. Like Rwabugiri, this was to help the colonialists who could just take power from his hand. Like all ancient cultures, and our modern ones too, the Aztecs had an apocalyptic prophecy of strange creatures coming to take over. They sacrificed thousands in human sacrifices to appease the gods, then climate change meant that famine was killing millions. Into this calamity steps a man with blonde hair, he came to seek adventure and gold, his name was Hernan Cortes. The reports to Montezuma claimed to have seen strange creatures, half man, half horse, with shining metal suits, barely 100 conquistadores paralysed a nation with fear. When Montezuma saw the blonde hair of Cortes, he thought he saw a god, he immediately bowed down to him, and told his people to do the same. Montezuma was stoned to death by his own people for cowardice, but it was too late, the empire had unravelled. Montezuma did what many African tribal chiefs did when faced with a race they had never seen before, but Rwandans had known of white men for decades and refused them entry, but they were still in awe.
Kabalega’s defiant stance
Omukama Kabalega was born the same year as Rwabugiri in 1853, his Bunyoro Kingdom was the biggest and most powerful Kingdom in Uganda until the Baganda collaborated with the British. As a child he saw Samuel Baker, and Emin Pasha go through his kingdom and cause havoc. Bunyoro had Egyptian and Sudanese troops pushing down from the North and British troops from Buganda pushing up from the South. Kabalega resisted all attempts to colonise Bunyoro, when the Kabaka Mwanga also rebelled against the British in 1886, they formed an alliance and held off for a time. Mwanga and Kabalega were exiled after being betrayed by their own side, Bunyoro was cut in half, a fact that still rankles today. Kabalega armed himself with Western weapons and fought but lost, the odds were against him in the long run, even in South Africa Boers defeated the British but were locked in concentration camps and starved into submission. Resistance was futile, the Baganda were first to oppose but learnt quickly. The words I quoted at the beginning were of Tupac, but not the rapper, the last King of the Incas, he fought valiantly to stop the Spanish but was caught and executed. His last words were “Mother Earth, witness how my enemies shed my blood.” Mother Earth stood silent. He had surrendered but was killed as an example. Kabalega and Mwanga had no heroic death, they rotted in exile into oblivion, when they returned in colonial history books, they were villains, a bloodthirsty killer and a gay paedophile, these are the heroes we should reclaim.
Rwanda went for option three, containment, but this is a slow infection. When the first Germans came the Rwandans agreed but signing off was a problem, in Rwandan culture oaths were sealed by drinking each other’s blood. Too extreme for the German, so they tied a grass-knot together to symbolise the agreement. As soon as the Germans left, the nobles must have laughed, the ritual held no meaning and they must have taken back their word, but the Germans would hold them to this word even if it was insincere, spoken by a fake king, and held no ritual meaning. In other words, the joke was on them. The arrival of the White Fathers was similarly problematic, a religion that ate the flesh of its God and drank his blood, for the Rwandans there was no difference between ritual and literal cannibalism. They sent them to Save, an inside joke because Save was once known for cannibalism and they expected the locals to kill them. Rwanda was colonised by Germany, a country with no official state religion, so the Catholic Church fulfilled the service provision role, while the German administered. The Catholic Church became the unofficial opposition to the government, and developed a separate power structure, it gave birth to Hutu Nationalism, and Hutu extremism, while the Belgians were preparing to hand over power, the Church was determined to control the situation no matter what.
Mythtory – where myth meets history
To understand the colonisation of Rwanda you must look at the definition of the word. Colonisation is not when a White man subjugates a darker race, it is the process by which humans inhabit an area and gain control of the resources. In that respect, we should look at how Rwandans came to inhabit Rwanda, because it was these factors that would later cause splits to allow European colonisers. Most of Rwanda was like Nyungwe forest, inhabited by Twa pygmies, over time successive waves of people cleared forest, inhabited, cohabited, integrated, fragmented, and reconstituted into what is called Rwanda today. To understand Rwanda you must understand what I call Mythtory, half-myth, half history, scientific western historians like Newbury and Vansina are rationalist try to separate the myth from the history. But they are one and the same, people think myths are lies, but they are not, they are the truth. The supreme irony is that the lies we tell about ourselves say more about us than the truth. Dig beneath these myths and you see the hopes and fears of previous generations, every government in power has rewritten history, and the people allow that, they know there is a government narrative and what really happened. They are not stupid, it is an indulgence.
