Topic outline

  • General

  • Unit 1: The reforms of Belgian rule in Rwanda

    Topic area:  History of Rwanda

    Sub-topic area: History of ancient, colonial and post-colonial Rwanda

    Key competence

    Assess the performance of the Belgian rule and the process of independence in Rwanda.

    Activity 1.1 Group work
    Look for a wide range of sources such as books, journals and audio-visual documentaries on how the Belgian rule brought reforms to Rwanda. In your various groups, assess how these reforms brought about change. Prepare your findings and present them in class.The Belgian rule influenced both negative and positive change in Rwanda. Discuss.

    Establishment of Belgian rule in Rwanda

    When World War I ended, Belgium was given the mandate to govern Rwanda by the League of Nations in 1924. The Rwanda territory under Belgium rule was initially known as Ruanda-Urundi. The Germans were the first ones to arrive in Rwanda. They left the territory in 1916. Belgium ruled Rwanda from then up to 1962. During this period, the Belgians undertook a number of reforms which have been analysed in three stages below.

    Reforms introduced under Belgian Rule (1916 – 1962)

    Reforms under the military occupation (1916 – 1924)

    Political reforms

    With the colonial experience that was gained in Belgian Congo, the Belgians undertook gradual political measures that undermined the monarchical system in Rwanda. To achieve this, the Belgians introduced the following reforms:

    • Banning of right over life and death (1917). The Royal Commissioner in agreement with the Belgian Government put a ban on the indigenous sovereigns’ unconditional right over the life and death of their subjects. They only remained with an honorary title.

    • Political measures. From 1923, measures were put in place to prevent the king from appointing and dismissing chiefs without the permission of the Representative of the Belgium Government.

    Economic reforms

    • Fiscal measures of 1924. This involved the abolition of Imponoke that consisted of cows given as gifts to a chief who had lost cows in huge numbers. It also abolished Indabukirano, that consisted of cows that were given to a new chief upon assuming his duties as a new leader in a given area.

    Socio- cultural reforms

    • Religious reforms (1917). The king was obliged to allow freedom of religion and worship. By doing so, he lost his politico-religious power. Rwandans considered the king as their unique religious leader who communicated with ‘god’ through some sort of magical power. He was a source of life and prosperity for the whole kingdom.

    Reforms under the Belgian Mandate (1924 – 1946)

    Rwanda was placed under the Mandate regime ‘B’ after the definitions of the League of Nations’ Pact, paragraph 3, article 22 that defines three types of Mandates (A,B,C). On October 20th, 1924, the Belgian Parliament approved Mandate ‘B’ on Rwanda. From then, Rwanda shifted from ‘an occupational territory’ to officially become ‘a territory under Belgian Mandate’. Rwanda was also placed under Mandate ‘B’ because it had reached a certain degree of development. However, the League of Nations member states felt that it was still incapable of ruling itself. Belgium had the mission to politically emancipate the colony by; ensuring public services were functioning through local authorities, favouring the moral and material well-being of indigenous people, opening the mandate territory to open trade and finally reporting annually to the League of Nations’ Permanent Commission of Mandates.It is after this Belgian approval that a number of reforms followed to meet the League’s terms. Belgium administratively annexed this new territory to her own colony – Belgian Congo. It simply applied on it the Congolese colonial law.

    Political reforms

    The political reforms undertaken during this time included the famous Administrative Reforms initiated as from 1926.

    Administrative reforms (1926 – 1931)

    These administrative reforms brought about the following transformations:

    • Restructuring of the administrative entities. Rwanda which was originally ruled under 20 districts (Ibiti) and pastoral fiefs (Ibikingi) was now transformed into a system of chiefferies, sub-chiefferies (Chefferie, Sous-chefferie) and territories. By 1931, Rwanda consisted of 10 territories instead of 20 districts, 52 chiefferies that corresponded to historical traditional regions and 544 sub-chiefferies.

    • New distribution of power. The functions of the land, cattle and military chiefs were abolished. The nomination of leaders in this reform contributed to the creation of disunity among Rwandans because it excluded the Hutu, Twaand Tutsi from modest backgrounds in favour of the Tutsi from rich families. Old chiefs were replaced by their sons who had graduated from the school reserved for the sons of chiefs. They were considered able to rule in a modern way because they were supposed to have acquired basic western leadership, writing and reading skills to serve as loyal colonial auxiliaries.

    • The deposition of King Yuhi V Musinga (1931). On November 12th, 1931, the vice governor of Ruanda-Urundi, Charles Voisin proclaimed deposition orders from the throne and hence Musinga’s deportation to Kamembe (today in Rusizi District). Later, he was exiled to Moba in Belgian Congo. On the same day, Rudahigwa was proclaimed King by Vice-Governor Voisin. He was enthroned under the title of Mutara III on November 16th, 1931. King Musinga was accused by the Belgians of opposing moral, social and economic work that was being carried out by the colonial administration. At the same time, Christian missionaries accused him of being hostile to their work.

    • Introduction of identity cards.By 1930, Belgians had come up with identity cards known as Ibuku which detailed the following; clan identity, marital status, names of parents, area of residence and ethnic group that was given after one’s socio-economic class (Tutsi, Hutu or Twa).

    Economic reforms

    The economic performance of Belgian rule in Rwanda between 1924 and 1946 was significant in different economic domains that were agriculture, mining and socio-cultural domains. To implement all the required work in these domains with the main one being agriculture, led to the introduction of compulsory crop cultivation known as “Ishiku” which was added to colonial forced labour “Akazi” by the Resident’s decree No. 49 of 31st December, 1925.


    The Belgian’s main focus on agriculture was on areas such as;Food production to fight against famines and large scale production of cash crops such as coffee.

    Food production

    Rwanda was a country that suffered from serious famines. In 1924-1925, when the program of regulating and increasing the production of food crops was being elaborated, the Gakwege famine was on. In 1928-1929, the Rwakayihura famine killed a number of Rwandans. To phase out these famines, Belgians took over vacant lands and some pasture lands and planted drought resistant crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, beans and Irish potatoes. Since 1925, the imposition of compulsory food crop cultivation known as Ishiku became the order of the day. One family was required to plant at least 10 acres of food crops. Rwandans had to even go and work in fields that were far away from their homes but were near main communication lines. This was to please any passing high ranking colonial authority. However, this compulsory food crop cultivation program did not fight the famines but served as a tool for increasing the merits for the people in charge of the implementation. By 1932, plantations covered 7,600 hectares of the land and it had become so unbearable that people migrated to Uganda in search of free labour.

    Large scale production of cash crops

    Cultivation of cash crops such as coffee, on a large scale, was imposed on peasants. The cultivation of cash crops mobilised more people than the cultivation of food crops. This was so because they were for promoting exports which were only limited to cow hides. By 1931, cash crops – mainly coffee were made compulsory and systematic to the extent that a peasant had to possess a plantation of at least 54 coffee trees, a sub-chief a plantation of 250 coffee trees and a chief a plantation of 1000 coffee trees. Coffee production increased from 40,000 kilograms in 1927 to 2,000 tonnes by 1937. An office in charge of the quality of exports was formed: OCIRU (Office du café Industriel du Ruanda-Urundi). The same Akazi that was used in food crop cultivation, was also used in cash crop cultivation.

