The Development Of The Ubuhake System
So far we have been analysing the ubuhake system and we have indicated some of the effects of the changes that took place during the colonial period so as to demonstrate from these effects the nature of the ubuhake relationship and the function it served in the framework of the social system of Rwanda. In 1952 the ubuhake system was abolished in the sense that no new ubuhake relationships could be established. Two years later all existing ubuhake relationships had to be ended and cattle held within thesystem had to be divided between patron and client. An analysis of this development demonstrates the wider changes that took place within the system. My contention is that the ubuhake relationships were abolished because they had already ceased to function effectively and this in itself is indicative of profound changes which had occurred in the society. The underlying factors which made the ubuhake system redundant are of relevance to the conflict situation which arose in 1961 rather than, as is often thought, theclientage system itself, because this had already been effectively abolished over a period of several years.
By extension and analogy, because of certain similarities and despite obvious differences, superior – inferior relationships have been referred to by previous authors in clientage terminology. For instance: “The army chiefs are the clients of the king” and “Subjects on the hill are the clients of the hill chief”. Indeed the army chief could be the client of the king and the Mwami often would appoint one of his clients to this office.
However this appointment, although it brings with it certain relationships of dependence and service, was not identical to ubuhake relationship. Equally the subject on the hill could be the client of the hill chief and so could the tenant of the ibikingi holder, but these relationships were additional to and not a necessary consequence of the relationship resulting from political office or landholding.
This is born out by the fact that the client’s patron could be somebody who was not his political chief or landlord. From the description of the ubuhake system, it is clear that the superior – inferior relationship expressed in the hierarchically ranked political power structure or the landholder and tenant relationships are not only different from one another but also both are different from the relationships expressed in the ubuhake system. Moreover both have little hearing on clientage despite certain similarities either concerning loyalty orconcerning dues in goods and services. It is important to note that these obligations were not the result of a personal relationship of inter-dependence and mutual support but pertained to the realm of taxation or a payment for rights in land. Confusion might well have arisen because the kinds of goods and services rendered to the hill chief or landlord were similar to those rendered to one’s patron.
However it must be realised that the bases of these relationships were different. In case of landlord – tenant and chief – subject relationships the amount of dues was pre-arranged and fixed while in the case of patron – client relationships these were neither pre-arranged nor fixed.
A further possible source of confusion was that a tenant on ibikingi land was not liable to pay dues to the chief but the obligation which he owed to his landlord might be used by his landlord to discharge himself of his own obligation to his chief. This may have led to the assumption that all the inhabitants of the hill were clients of the chief. In the case of one person being in the position of both patron and chief or landlord, obligations were not duplicated but those due to him as patron hadpriority. In account of the impact of the introduction of universal adult male taxation, which was intended to replace the complex customary system of dues and services, demonstrates the actual distinction between ubuhakerelationships and those between chief – subject and landlord – client. One of the effects was that where a tenant’s landlord had been at the same time his hill chief, after the reorganisation of the system of taxation, the chief collected the official tax while at the same time continuing to demand the dues and services owed to him as landlord. Similarly, where the client’s patron was also his chief, the client continued to fulfil obligations to his chief as patron as well as paying the official tax now due to him as chief.
The first move to abolish the ubuhake system came from the important cattle owners who proposed it in a meeting under the chairmanship of the king in 1945. The Mwami publicly announced his intention to abolish the system by the first of January, 1946. The Belgian colonial government however refused to let it go ahead because it thought that on the ubuhake system “reposait la structure politique du pays” (Bourgeois I958 p.11). After lengthy discussions and consultations the government decided in 1951 “L’elimination progressive de l’ubuhake” (Plan Décennal p.401). Because the government was convinced of the problem of overstocking, it was hoped that those who would newly acquire cattle, would be obliged to sell them owing to lack of pasture. This concern about overstocking may well be related to the fact that no proper measures were taken with regard to the redistribution of pasture.
