Discovering Rwanda Cultural Practices & Dance

Tribal conflicts have torn Rwanda apart during much of the independence period, culminating in the horrific genocide that unfolded in 1994. With that said, there are basically two schools of thought when it comes to looking at Rwandan identity. The colonial approach of the Belgians was to divide and rule, issuing Id cards that divvied up the population along strict tribal lines. They tapped the Tutsis as leaders to help control the Hutu majority, buildings on the foundations of pre-colonial society in which the Tutsi were considered more dominant. Later, as independence approached, they switched sides, putting Hutu against Tusti in a new conflict, which simmered on and off until the 1990s when it exploded onto the world stage.

In the new Rwanda, the opposite is true. Tribal identities have been systematically eliminated and anyone is now treated as a Rwandan. The new government is at pain to present a singular identity, and blames the Belgians for categorizing the country along tribal lines that set the stage for the savagery that followed. Rwanda was a peaceful place beforehand: Hutu and Tutsi lived side by side for generations, and intermarriage was common – or so the story goes.

The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in between. Rwanda was no oasis before the colonial powers arrived, but it was a sophisticated state compared to many others in Africa at the time. However, Tutsis probably had a better time of it than Hutus, something that the Belgians were able to exploit as they sought to control. But, it is true to say that there was no history of major bloodshed between the two peoples before 1959, and the foundations of this violence were laid by the Belgian insistence on ethnic identity and their cynical political manipulation. The leaders of the genocide merely took this policy to its extreme, first promoting tribal differences, and then playing on them to manipulate a malleable population.

Paul Kagame is trying to put the past behind, and create a new Rwanda for Rwandans. Forget the past? No. But to learn from it, and move on to create a new spirit of national unity. All this of course will take time may be a generation or more, but what has been achieved in just over a decade is astonishing. Rwandans are taking pride of their country once more, investment is on the boil, and people are optimistic about their future. The real challenge, however, is to make sure the countryside comes a long for the ride.