    Animal husbandry

    The Belgian colonial regime paid attention to livestock rearing, especially cattle. They set up selection farms since 1926 in Songa, Cyeru, Gisenyi and Nyagatare. Animal health services and veterinary centres were established in rural areas to cure periodic livestock epidemics such as Muryamo. Muryamo was a mysterious disease that affected cows in Rwanda at the end of the 19th Century. It killed many cows. The other disease that affected the livestock was trypanosomiasis.

    Fiscal system

    The Germans had introduced the use of money as a means of exchange in trading by the time they exited Rwanda in 1916. They used a currency known as rupee. When the Belgians took control, they introduced a new currency to replace the rupee.

    In 1927, they introduced a currency known as “ Franc Congolais”. They did this so as to facilitate exchange and payment of taxes by the locals. Tax was made compulsory as it was needed to finance public service in the colony.

    Since 1917, taxes were paid by all Rwandan adults to add on to the colonial funds and chiefferies administrations. However, from 1931, this capitation tax was extended to every taxpayer after carrying out a general census of Rwandans. It became compulsory and was only received in cash.

    A marketing organisation that was known as OCIRU (Office des Cafés Indigènes du Ruanda-Urundi) or Ruanda-Urundi Coffee Bureau was set up to develop a market for the Africans’ coffee produced in indigenous plantations.


    Rwandans were introduced to mining and running of small scale industries. The mining activities were mainly carried out by Minetain company (Sociétés des Mines d’Etain) at Gatumba (Ngororero District) from 1935, at Musha (Rwamagana District) from 1937. Other mining companies included SOMUKI and GEORWANDA. SOMUKI (Société Minière de Muhinga et de Kigali) opened sites at Rutongo (Rulindo
    District) in 1933 and Nyungwe Forest in 1936 for mining gold. GEORWANDA (Compagnie Géologique et Minière du Ruanda) opened sites at Rwinkwavu (Kayonza District) from 1940.

    Missionaries as another form of colonial agents established semi-industrial enterprises for cigarettes at Rwaza and Gisenyi, milk processing and candle production plants from 1935.Salaries and professional training were introduced by mining companies, mining and farming colonialists, trading companies, public works and religious missions to their labour force. This was done to promote the exchange system since Rwandans were entering the capitalist system.

    Transport and communication network

    The development of transport and communications networks brought about the introduction of bicycles and cars from Europe and Asia as from 1927. Moreover, this network joined trading centres that started forming important urban centres such as Kiramuruzi, Kigali, Nyanza, Astrida, Kamembe, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri.


    This activity was known and practised in traditional ways on rivers and lakes. The Belgians improved it by introducing new types of fish in 1935. Tilapia niga species were planted in lakes such as Muhazi, Bulera and Ruhondo while tilapia nilotica were planted in Lake Kivu.


    Forestry was also encouraged to protect the environment and to control soil erosion in the highland regions of northern and western Rwanda.

    Forced labour imposed on people (Akazi)

    Before colonisation, there was Uburetwa that was kept in the sense of many tasks rendered to local chiefs as citizens’ duties. Under Belgian colonial rule, to Uburetwa was added the forced labour in the form of working on white plantations, carrying heavy loads, road constructions, building of churches, schools, hospitals and digging of anti-erosion ditches to exploit the colony. The Belgian colonial administration named it Akazi to differentiate it from the services provided in Uburetwa. The Akazi was not remunerated or was just slightly remunerated. The more this forced labour (Akazi) became so unbearable, the more Rwandan people fled it into neighbouring Uganda, Tanganyika and Belgian Congo in search of free and paid labour especially from coffee and tea plantations. The Akazi persisted alongside the Uburetwa until its abolition in 1949 by King Mutara III Rudahigwa.

    Socio-cultural reforms

    Abolition ofubwiru and umuganura institutions (1925)
    The abolition of these two pillars of the monarchy paved way for the decline of the Rwanda Kingdom.

    • The new education system (1925). Belgians substituted the informal education provided in Itorero by formal education. They aimed to promote colonial auxiliaries through subsidised and free education. However, formal education remained the monopoly of the Christian missionaries.

    • The medical program. By 1931, Belgians had established hospitals (of Kigali and Astrida) and many dispensaries throughout the colony to deal with widespread diseases. Vaccination campaigns were also carried out from 1933. The introduction of school curricula, sections of training on medical assistance and medical auxiliaries in specific schools (Astrida, Kabgayi and Kigali) began in 1937. At the end of the Mandate regime (1945 – 1946), Rwanda had sixteen hospitals – both private and public and thirty-four dispensaries.

    • Religious change. Christianity was introduced in Rwanda under the German rule. However, it was not welcomed as it undermined the king’s moral influence on his subjects.It later benefited from the administrative reform of 1926 by which the king was forced to sign a decree proclaiming freedom of worship. However, King Yuhi V Musinga continued to resist and this led to his deposition in 1931. He was replaced by his son Mutara III Rudahigwa who converted to Christianity and consecrated Rwanda to Christ the King on October 27th, 1946 at Nyanza.

    Reforms under the Belgian Trusteeship (1946 – 1962)

    At the end of World War II, the Allied powers that concluded the war convened at San Francisco to draft a new international peace keeping body that is the United Nations Organisation (UNO) to replace the defunct League of Nations. The League of Nations was blamed for failing to stop the occurrence of World War II. The charter of the new organisation imposed mandatory powers to lead the nations which were under the Mandate system to self-rule then to independence. This was possible through the Trusteeship Council which was one of the main six organs of UNO which was in charge of peacefully administrating and supervising territories that were not yet independent up to the time they would be independent on behalf of UNO. As a power that had been administrating Rwanda under the League of Nations’ Mandate system, Belgium and UNO concluded an accord placing Rwanda under the Trusteeship regime on December 13th, 1946. This was approved by the Belgian Parliament on April 25th, 1949. Since then, Belgium had therefore to act with the final objective of granting independence to Rwanda. To achieve this objective, Belgium had a good deal of recommendations to respect. Among others, Belgium had to progressively integrate Rwandans into both territorial administration and a system through which they could gain political representation. To meet UNO’s will, as it had availed the mechanisms to ensure its recommendations implementation (UNO missions and annual reports from the administered territory submitted to UNO), Belgians undertook a number of reforms.

    Political reforms

    During the Belgian Trusteeship, the most important political reform in Rwanda was The establishment of Consultative Councils (Decree of July 14th, 1952). This was a response to the critical reports of the two UN Trusteeship missions since 1948.

    The Council of the State (ConseilSupérieur du Pays): It waspresided over by the king and was made up of presidents of nine territorial councils elected out of the king’s proposed list.

    The Territorial Council (Conseil du Territoire): It was composed of the chief of territory, other territorial chiefs and their sub-chiefs as well as their respective notables.