So the lies we tell have truth, whether it is that you are descended for Solomonic kings from Ethiopia, or that you are superior in this way or that , that says more about you than your truth. It is how we hide insecurities, it is how we change reality through changing the past. So Ndori eventually took to lying that he was the son of Cyamatare, a man he vanquished as king, they were of different clans but Rwanda said “fine, if you really want it that way.” Behind that lie is the truth, Ndori felt like a usurper so he sought the legitimacy of the very man he defeated. Over centuries in the lineages of kings Ndori is the son of Cyamatare, like Obama is the son of Bush. Myths should not be separated from history, as they provide context and an insight into the mindset at the time, as well as our time. So looking at the colonisation of Rwanda is to look at how it was first inhabited, then how it evolved into a state, before we look at how it was colonised. This becomes contentious because our mythological history says one people came from the Congo basin and another from Ethiopia, met here and intermixed, then fell out. If we did forensic research in archaeology we will have the answer to those myths, and it will be more exciting than the Nilo-hamitic myth.
From Bands to States
Human society goes through the same process of development, the variables are the environment and climate but the process is the same. You start as a band, then a clan, then a tribe, then a chieftaincy, and then finally a state. Jared Diamond calls it the evolution from Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy, certainly the state that the colonisers found was a kleptocracy, it was unequal, exploitational, and even dehumanising. But the Germans did everything they could to preserve it, the White Fathers also despised the rituals and customs but sought to preserve the monarchy. The Rwandan state was a colonisers dream, a full network with up to 5 levels of government, a specialised bureaucracy, an army, social stratification, control over modes of production, a monopoly of information (your people are uneducated and uninformed) and a moral legitimacy that they could squander. In it like osmosis, when a more advanced society meets a less advanced one, the less advanced gravitates towards to advanced. The colonisers came armed with many weapons, guns, artillery, germs and medicine, and flattery, indeed they told those at court that they had the finest noses known to humanity. This biggest weapon was not physical, but deadly, it is what won it for the colonialist more than germs and steel. Individualism did not exist in the countries that were colonised, not to the extent that they came to. Before you had to rely on others, now you could look out for number one, the promises of wealth were enough.
Rwanda was colonised first by bands, bands of farmers and herders, these groups of 10-80 people still form the nucleus of Rwanda society. Abasanzubutaka – those who found the land, these small bands of people were often related, and knew each other well, they were all equal, perhaps respecting age but each with the same vote. They often vote for a leader, a person of high-esteem, his/her job is not to make decisions but to give everyone a chance to speak. You can see this in every village in Rwanda where there can be a meeting without acrimony but all get a voice. The law on this level is consensual, but also Hammurabic, an eye for an eye, eventually these bands become lawless and one murder begets another, vendetta upon vendetta, these bands often break up and reform elsewhere. Bands in Rwanda are very important, families that are unrelated are banded together because of a historic link, blood rituals played a big part in social bonding, Kunyana – drinking each other’s blood from cuts to a vein. As people migrate and disperse, these bands gain more strength, cells are set up over wider areas and that is how clans are born.
A band has limitations, there is no monopoly of violence, neighbour kills neighbour when tempers flare, especially when resources are scarce. People of particular lineages decide to secure resources for their lineage at the expense of others, they become a clan. Looking at the 18 or so clans we have in Rwanda, this was the original bloodstock before it was divided into three, you have Hutu and Tutsi but the same clan, like being brothers but supposedly of different races. A clan exists to protect the interests of that particular lineage, they are related so they have to marry outside and intermarry with other clans but it maintains its interests. Clans become less democratic, you are up to thousands with a common ancestor, you cannot all meet to discuss, so you have heads of lineages to make decisions on behalf of the clan, the beginning of patriarchy. These clan leaders are Big men, they rule by consent, they often live the same life as the people they represent, they dig fields, herd cattle, but only have honour to separate them from the rest. A clan is a reaction to population and resource pressure, where people of an area or lineage band together to protect their resources, some are geographic like Abaha and Abagesera, others are patrilineal like Abega, Abanyingina and so on. These clans are often ready to fight to protect and attack resources for the wider clan good.
