Mandate of Belgium
Flag Coat of arms
Ruanda-Urundi (dark green) depicted within the Belgian colonial empire (light green), c.1935.
Capital Usumbura
Languages French, Dutch (official)
Also: Kirundi, Kinyarwanda
Religion Roman Catholicism
Also: Protestantism, Islam and others
Political structure League of Nations Mandate
  Belgian invasion April 1916
   Creation of mandate 20 July 1922
  Administrative merger with the Belgian Congo August 1925
  Rwandan Revolution 1959–62
   Independence 1 July 1962
Currency Belgian Congo franc (1916–60)
Ruanda-Urundi franc (1960–62)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
German East Africa
Kingdom of Burundi
Today part of  Burundi

Ruanda-Urundi was a territory in the African Great Lakes region, once part of German East Africa, which was ruled by Belgium between 1916 and 1962. Occupied by the Belgians during the East African Campaign during World War I, the territory was under Belgian military occupation from 1916 to 1922 and later became a Belgian-controlled Class B Mandate under the League of Nations from 1922 to 1945. After the disestablishment of the League and World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a Trust Territory of the United Nations, still under Belgian control. In 1962, the mandate became independent as the two separate countries of Rwanda and Burundi.


Before the Scramble for Africa, the region of Ruanda-Urundi was dominated by two independent kingdoms, Rwanda and Kingdom of Burundi, which were annexed by the German Empire in 1894. The Ruanda-Urundi region formed the westernmost part of the colony of German East Africa which included modern-day Tanzania.

After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Ruanda-Urundi was the scene of fighting between German and Belgian forces from the Belgian Congo which bordered the region to the west. In April 1916, as part of the East African Campaign, Belgian-Congolese forces invaded Ruanda-Urundi and by September most of the west of German East Africa was under Belgian occupation while forces from the British Empire fought elsewhere in the colony.

Occupation and League of Nations mandate (1919–46)

A Belgian Congo stamp overprinted for the Belgian Occupied East African Territories, 1916

The Treaty of Versailles divided the German colonial empire among the Allied nations. German East Africa was divided, with the vast majority of the territory, known as Tanganyika, going to the British and a small portion to Portugal. The western part of the colony, formally referred to as the Belgian Occupied East African Territories, was allocated to Belgium. In 1924, when the League of Nations issued a formal mandate granting Belgium full control over the area, the area officially became Ruanda-Urundi.[1]

The Belgians were far more involved in the territory than the Germans, especially in Ruanda. Despite the mandate rules that the Belgians had to develop the territories and prepare them for independence, the economical policy practised in the Belgian Congo was exported eastwards: the Belgians demanded that the territories earn profits for the motherland and any development must come out of funds gathered in the territory. These funds mostly came from the extensive cultivation of coffee in the region's rich volcanic soils.

To implement their vision, the Belgians used the existing indigenous power structure. This consisted of a largely Tutsi ruling class controlling a mostly Hutu population. The Belgian administrators believed that the Tutsi were superior and deserved power. While before colonization the Hutu had played some role in governance, the Belgians simplified matters by further stratifying the society on racial lines. Hutu anger at the Tutsi domination was largely focused on the Tutsi elite rather than the distant colonial power.[2]

Ruandan migrant workers at the Kisanga mine in Katanga (Belgian Congo)

Although promising the League it would promote education, Belgium left the task to subsidised Catholic missions and mostly unsubsidised Protestant missions. As late as 1961, shortly before independence arrived, fewer than 100 natives had been educated beyond secondary level. The policy was one of low-cost paternalism, as explained by Belgium's special representative to the Trusteeship Council: "The real work is to change the African in his essence, to transform his soul, [and] to do that one must love him and enjoy having daily contact with him. He must be cured of his thoughtlessness, he must accustom himself to living in society, he must overcome his inertia."[3]

United Nations trust territory (1946–62)

After the League of Nations was dissolved, the region became a United Nations trust territory in 1946. This included the promise that the Belgians would prepare the areas for independence, but the Belgians felt the area would take many decades to ready for self-rule and wanted the process to take enough time before happening.[4]

Independence came largely as a result of actions elsewhere. In the 1950s, an independence movement arose in the Belgian Congo, and the Belgians became convinced they could no longer control the territory. Unrest also broke out in Ruanda where the king was deposed. In 1960, Ruanda-Urundi's larger neighbour gained its independence. After two more years of hurried preparations, the colony became independent on 1 July 1962, broken up along traditional lines as the independent nations of Rwanda and Burundi. It took two more years before the government of the two became wholly separate.

Colonial governors

A 1928 photograph from northern Urundi
Royal Commissioners
Governors (Deputy Governors-General of the Belgian Congo)

See also


  1. William Roger Louis, Ruanda-Urundi 1884-1919 (Oxford U.P., 1963).
  2. Peter Langford, "The Rwandan Path to Genocide: The Genesis of the Capacity of the Rwandan Post-colonial State to Organise and Unleash a project of Extermination". Civil Wars Vol. 7 n.3
  3. Mary T. Duarte, "Education in Ruanda-Urundi, 1946-61, " Historian (1995) 57#2 pp 275-84
  4. "Rwanda profile". BBC Online. 21 March 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014.

Further reading

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Coordinates: 2°42′S 29°54′E / 2.7°S 29.9°E / -2.7; 29.9

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