    The Council of Chiefferie (Conseil de Chefferie): It was presided over by the chief himself. Its members were sub-chiefs and the notables elected among an electoral college of three representatives by sous-chiefferie.

    Council of Sous-chiefferie (Conseil Sous-chiefferie): It was presided over by the sub-chief and was made up of 5 to 9 members elected by an electoral college chosen by the sub-chief.

    This reform allowed Rwandans to participate in the elections organised in 1953 and 1956.

    On 4th May, 1949, a political reform was introduced concerning Ruanda-Urundi, and not solely Ruanda. It meant the creation of a Government Council for Ruanda-Urundi that was made up of 22 members. The council included the Governor, two Resident Representatives and two Belgian state agents. The remaining 17 members were chosen as representatives of other foreigners living in Ruanda-Urundi. This was a reform made for the sake of the colonial administration.

    Economic reforms

    • The Ten-Year Economic and Social Development Plan initiated by the Belgians in Ruanda-Urundi in 1951 as a result of the first UN mission of 1948 recommendations.This was meant to empower Rwanda economically in preparation for self-rule and later independence.

    • The abolition of Ubuhake (clientelism) system based on cows after the decree of King Mutara III Rudahigwa on April 1st, 1954. This forced the cattle keepers to reduce the number of cows to manageable and profitable sizes and liberation of pastoral clients (Abagaragu) for private initiatives.

    • Land reforms which touched on land use mainly for both food production and cash crop farming for economic gains.

    • Operations of Akazi which saw Rwandans engaged in forced labour in activities that were for the economic gain and development of Rwanda, e.g working on plantation farms, construction of buildings and roads, etc.

    Socio-cultural reforms

    • King Mutara III Rudahigwa’s decree consecrating Rwanda to Christ the King on October 27th, 1946 at Nyanza by which Christianity through the Catholic Church became the state religion. All other traditional religious practices were prohibited (Kubandwa, Guterekera, etc.)

    • Construction of schools, hospitals and dispensaries, roads, drainage of marshlands and planting of trees termed in the 1951 Ten -Year Economic and Social Development plan. This was for shifting the Rwandan economy and getting more educated and healthy manpower.

    The causes and effects of the 1959 crisis in Rwanda


    Activity 1.2 Group work

    Split yourselves into two groups.

    1. Let one group describe the causes and effects of the 1959 crisis in Rwanda.
    2. The second group should discuss the reasons why King Mutara III Rudahigwa broke relations with the Belgian colonial rule in the 1950s.After your various discussions, have a presentation in class followed by a question and answer session among yourselves.

    The 1959 crisis in Rwanda was a result of the long term bred tension between King Mutara III Rudahigwa and the Rwandan elite on one side and the Belgian administration and the Catholic Church on the other. The tension first occurred in 1954 when the Rwandan elite headed by the king claimed the creation of lay schools to reduce the monopoly of the Catholic Church in teaching and education. The Rwandan elite had also started blaming Belgians for; being reluctant to allow Rwanda to attain self-rule, poor socio-economic development, unfair participation of Rwandans in administration and in making decisions on their country’s future. The reaction was so harsh that the king was treated as a communist. In that same year, the king abolished the Ubuhake without the consent of colonial administration. On February 22nd, 1957, the High Council of the State (Conseil Superieur du Pays) prepared a memorandum known as “Mise au point” to submit to the 1957 UN mission. It severely criticised the Belgian administration and demanded self-rule as soon as possible. The Belgian administration reacted by instigating the publication of “The Manifeste des Bahutu” in which its authors accused the king and the Tutsi elite of having monopolised power and orchestrated a lot of social injustices and inequalities to the masses.

    From then up to December 21st, 1958, the Belgian administration intensified hatred against the king and his Tutsi elite by declaring her support to the Hutu masses. Later, King Mutara III Rudahigwa died suddenly in Bujumbura on July 25th, 1959. With his death, the Belgian administration got a chance to block all political initiatives of the king and turned things to their favour.

    On October 10th, 1959 Jean-Paul Harroy, the Governor of Ruanda-Urundi, decreed the relocation of three UNAR influential chiefs – Kayihura, Rwangombwa and Mungarurire as a punishment for having participated in the UNAR meeting held in Kigali. This decision ended up in stopping the relationship between UNAR and the colonial authority. Uprisings against this unfair relocation were contained by the Public Force in Kigali. One person was killed and a few others were injured. Many chiefs and sub-chiefs resigned. Due to this situation, the governor suspended the relocation. However, the situation kept on getting worse.

    From 1st November 1959, a flare-up of violence that some called “a revolution” instigated by the colonial rule through members of PARMEHUTU and APROSOMA broke out against the Tutsi and members of UNAR. The violence first broke out in Gitarama (Muhanga District), then Ruhengeri (Musanze District), Gisenyi (Rubavu District), Byumba (Gicumbi District), Kibuye (Karongi District), Nyanza, Astrida (Huye District), Kigali and Gikongoro (Nyamagabe District). Only Cyangugu (Rusizi and Nyamasheke Districts) and Kibungo (Ngoma District) were safe. It is in this state of unrest that Colonel Guy Logiest was called upon from Stanleyville (Belgian Congo) by Resident J.P Harroy to manage military operations of armed men stationed in Rwanda.

    He then proceeded by arresting, imprisoning, exiling, assassinating and dismissing about twenty chiefs and a hundred sub-chiefs. He automatically replaced them with the Hutu. He was finally appointed Special Military Resident of Rwanda on November 10th, 1959 to finish up the Belgian plan of installing their protected Hutu regime.

    Note: This wave of violence targeted most members of UNAR and the Tutsi. Many of them were killed, their houses burnt down while thousands of them were forced to exile in the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Belgian Congo where they underwent so many sufferings in refugee camps.

    Causes of the 1959 crisis in Rwanda

    The causes of the 1959 crisis can be attributed to the following:

    • The ‘divide and rule’ policy commonly used by colonial powers in their respective territories. The Belgians enforced this policy between 1916 and 1962. As soon as they established their rule, the Belgians undertook a series of reforms aiming at transforming the traditional social classes into ethnic groups to confirm that there was nothing common between the Hutu, the Twa and the Tutsi. In traditional Rwanda, the terms ubuhutu, ubututsi and ubutwameant dynamic social identities based on wealth and political levels, that is, a Hutu who acquired wealth could become a Tutsi and a Tutsi who was impoverished could become a Hutu.

    • The distribution of administrative responsibilities in the new structure was discriminatory. This was because it excluded members of low social backgrounds, mostly the Hutu, in favour of the Tutsi from influential families.

    • There was antagonism between King Mutara III Rudahigwa and the Belgian Colonial Administration (1954 – 1959) resulting from the king’s opposition to the church’s monopoly in education. The king pushed for more representationof Rwandans in the political administration of the country. This bred hatred towards the Rwandan Tutsi elite by the Belgians.

    • The sudden death of King Mutara III Rudahigwa on 25th, July, 1959 disoriented the fight for independence. The king was a good symbol of unity among Rwandans.