It is difficult to know at which point a clan becomes a tribe, or if a tribe fragments into clans, a tribe often speaks the same language, so that definition makes us all one. In a clan the people are related so they accept the authority of the elder, the elder tries to be wise and balances in a dispute because both are his relatives. It becomes hard for people to live in tribes without fighting, because now tribes are thousands of people, in a clan you can at least know all the families but never all the individuals. In a tribe you need law otherwise people just kill each other, the laws in bands and clans are unique to their situations. A chief will hear the same problem over and over and devise a law to deal with it so people don’t drive him mad, so if a cow breaks into a field and eats crops then there is a set fine. The purpose of government is problem-solving or conflict resolution, this is what drives people from smaller bands into tribes. An eye for an eye is fine, but what if it was an accident? People in small bands realised the law needs to be more complex. So the chief says “what good is it to take out his eye, take his cows instead.” So the chief becomes the redistributer of wealth, he controls the means of production on behalf of society, has a monopoly of information and is the only one allowed to inflict violence on individuals.
Monopoly of information is the key to governance, controlling the flows of information is vital, choosing when to inform the public is critical. The government of Rwanda is not alone is trying to create a monopoly of information by tough media laws, even the US government wants to control information flows, and how that information is transmitted and understood. Julius Nyerere was known as a prophet because he would go on radio and say “That Kennedy, if he’s not careful then he’ll get shot.” Then 24 hours later he’s shot, but there was a 24hr delay on all news in Tanzania, so Nyerere found out a day before all others, that gave him time to be a prophet. The Monarchy had a monopoly of information, only they knew what was happening in every part of Rwanda, they had agents on every hill, messengers could get a message to them within an hour, and all by word of mouth. Monopoly of violence is crucial, we surrender the right to violence when we become citizens of a state, only the government can administer violence in certain situations, be it physical punishment or war. When the Germans arrived they had the monopoly of violence by having superior weapons, but they did not have the monopoly of information, control over the modes of production and the necessary bureaucracy to do it. That is why they kept the monarchy.
Why do tribes become states? Because a person or group of people gain control of information flows, modes of production and create a bureaucracy to administer it, backed by violence and religious powers. As populations increase, as it happened in Nduga, the original cradle of the Rwandan state, people start to clash, fighting over land and grazing. This leads to the resources being held communally, in the 17th Century in central Rwanda there was so much squabbling over land that it was decided that land was to held by lineage and not individuals, as single people could not defend themselves. The system of bands had degenerated into murder and revenge murder for land, land was no longer viable as an individual investment. Mazimpaka decreed that land could not be exchanged for cattle, and land was held communally by a lineage. This ended disputes and meant they were settled by elders, but it also locked people to the land, and demonetised a worthy asset, but it gave him direct control over the means of production. When the means of production is centralised then it can be made more efficient, excess food leads to excess labour, this labour can be used to build or exploit, or both like with the Egyptian pyramids.
In Rwanda we did not use that excess labour well, in the west they specialised, no work in farming so you learn carpentry, or building, or accounting. In Rwanda we had “Abahanga” experts in everything but we believed it was god-given, not something you could teach. The basic premise that some people are born unequal, unequal in value, intellect, and potential was fatal for Rwanda, it allowed the rulers to rule a wretched populace but it sowed the seeds of future hate in Rwanda. What was worse was the fatalism that the people accepted, that’s just the way it is, it will never change. The system could always co-opt up and rising people into the system, the system could change your status from Hutu to Tutsi, but it excluded the vast majority of Rwandans of all kinds. So into this theatre steps the European, he finds a state that is infighting but otherwise intact, his presence tips the balance locally, the monarchy finds themselves relying on the European to put down rebellions caused by the European. Ethiopia was never colonised because it had European ambassadors in its court since 1504, the white man did not have a monopoly of information, violence, bureaucracy and modes of production to make it possible. That meant that Ethiopia never had to deal with colonialism but instead they dealt with Neo-colonialism from day 1. After the hurdle was Globalism, we never had a chance.
Next we will deal with Religion in Rwanda “Imana z’uRwanda”