In 1952 further ubuhake contracts were forbidden by the Mwami and in 1954 he gave details of the obligatory division of cattle held under the ubuhake system. Application for the division of cattle could be made either by patron or client or by both. Excluded from the division are “official cattle” which belonged to the country as a whole and personal cattle; i.e. those belonging to the lineage or those under private ownership. The division of cattle had to take place before appointed judges in such a way that one third of the cattle went to the patron and two thirds to the client but if the patron had already exercised his right of umurundo, the patron had only a right to one fourth. The cattle were classified on the basis of quality and colour and were evaluated by the judges in money if the two parties concerned could not come to an agreement. The client received two thirds of the money value of the cattle and the patron one third. If cattle were divided in kind the client had the first choice. If there were only one or two cows to be divided it wag up to the client to decide whether he wanted money or the cow. Payment had to be made on the spot and if one was not able to provide the money the cow was sold by public auction and the money divided between patron and client. Between April 1954 and the first of January 1957 we find that 224,420 head of cattle had been divided or 40 per cent of all the cattle in Rwanda including cattle which were excluded from the division. Unfortunately no figures are available as to what was the percentage of ubuhake cattle in the total national figure. But here we must refer back to the notes given as regards the extent of the ubuhake system in Rwanda. The conclusion seems justified that by far the greater part of the cattle in the ubuhake system was thus divided. It is indicative of the interest of both parties concerned that 40 percent of divisions were demanded by the client and 41 per cent by the patron while 16.5 per cent were demanded by both parties. Only 2.5 per cent had to be arranged through a court case. The vast majority (97.5 per cent) were arranged“à l’amiable” duly registered but not settled after dispute.
The first public move to have the ubuhake system abolished was started by the rich cattle owners themselves.
This can be correlated with the following factors:
(1) Mobility had gone out of the political system and appointment to office was no longer based on support but on educational achievement. The ubuhake system could no longer operate as an avenue of political mobility.
(2) The demand for abolition of ubuhake was made in 1945, that is just after the great rinderpest epidemic which had shown the economic weakness of cattle in the new context of the money economy.
(3) Because the protection of the client had become largely a responsibility of the administration and no longer depended on the support he gave to the patron, the clients gave little service and were moreover often absent through labour migration or employment.
(4) Because, although having ultimate control over cattle, patrons could not exploit them for financial gain, whereas clients could, e.g. through the sale of milk, butter or hides. Thus patrons were largely excluded from new avenues of economic gain from cattle,status and prestige was no longer solely determinedby the amount of cattle owned and the consequent number of clients but by office and access to money for the clients, acceptance of the termination of the ubuhake relationship had also many advantages, concomitant with the following changes:
(1 ) The flexibility had gone out of the system and they no longer had the protection of the army chief against the possibility of excessive pressures by the chiefs and patrons in their demands for goods andservices.
(2) Access to money through wage labour and the production of cash crops meant that the customary rendering of goods and services appeared as a heavy liability and a financial loss. This was all the more so as there was a greater demand for money for payment of taxes, school fees, etc. Moreover government’s pressure to extend cultivation in order to prevent further famines demanded more labour time on clients’ personal plots. All these factors had resulted in clients not giving the patron the goods and services which he expected. This in turn had resulted in friction and bad relations.
(3) Clients in regular employment could be legally compelled by the patron to compensate in cash for non-fulfilment of their clientship obligations. The amount fixed for redeeming their obligations was 450 fr. but insistence on monetary compensation often caused disputes.
(4) Cattle were no longer needed for bridewealth as this could now be paid in cash.
Because of fundamental changes in the principles of social organisation related to the political structure of Rwanda, to which the clientage system was linked and on which the working of the system depended, the ubuhake system was no longer relevant for either of the parties concerned.
To this must be added the economic changes which made the system burdensome for both parties. The “suppression de la coutume ubuhake” was no more than a winding up of the system which had already become redundant. Hence this winding up took place in complete calm and with hardly any disputes or contests.
However one of the effects of the division of cattle was that the rulers no longer had ultimate control over cattle. Although cattle were no longer instrumental topower, the abolition constituted a clear and evident sign of change in the system of access to office or land. Manyof those who received cattle were obliged to sell them, as they had no access to pasture. This was particularly evident in the case of clients of ibikingi landholders, who had cultivators settled on their land. Tenants whowanted the right of pasture, even on their own holdinge.g. to have cattle graze on the stubble after harvest,had to pay for this to the ibikingi landholder as hepossessed the right to pasture on all the ibikingi land.
If the tenants, who had acquired cattle through the division, wanted to keep their cattle, they had either to pay cash or render services and provide goods. Hence many decided to sell their cattle. Although no figures are available as to how many ibikingi landholders there were in Rwanda, they were