    • Effects of Cold War. Arising from the competition between superpowers (USA and USSR) the Cold War affected the countries which were colonised in Africa. These superpowers wanted to gain political and economic influence (capitalism and communism) throughout the world. Belgians accused the monarchy of preparing independence in form of the communist system. They conspired against the Tutsi elite to support Hutu leaders.

    Consequences of the 1959 crisis in Rwanda

    The 1959 crisis in Rwanda resulted in consequences that not only affected Rwanda but also most of the Great Lakes region.

    • A lot of people lost their lives. Many Tutsi and members of UNAR were killed.

    • Property was destroyed. These included houses, livestock, crops and businesses.

    • People were displaced from their homes. They migrated to hostile areas like Nyamata, which was highly infested with tsetse flies.

    • People migrated to the neighbouring countries and became refugees.

    • Since this crisis, Rwanda inherited the ethnic-based ideology that later resulted into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The crisis left behind the leadership based on discrimination and regionalism.

    • There was perpetuation of the Belgian colonial model of administration. Belgium continued to serve in the new regime as government political advisors, technicians, etc.

    The process of independence in Rwanda

    Activity 1.3

    In groups of five, research by reading various historical materials and browsing the Internet to find out more information about the failures and achievements of the Belgian rule in Rwanda. Analyse the activities that led to attainment of independence in Rwanda. Summarise the findings in your notebooks and later discuss them in class in groups of ten.

    The United Nations Organisation formed a Trusteeship Council in 1945. The council’s mandate was to oversee the decolonisation of some dependent colonies. Rwanda was one such dependent territory that was put under the UN trusteeship. To monitor the process of decolonisation, the United Nations Trusteeship Council kept sending missions to these colonies.

    In Rwanda the process was as follows:

    • From 1948 up to 1960: five missions of the UN visited Rwanda and blamed the Belgians for deliberately delaying the independence of Ruanda-Urundi.

    • In 1952: the Belgians introduced the statutory order establishing the representative organs held by various councils.

    • In 1956: the law amendments introduced the universal suffrage at the level of aforementioned organs.

    • In February 1957: The “Mise au Point” memorandum was prepared by the High Council of the State demanding more representation of Rwandans in political administration of the country. It was addressed to the Belgians and the Trusteeship Council. The Belgians rejected it and instigated a counter memorandum called the Hutu Manifesto (March 23rd, 1957). The memorandum accused the Tutsi of monopolising power and practicing social injustices. It was signed by Gregoire Kayibanda, Joseph Habyarimana alias Gitera, Calliope Murindahabi and Maximillien Niyonzima.

    • In March 1958: King Mutara III Rudahigwa created a committee that had to analysethe Hutu-Tutsi social problem.

    • In June 1958: The reaction of the High Council of the State on the above committee report noted the existence of a socio-political problem on the administration level that was not ethnic in nature. The problem was resolved by the removal of the ethnic mention from the identity cards. However, this attempt failed because some of the political parties that were being formed were ethnic-based e.g PARMEHUTU in 1959.

    • 1959-1962: A series of events that quickened the declaration of independence took place:

    > On May 8th, 1959: the statutory order set up political parties, namely UNAR (l’Union Nationale Rwandaise) formed on September 3rd, 1959, APROSOMA (l’Association pour la Promotion Sociale de la Masse) formed on February 15th ,1959, PARMEHUTU (le Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation des Bahutu) formed on October 9th, 1959 and RADER (Rassemblement Democratique du Rwanda) formed on September 14th,1959. On July 25th , 1959, King Mutara III Rudahigwa died in mysterious circumstances. He was the great figurehead in the struggle for the independence of Rwanda. He was replaced by his young, inexperienced brother, Kigeli V Ndahindurwa on July 28th, 1959.

    >From 1st to 7th November, 1959, a spark of violence erupted in Gitarama against the Tutsi and the members of UNAR. The violence was sparked by members of PARMEHUTU and APROSOMA. It spread throughout the country except in Cyangugu and Kibungo.

    > In June – July 1960, communal elections took place and on 30th July, 1960, PARMEHUTU was declared the winner with 74.4% of the votes. However, UNAR and the king protested against the results.

    > On October 26th, 1960, a provisionary government was put in place by the Resident Jean-Paul Harroy and Gregoire Kayibanda became the first prime minister.

      >On January 28th, 1961, The Coup d’état of Gitarama took place. Many decisions were made including the abolition of the monarchy, the proclamation of the republic and nomination of Dominique Mbonyumutwa as the first president while Kayibanda Gregoire remained prime minister.


    > In February 1961, there was the recognition of the new regime by the Belgian Trusteeship.

    > On September 25th, 1961, legislative elections and a referendum (Kamarampaka) for or against the monarchy regime was conducted. The monarchical system was voted against in favour of the republic regime. On the same day, legislative elections took place and on 2nd October 1961, the legislative assembly that later elected the president of the republic was put in place.

      >On October 26th , 1961, Kayibanda Gregoire was elected and confirmed as the president of the first Republic of Rwanda.
    > On July 1st, 1962, independence was given to Rwanda in a mitigating environment.

    Role of the Trusteeship Council in Rwanda

    The UN Trusteeship Council played a great role in Rwanda’s politics from 1945 up to 1962 as follows:

    • It sent different missions to check on the political, economic and social progress in Rwanda in the following years;1948, 1951, 1954, 1957 and 1960.

    • It signed a Trusteeship Accord with Belgium proposing reforms for future self-rule, economic and financial systems plans and social assistance programs to be carried out as a result of the 1948 first UN mission to Rwanda.

    • It blamed the Belgians for anti-democratic attitudes in Rwanda and discrimination in its different recommendations after its visit missions.

    • It sponsored and supervised a referendum on the monarchy system in Rwanda in 1961.

    • It urged the Belgians to withdraw their forces led by Colonel Guy Logiest from Rwanda in 1959.

    • It urged Belgium to respect the terms of the Trusteeship Accord providing total autonomy to Rwanda in December of 1961.

    However, the UN Trusteeship Council is blamed for not having paid special attention to the 1959 crisis and its aftermath because it left Belgians to recognise the newly instituted regime after the Coup d’etat of Gitarama (28th, January, 1961) in February 1961.

    Unit summary

    This unit deals with the reforms that were introduced by the Belgians to Rwanda.
    Belgium was given the mandate to govern Rwanda by the League of Nations in 1924 after World War I. During this time, the Rwanda territory was known as Ruanda-Urundi.

    Belgian rule in Rwanda was categorised into three periods which are:

    Belgian Military Occupation (1916 – 1925), Belgian Mandate (1924 – 1946) and the Belgian Trusteeship (1946 – 1962).

    The economic reforms introduced in Rwanda under the Belgian rule focused more on agriculture, mining and forestry.In the period of the Belgian rule in Rwanda, a compulsory order to grow cash crops (ishiku) was imposed.

    In 1927, the Belgians introduced a currency known as “ Franc Congolais”. This was so as to facilitate the exchange of goods and services and the payment of taxes by the locals.

    The Belgians also introduced a type of forced labour which was known as the Akazi.

    The political reforms introduced under the Belgian Trusteeship period allowed Rwandans to participate in the elections organised in1953 and 1956.The social and cultural reforms introduced by the Belgian rule led to construction of schools, hospitals and dispensaries.

    The 1959 crisis in Rwanda was majorly caused by the ‘divide and rule’ policy commonly used by the Belgians. They undertook a series of reforms aiming at transforming the traditional social classes into ethnic groups therefore, classifying Rwandans into the Hutu, the Twa and the Tutsi.

    The “Mise au Point” was a memorandum that was prepared by the High Council of the State in February 1957. It demanded more representation of Rwandans in the political administration of the country.

    Rwanda later got her independence from the Belgians on 1st July 1962.

    Unit assessment

    At the end of this unit, a learner is able to assess the performance of the Belgian rule and analyse the process of independence in Rwanda.

    Revision questions

    1. Explain the circumstances under which the Belgian rule was established in Rwanda.

    2. What were the different stages of the Belgian rule in Rwanda?

    3. Identify the political, economic and socio-cultural performance of the Belgians in Rwanda.

    4. Evaluate the effects of the political reforms undertaken by the Belgians in Rwanda.

    5. The Belgian rule influenced both negative and positive changes in Rwanda. Discuss.

    6. Identify the causes of the 1959 crisis in Rwanda.7. Describe the effects of the 1959 crisis in Rwanda.

    8. Why did King Mutara III Rudahigwa break relations with the colonial rule in the 1950s?

    9. Describe the different steps that led to achievement of independence in Rwanda.

    File: 1
  • Unit 2: Comparison of genocides

    Topic area:  History of Rwanda

    Sub-topic area: History of genocide

    Key unit competence

    Compare different genocides in the 20th Century.

    Activity 2.1

    Work in groups of five, using the Internet search for United Nations High Commission for Human Rights and read the whole Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 9th, December, 1948.This will help you understand the international legal framework that deals with genocides. Evaluate how this convention has been applied in Rwanda.


    The word ‘genocide’ was derived from two words. It originated from a Greek word ‘genos’ meaning origin or species, and a Latin verb ‘caedere’, meaning to kill. It was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born American lawyer who taught law at the University of Yale in the 1940s. He used the term for the first time in his book, Axis Rule in Europe, published in 1944. He used this term ‘genocide’ uniquely to make it different from other crimes of mass killings.

    A universal definition of genocide is found in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is contained in Resolution 260 A III of December, 1948. It defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnic or religious group, by:

    • killing members of the group;

    • causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    • deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

    • imposing measures intended to prevent births on the group;

    • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

    Different genocides that occurred in the 20th Century

    It is worth noting that the occurrence of genocide is not limited to Rwanda. There have been other cases of genocide in different parts of the world that occurred in different times. Some of the cases of genocide that happened in the 20th Century are as follows:

    Genocide against the Herero in Namibia by the German colonialists (1907)

    The Nama Herero Genocide was not recognised for unknown reasons by the United Nations Organisation. However, many authors and specialists in the study of genocides qualify it as a pure act of genocide committed against the Nama and the Herero in 1907.

    When the Germans arrived in South-West Africa (Namibia) in 1880, they found the area populated by certain groups of people such as the Nama (Namaqua) who were about 20,000 in number by then. Another group of people was the Herero who were about 75,000 in number. Their occupation was cattle herding. These people violently resisted occupation of their land and establishment of the German rule. The German commander who led the conquest, vowed to meet any resistance from the natives with ‘uncompromising brutality’. He vowed to wipe out the natives completely in 15 years time.

    The Herero waged war against the Germans in 1904

    – 1908. The Germans took their native land forcefully and planned to build a railway across their territory. The Herero were led by their leader Samuel Maharero. In January 1904, the Herero attacked white-owned farms and murdered 123 German settlers and traders sparing only women, children and missionaries. Later, the commander of German Forces, General Lothar von Trotha organised his ground army and they surrounded the living areas and the livestock pastures of the Herero.


    They only left a small opening through which the Herero could escape to the Omaheke desert. The Germans attacked and killed 5,000 people and wounded 20,000 others.They captured water sources and forced the survivors to flee to the desert. They followed the survivors to the desert and massacred them. They also poisoned water sources in the desert.

    On 2nd, October of the same year, General Trotha released an extermination order forcing the Herero people to leave the land. The Herero escaped to the desert where the Germans had already poisoned the water wells.

    When the Nama saw what had happened to the Herero, they also fled. Those who remained behind were collected into camps where they were tortured and forced to provide labour. Most of them died of diseases such as small pox and typhoid in the camps. About 80% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama people were wiped out.

    The Holocaust (1939 – 1945)

    The Holocaust is a genocide that occurred in Germany and its occupied territories. It targeted Jews of whom approximately 6,000,000 were killed by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime.

    Apart from the Jews, non-Jews were also killed including millions of Polish Gentiles, Russians, Ukrainians and prisoners of other nationalities. This has been one of the largest genocides in history. About two-thirds of the Jews who lived in Europe were killed in the Holocaust.

    Laws were passed in Germany that excluded Jews from the civil society, more specifically the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Concentration camps were established where Jews were murdered in large numbers. Jews were collected from various parts of Germany occupied territories in 1939 and were transported in cargo trains to the famous concentration or extermination camps. Most of them, however, died along the way. Those who survived the journey by train were killed in gas chambers.


    The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

    Events leading to the planning and execution of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda date back to 1959. The cause of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi was the history of a long process of violence, hatred, injustice and ethnic divisions in the first and second Republics of Rwanda. Massacre against the Tutsi had happened in 1959 as a result of similar reasons to those ones that caused the 1994 Genocide – manipulated ethnic rivalries between the Hutu and the Tutsi.

    There was an ethnic and political violence which was characterised by a period of violence from 1959 – 1961 targeting the Tutsi and Hutu members of UNAR. This violence saw the country transition from a Belgian colony with a Tutsi monopoly to an independent Hutu dominated republic.

    A Hutu elite group was formed to counter the Tutsi policy and transfer power from the Tutsi to the Hutu. From November 1959, a series of riots by the Hutu took place. The riots entailed arson attacks on Tutsi homes. The violence forced about 336,000 Tutsi to exile in the neighbouring countries where they lived as refugees. The Tutsi exiles organised themselves into an armed group to fight their way back into their country.

    Afterwards, there were no active threats posed by the Tutsi refugees to the Hutu-controlled government in Rwanda. It was until the early 1990s when the Tutsi refugees regrouped again into a strong force and formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a movement which they used to force the Rwanda Government into a political negotiation. However the negotiations failed as Hutu extremists were not willing to share the power. Using the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in an airplane crash on April 6th, 1994 as a pretext, they executed their long term plan of killing the Tutsi in the 1994 Genocide at the end of which more than one million Tutsi were massacred.

    The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi did not take a long time to be recognised by UNO. The Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) by the Resolution 955 of November 8th, 1994. Based in Arusha, the ICTR was established to deal with the prosecution of the Rwandans responsible for the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.

    Different phases of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi

    When the airplane that carried President Juvenal Habyarimana and the President of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira crashed on the night of April 6th, 1994, the long planned Genocide against the Tutsi started in Kigali City. It was started on thepolitical officials in the opposition namely; Minister Frederick Nzamurambaho, Faustin Rucogoza, Agathe Uwiringiyimana, Landouald Ndasingwa as well as Joseph Kavaruganda (Supreme Court). Killing the persons who could first oppose it was a strategic method used to freely commit the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The genocidaires went on to kill the Tutsi all over the country within a very short time. Some state officials in the newly formed ‘Government’ (Guverinoma y’Abatabazi) led by Theodore Sindikubwabo, (then a.i President of the Republic), Jean Kambanda (a.i Prime Minister), the Prefects of the Prefectures, Commune Burgomasters up to the cells leaders sensitised people to kill the Tutsi.

    The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was possible through the involvement of different actors. They included the following:

    • The Government of Rwanda that did not use its coercive power to stop killings, prohibit or punish the killers. It even provided funds to make the killings possible;

    • Armed forces starting with the Republican guards (Garde Presidentielle), Gendarmes (Police), Militias Interahamwe (MRND), Impuzamugambi (CDR militias) and military commanders at the local level and the Communal police;

    • Local government officials such as prefects of prefecture (as province today), burgomasters (as mayors today), communal coordinators, Conseillers de Secteur (as executive secretaries of sectors) and cell leaders ; Responsible de cellule (as executive secretaries of cells);

    • Individuals such as traders, local leaders of political parties, opinion leaders (intellectuals), faith-based missionaries, observers or bystanders and accomplices to killers etc.All these actors played a major role in killing the Tutsi within a period of three months.The genocide that lasted three months from April up to July 1994 was then stopped by the RPF when they defeated the genocidal forces.

    Activity 2.2

    Do this in pairs.Watch a documentary on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

    (a)Analyse its causes, its course and its end.

    (b)Write an essay suggesting steps that could have been taken to prevent its occurrence.

    Activity 2.3

    Brainstorm: Having evaluated other genocides that happened in the 20th Century, find out more on how the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was different from the rest.

    Similarities between the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and other genocides

    The above genocides have the following as common features or similarities:

    • Thorough preparation and execution by the concerned governments. They are always a result of bad leadership.

    • Intention of destroying or completely wiping out the targeted group.

    • Involvement of the government that put in place all necessary measures to destroy the targeted group.

    • Large scale killing of the targeted group.

    • Innocent people are killed because they belong to the targeted group.

    • Cruel methods are used to torture the victims before killing them.

    • Negative effects like trauma and poverty are common among the survivors.

    • There are mechanisms of denying the genocide committed.

    • Most of them are generated by internal divisions.

    • They mostly occur during war times.

    Differences between the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and other genocides

    • It was executed within a short period of time. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi claimed the life of more than one million people in a period of one hundred days.

    • Many people were involved, killing their fellow citizens, their relatives and their neighbours. Killers and victims shared citizenship and culture.

    • The government agents, church members and security organs were all actively involved in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

    • The international community did not intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped by Rwandans themselves. It came to an end when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) defeated the genocidal forces in July 1994.

    • Cruel and extreme forms of violence were used in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi e.g. torturing victims before killing them, throwing victims in septic tanks alive, burying them alive in common graves, gathering them in churches and other places and burning them alive using gasoline, raping women before killing them, crushing babies in mortars or smashing them against walls.

    Measures that have been taken to reconstruct the Rwandan society after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi

    Activity 2.4 Group work

    Split yourselves into two groups:

    Discuss the measures that have been taken to reconstruct Rwanda and to instill a sense of love and respect among all people. After your various discussions, have a presentation in class followed by a question and answer session among yourselves.

    The 1994 Genocide against Tutsi came to an end only after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) defeated the genocidal forces in July 1994. On July 17th, 1994 the RPF established a Broad Based Government of National Unity (BBGNU) which carried out a number of national reconciliation activities aimed at helping Rwandans to live together in harmony.

    • The Rwandan Government guaranteed security to returning refugees and to all citizens. Security organs were supported in carrying out their activities.

    • It abolished the use of ethnicity (Hutu, Tutsi and Twa) as political identities. The aim was to promote national unity by encouraging people and political groups to forget their past and live together in harmony.

    • It reconstructed government institutions since they had collapsed during the first and second republics.

    • It ensured justice to the victims of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Gacaca Courts provided both justice and reconciliation.

    • It established different commissions to promote national unity and reconciliation e.g the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission and the Human Rights Commission.

    • It established the office of the ombudsman to receive complaints against injustices.

    • It promoted activities of civil societies like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help in rebuilding the communities as well as the economy.

    • The National Constitution was reviewed in 2003. It promotes human rights observance and gives the Judiciary independence i.e. the decisions made are respected.

    • The teaching curricula were updated e.g. Curriculum for Political Education.

    • The Government of Rwanda also promoted participative leadership at all levels through equity, meritocracy and accountability.

    • It set up the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide to organise a permanent framework for the exchange of ideas on genocide, its consequences and strategies for its prevention and eradication.

    • It put in place the policy of solidarity trainings camps in places such as Nkumba and Mutobo where Rwandans of different age groups had to shape their mindset through different physical and psychological teachings on Rwandan issues. Also, through the Girinka, Ubudehe, Umuganda and Kuremera programs, the Government of Rwanda revived the spirit of cohesion. Every Rwandan realised the necessity of living together and of patriotism to all Rwandans.

    Unit summary

    This unit explains the genocide concept in depth and identifies the genocides that happened in the 20th Century as well as the circumstances under which they happened. Apart from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that occurred in Rwanda, there are other genocides that happened in different places such as the genocide against the Herero in Namibia and the Holocaust that happened in Germany.The Herero were opposed to the invasion of their land by the Germans and their intention of building a railway line across the land that belonged to the Herero.The Holocaust was genocide against the Jews that occurred in Germany and its occupied territories.

    The cause of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was the history of a long process of violence, hatred, injustice and ethnic divisions among the people of Rwanda. This genocide lasted for three months from April to July 1994. It came to an end when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) defeated the genocidal forces.The post genocide Government of Rwanda put measures in place that ensured reconstruction of the Rwandan society. It ensured justice was served to the victims of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. This was done through the establishment of the Gacaca Courts which facilitated conflict resolution and reconciliation.

    Unit assessment

    At the end of this unit, a learner is able to compare different genocides in the 20th Century by paying more attention on the specificity of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.He/She will be able to understand well the root-causes of the genocide and suggest ways to prevent the occurrence of the genocide in his/her country again.

    Revision questions

    1. Define the term genocide.

    2. Identify the genocides that occurred in the 20th Century.3. Describe the common features of genocides.

    4. Describe the differences between the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and other genocides.

    5. Describe the measures that have been taken by the Government of Rwanda to reconstruct the Rwandan society after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

  • Unit 3: Origin, rise, organisation and decline of empires in West and South Africa

    Topic area:  History of Africa

    Sub-topic area: History of ancient Africa

    Key unit competence

    Describe the origin, rise, organisation and decline of various empires in West and South Africa.

    Origin and rise of various empires of West Africa

    Ancient kingdoms in West Africa

    The grassland region south of the Sahara and north of the forest zone was known to the Arabs as Bilad as-Sudan or the land of the blacks. It witnessed in medieval times the emergence of four notable empires – Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Kanem – Bornu – in the west and central parts of it.

    Ghana Empire

    Ghana was the first kingdom to emerge as an empire in the Western Sudan. Apart from metropolitan Ghana, the empire included several important provincial territories.


    Chief among these was Awkar, a name by which Ghana was, for some time, better known in the Islamic world. At its height, the territories governed or influenced by Old Ghana covered a considerable area in the source-region of the rivers Niger and Senegal.


    The Mande-speaking Soninke people founded Old Ghana. The exact date of its foundation is not known, but was probably between 500 and 700 AD. It grew out of the Trans-Saharan trade. The original name of the kingdom was Wagadu. A sacred king who was the highest authority in the state ruled Ghana. He was known as the ‘Ghana’. Later, the name Ghana also came to refer to the kingdom.

    Old Ghana lay between River Senegal in the west and River Niger in the east. The Sahara Desert formed the northern boundary, while to the south were the forests in which lay the rich mining areas of Wangara.

    Factors that led to the rise and growth of Old Ghana

    Activity 3.1

    In groups of five , visit the library and research on the factors that led to the rise of the kingdom of old Ghana and those that led to its downfall. Later hold a class discussion to debate your findings.

    These were the reasons for the rise of Old Ghana:

    (i) Control of trade routes: The empire occupied the savannah land between the rich gold-fields of Wangara and the most important of the trans-Sahara trade routes. In this middle-man position, the ruler of Ghana could control and tax both the trading goods taken from North Africa to the Western Sudan (e.g. salt and horses) and those taken from the Western Sudan to North Africa (e.g. gold, ivory, kola). From this trade came wealth and with this wealth the rulers of Ghana were able to establish and maintain a reasonably efficient administration and army.

    (ii) The use of iron: The Soninke were apparently the first group of people in that part of the Western Sudan to discover the use of iron. The ability to make weapons of iron was important and assisted in Ghana’s military strength and growth.

    (iii) Use of horses: Soninke are considered the first people to secure a sufficiently large number of horses from North Africa to build up a powerful cavalry.

    (iv) Effective administration: The Soninke built up a fairly effective large-scale government, which enabled them to rule a large area and to maintain law and order.

    (v) Unity in the empire: The fact that the rulers of Ghana were considered semi-divine must also have helped the rise of the empire by maintaining unity and limiting the incidence of rebellion.

    Political organisation of the old Ghana

    (i) At the head of the empire was the king, operating from the headquarters at Kumbi Saleh.

    (ii) The king was assisted by able administrators. These men served also as secretaries.

    (iii) In the capital city there was a governor, besides the emperor. He was in charge of the civic administration of metropolitan Ghana.(iv)In the conquered or vassal states, two types of provincial government seem to have operated: In some provinces the administration was entrusted to governors appointed directly by the emperor. These were places where either hostile subjects were constantly plotting to rebel or there was no centralized native provincial ruler. In other places, the local rulers were allowed a great measure of independence. All that was required of these provincial native rulers was loyalty to metropolitan Ghana, and regular payment of tax to the emperor.


    (v) Vassal kings sent up their sons to the emperor’s palace. This practice was maintained for two reasons. Firstly, as long as the sons of the vassal kings were at the emperor’s palace or court, it was not wise for their fathers to rebel against the imperial authority. Secondly, these pages learnt a great deal of the arts of government from the imperial court. The experience thus gained stood them in good stead when later they returned home to assume the reins of government in their own land, in succession to their fathers.

    (vi)The supreme judicial power in the empire was vested in the emperor, assisted by a hierarchy of subordinate officials.

    (vii)The king did not maintain a standing army. Men were recruited or called up when the king needed them for a campaign or to defend the empire from external attack.

    Economic Organisation

    Old Ghana was a wealthy empire. The following were its sources of economic prosperity:

    (i)The gold mines were a source of revenue. The king held a monopoly of all the gold mines in the empire. This policy helped to maintain the high value of this precious metal. It also accounted for the great wealth which the kings enjoyed.

    (ii)Ghana’s middleman position helped her to benefit immensely from the trans-Saharan trade.

    (iii)Taxation on trade goods gave the emperor good revenue. The import and export taxes yielded much revenue for the king’s treasury.

    (iv)The people of Ghana used their skills in iron-working in good farming and adequate production of food.

    (v)The people were successful fishermen. They fished from the many rivers crisscrossing the empire.(vi) Agriculture was also a major source of economic prosperity

    Social Organisation

    (i)The king of Ghana made use of Muslims in his government, but his people still followed the traditional religion.

    (ii)The king of Old Ghana was regarded as semi-divine. As the chief priest, the king conducted special ceremonies and rituals, and was the link between the living and the gods.

    (iii)The people believed in life after death. This was seen in the burial rites that were performed when the king died. After his death, the king’s body was placed in a special building on a bed decorated with fine cloths. His clothes, weapons and other personal belongings were placed near him. When all this had been done, some of the closest servants entered the tomb, which was then sealed.

    (iv)The people threw earth over the tomb until a small burial mound had been created.

    (v)The people of Old Ghana lived in thatched houses that were built of wood.

    (vi) The king wore special robes and ornaments during official ceremonies.

    (vii) People approached the king on their knees as a sign of respect.

    Activity 3.2

    Draw a sketch map of the Western Sudan, and indicate the position of Ghana and its expansion.

    Decline of Old Ghana

    By the end of the 11th Century, Old Ghana had begun to decline. A number of reasons caused this:

    (i)Generally speaking, the inherent structural weaknesses common to most Sudanese states caused the decline. In this case it was particularly due to the disruptive activities of the Almoravids, who, either because of a genuine desire to purify and spread Islam, or because of the prospects of booty, descended on and sacked Ghana in AD 1076.

    (ii)The Almoravid attacks had opened the way for internal revolts and incursions from hostile neighbours which Ghana could not control.

    (iii)Ghana’s great wealth, which had been an asset in its heyday, was now a disadvantage as its envious neighbours began to make increasingly menacing attempts to seize it

    (iv)Towards the end of the 12 Century, the Soninke dynasty, established by Kaya Magan about 770 AD, was overthrown by a soldier called Diara Kante who was succeeded in turn by Sumanguru Kante (1200-35). From the small vassal state of Kaniaga, Sumanguru Kante took advantage of his suzerain’s weakness and conquered Ghana in 1203. The resultant confusion and insecurity caused the merchants and scholars in the capital of Old Ghana to move out and settle in Walata. Sundiata, the only surviving son of the ruler of the state of Kangaba who had been sacked by Sumanguru in 1224, captured and killed Sumanguru at the Battle of Kirina in AD 1235.

    (v)The rise of strong neighbouring state of Mali were a threat that caused the collapse of the Ghana empire.

    (vi) Decline of trans-saharan trade in Ghana due to the exhaustion of trade goods weakened the economy of Ghana leading to its downfall.

    (vii) The large size of Ghana kingdom made it difficult for administration, therefore weakening the kingdom until it declined.

    Mali Empire

    Activity 3.3
    In pairs, discuss the possible factors that led to the rise and decline of the kingdom of Mali, considering the points we have discussed concerning the kingdom of Old Ghana.

    From the ruins of the Old Ghana Empire, there arose the Mandingo Empire of Mali. Two important personalities dominated the history of this empire, Sundiata (1230-55) and Mansa Musa (1312-37). Under Sundiata, Mali became the dominant trading empire of the Western Sudan. It therefore took the place of Ghana and although there are differences, it imitated the previous empire very closely. One essential difference is that everything that Mali did was on a grander scale; there was more trade, a larger army and a larger empire.


    Mali was not given the name by which it is known until after Sundiata started to build the empire. Its original name was Kangaba. The people of Kangaba were the Mandinka, or in other words, the southern Mande.

    Thus, Mali developed from the coming together of a number of Mandinka chieftaincies to form the small state of Kangaba. However, the neighbouring Old Ghana ruler Sumanguru Kante viewed this up-and-coming state with grave concern; and in about 1224 he descended on Kangaba and conquered it, killing, according to some traditions, all but one of its ruler’s twelve sons. Sundiata, the survivor, went into exile.

    Kangaba was left in a desperate situation, but eventually Sundiata returned from exile and became the king. He was sent help by many of Sumanguru’s enemies, such as the king of Bobo who sent 1,500 archers to help Kangaba. Thus, Sundiata was able to assemble a large army to face his foe at a place called Kirina. His greatest obstacle to victory was the fear that Sumanguru inspired in the Mandinka. They believed incredible stories about Sumanguru; for example, that he possessed eight heads. It was very important for Sundiata to lead the way in battle and to demonstrate that the Susu king was human and indeed mortal, which he did. The Susu were defeated and Sundiata went on to capture the old kingdom of Ghana.


    Between 1235 and his death in 1255, Sundiata created the empire of Mali. Mali is a name that was given to the empire by Arab travellers and its meaning is the ‘place where the king lives’. The title which the Mali people gave to their king was mansa; so by 1235 the once crippled–Sundiata was Mansa Sundiata of Mali.By 1337, Mali empire controlled an area in West Africa that included most of what are now Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, Mali and parts of present-day Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger.

    The rise and expansion of Mali Kingdom

    A number of factors led to the rise and expansion of Mali:

    (i)Strategic geographical position – Mali’s position, away from the southern movement of the Sahara Desert, and near the centre of the savannah lands, gave it a good geographical advantage. Thus, with good farming land, Mali could be sure of adequate food, a large population and a powerful army. There was less danger in Mali that war would cause a collapse of agriculture as it had done in Ghana. Another advantage of Mali’s geographical positioning was that empire was less vulnerable to attacks from desert tribes such as Sanhaja and the Tuaregs.

    (ii) Unity in Islam – The empire was not a target of the jihads because Mali, unlike Ghana, had long been a Muslim state. Not all the people of Mali, including Sundiata, were strict Muslims, but most kings seem to have been. This fact was beneficial to Mali’s trade and the smooth running of its government.

    (iii)Expansion of trade – Sundiata extended the empire’s trading activities –resulting in the expansion of the empire – in a number of ways:

    • In order to attract the trans-Saharan trade to the heart of his empire, he moved the capital from Jeriba to a new town, called Niani, which later became known as Mali. He realised that northern traders had abandoned Awdaghost as the main trading centre, and were now concentrating their activities in the direction of Timbuktu and Gao. By concentrating trade in positions on the Niger, he could be sure of keeping in contact with Gao.

    • When he extended his empire, he concentrated on areas that would be especially useful to Mali’s trade. He gained control of the gold-producing areas of Wangara. It meant that traders from Gao and Timbuktu would have to trade with Mali for gold and that there would be no need to offset their profits by paying agents for it.

    • Another area of expansion of trade included the copper-producing area of Takedda and Taghaza from where the salt came.

    (iv)Military conquests and annexations – Sundiata extended the Mali Kingdom through a series of conquests and annexations. Following the defeat of Sumanguru, Sundiata annexed the kingdom of Kaniaga and all her vassal states, including Ghana which he conquered in 1240. After the final defeat of Ghana, Sundiata stayed at his headquarters. He left to his generals the job of further expansion wars. His generals conquered the gold-producing regions of Bambuk and Wangara. The gold in these territories attracted trade, and thus the wealth of the new empire increased. Another important gain was the control of Taghaza, with its rich salt mines

    (v)Good administration. Sundiata organized an effective administrative system. He united many petty states, including the newly-annexed ones under one centralised system of administration. He himself took control of the metropolitan administration. He established a standing army under able leaders. He appointed several of these war leaders as governors in the provinces. These military governors exercised effective control over potentially rebellious subjects.

    (vi)The contributions of Mansa Musa. He made contributions in the expansion of Mali in a number of ways:

    • Devotion to Islam: He was very concerned with spreading the education of Islam and it is under him that Timbuktu started to grow as a great cultural centre. The most famous event of his reign was the great hajj (or pilgrimage) he made to Mecca in 1324. It is clear that he was a cultured man who had great regard for Arab styles of architecture.

    • Expansion of trade: He was a shrewd king who dispensed his generosity in directions that he considered most profitable. His lavish presents in Cairo were rewarded by a great expansion of trade with the sultan of Egypt.

    • Expansion of boundaries: Musa made conquests and annexations and greatly expanded the boundaries of Mali. Walata was annexed, and then attention was turned toward the main trading centres of Songhai, Gao, Timbuktu and Djenne (Jenne). These centres had always been the most profitable in the Western Sudan. Musa sent his military leader, Sagaman DSir, to conquer these towns, and it was accomplished by the time Musa returned from Mecca in 1325. The wealth of Mali was therefore substantially increased in the reign of Mansa Musa.

    Political organisation of the Mali Kingdom

    Activity 3.4
    In groups of five, go to the library and find out from books of history how the political structure of the kingdom of Mali appeared. Make comparisons between the Mali kingdom and the pre-colonial kingdom of Rwanda.

    The Mali Empire covered a larger area for a longer period of time than any other West African state ever did. This in part can be explained by its political organisation:

    (i)Decentralisation of administration: The farther the territory was from Niani, the more decentralized the mansa’s power became. Nevertheless, the mansa managed to keep tax money and nominal control over all the area without agitating his subjects into revolt. The Empire reached the limit of its expansion in the reign of Mansa Musa.

    (ii)Skilful leaders: Sundiata was an able ruler. Mansa Musa even surpassed him. This great ruler of Mali, who possessed considerable administrative skill, did much to organize Mali’s machinery of government. At the close of Mansa Musa’s reign, in 1337, the empire of Mali extended far beyond the frontiers of the empire of Ghana which it had replaced. This vast empire comprised many kingdoms inhabited by many different peoples. To govern a vast empire of this kind, successive rulers established institutions designed to promote effective government.