. February 27, 2001 Compiled By Trinicenter News

Hutus, Tutsis /Burundi Crisis

Related News

¤ Map of Burundi
¤ BBC: Burundi Timeline

¤ Online Forums
¤ Trini-Board
¤ RaceandHistory.com
¤ HowComYouCom.com

Amon Hotep -
Articles and letters we published in 1999 which I think would give a good insight into the Burundi crisis.

According to many scholars, Hutus first settled in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa between five hundred and one thousand BC. Generally speaking, Hutus were an agricultural people who lived in large family groups.

The Tutsis, also known as Watutsis, were a nomadic people who began arriving in the Great Lakes region from Ethiopia some four hundred years ago. Eventually, the Tutsis settled amongst the Hutus - adopting their language, beliefs and customs.

But economic differences between the groups soon began to form. The Tutsis as cattle-herders were often in a position of economic dominance to the soil-tilling Hutus. That is not to say that all Tutsis were wealthy and all Hutus were poor, but in many areas, like Rwanda, the minority Tutsis ruled the Hutus.

According to some historians, like Congolese Professor George Izangola, the only difference between the two groups were economic, rather than ethnic. In a 1996 interview with Charlayne Hunter Gault, Professor Izangola explained:

"In Rwanda, the Tutsi and the Hutu are the same people. They are all people--large grouping or communities which go from seven regions of Cameroon to Uganda--all the way to South Africa, in the same culture," Izangola said. "People used to be Tutsi or Hutu, depending on the proximity to the king. If you were close to the king, you owned wealth, you owned a lot of cattle, you are a Tutsi. If you are far away from the king, you are a cultivator, you don't own much cattle, you are a Hutu."
Germans and, after World War I, Belgians colonized the region. A 1934 Belgian census arbitrarily classified anyone owning more than 10 cows as a Tutsi. Roman Catholic schools educated Tutsis and largely ignored Hutus. But after the Second World War, as decolonization began to sweep Africa, the Belgians did an abrupt about-face.

Colonial rule, which began in the late 19th Century, did nothing to bring the groups together. The Belgians, who ruled what would later become Rwanda and Burundi, forced Hutus and Tutsis to carry ethnic identity cards. The colonial administrators further exacerbated divisions by only allowing Tutsis to attain higher education and hold positions of power.

The modern conflict.

Following independence in 1962, Ruanda-Urundi split into two countries: Rwanda and Burundi. In Rwanda, the Hutu majority lashed out at the minority Tutsis - killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring Uganda. In Burundi, the minority Tutsis maintained their control of the military and government through a campaign of violence against the Hutus. Although they lost multi-party elections in 1993, two assassinations and a military coup have allowed the Tutsis to remain in power.

When Yoweri Museveni, a rebel leader of Tutsi descent, seized power in Uganda in 1986, it was largely through the assistance of Rwandan Tutsis. With a power base in Uganda, the Rwandan Tutsis formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front and began attacks against the Hutu-led government. After years of fighting, the Rwandan government launched a genocidal campaign against Tutsis living in Rwanda. According to reports, over 800,000 people were slaughtered over a period of 100 days.

Eventually, the tide turned against the Hutus and the Rwanda Patriotic Front defeated the Rwandan Army, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee, mostly to Tanzania and Zaire.

From refugee camps in Zaire, Hutus continued the fighting by launching cross-border raids on Tutsis and moderate Hutus living in Rwanda and Uganda. When Zaire's government, led by President Mobuto, was unable or unwilling to assert control over his eastern frontier, the Tutsi governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi backed a rebellion that toppled the state. The rebel leader they supported, Laurent Kabila, renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the Hutu raids continued, the Tutsi-led states encouraged a second rebellion against Kabila.

With Tutsi rebels continuing to fight in the former Zaire and Hutus waging guerilla battles in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the ethnic strife that sparked the slaughters in Rwanda continue to infect the region.

The main problem is a problem of power. In Rwanda, you had a majority in power. You have these divisions called Tutsi, Hutu, and in Rwanda, you had the Hutu in power, and the minority Tutsi excluded. In Burundi, it was the other way around. You had the minority Tutsis in power, and the majority excluded. And this is--this is the problem we have to deal with, that power, really virtually since independence has been in the hands of the minority, supported by the army. And that is really basically the problem we are dealing with.

The solution will be a reconciliation. We'll have--we will have to negotiate a system under which both the majority and the minority feel reasonably happy.

The biggest obstacle at present is that those who are in power, the minority--the minority is in power--they are like one riding on the back of a tiger. And they really want almost a water-tight assurance before they get off the back of the tiger because they feel if they get off the back of the tiger it will eat them.

The problems we are now handling in Africa, some of the mess we're trying to clean up in the continent we have inherited, the mess of the borders we have inherited.

E_MAIL: From Africa.
The colonial powers drew the borders.

Yes. The colonial powers and some none colonial powers in Africa have supported regimes which are very corrupt on that continent. I think now they should stop backing up these corrupt regimes and let Africans in their own way try and establish regimes which can care about people. Some of the governments of the West, and including the United States, have really been very bad on our continent. They have used the Cold War and all sorts of things to back up a bunch of corrupted leaders on our continent. I think they should stop now and let the people of Africa sort out their own, their own future.

From: Ted Grant
London, November 1997

The bulk of the problems facing the peoples of Central Africa, particularly in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi, originated through the policy of the former colonial power, Belgium imperialism, which deliberately played off the Tutsis against the Hutus, and granted the Tutsi minority the top administrative posts. Previously, various nationalities lived together and intermarried. It was a classic case of divide and rule, leading to the present devastating conflict. However, Belgian support for the powerful Tutsi minority waned in the 1950s when the Rwandan National Union pressed for independence. The Belgian government set up the Party of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Bahutu, sparking communal strife. In 1959 there was a war in which the Hutus drove out the Tutsis, and Rwanda declared a Hutu republic in 1962. A parallel situation developed in Burundi where the Hutus were suppressed. The Tutsis in Burundi attacked Rwanda in 1963. This resulted in 250,000 refugees, mostly Tutsi, living in Uganda, Zaire and Burundi.

A major part of the refugee problem in eastern Zaire came about when France intervened in Rwanda in 1990 and 1993 to prop up the Hutu government of Juvenal Habyarimana, and finally in 1994 to create so-called "safe havens". Then, the mainly-Tutsi opposition Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded Rwanda and routed government troops and its allied Interahamwe militias, which had engaged in genocide and the murder of more than 500,000 Tutsis.

The success of the opposition forces forced the Interahamwe to flee. This, in turn, resulted in the domination of the army and the militias over the one million refugees, who were forced to flee to Zaire. The Interahamwe dominated the camps and even the food rationing supplied by the international aid agencies. They launched attacks into Rwanda and prevented the return of refugees on pain of death. The Interahamwe's subsequent defeat by the Patriotic Front, freed the refugees to return to Rwanda.

In the 1950s the Belgian imperialists, through the United Nations, moved against independence leader Patrice Lumumba, who was betrayed and murdered by troops under the command of Mobutu - trained and educated by the Belgian regime. Mobutu came to power, backed by imperialism. His authoritarian regime bled the people dry, and Mobutu turned himself into a billionaire.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The opposition Patriotic Front wants to establish a more democratic regime in Zaire and has seized control of the eastern part of the country, with the support of the Tutsis, who have lived there for 200 years. The Mobutu regime had been trying to discriminate against them as "foreigners".

What motivates the imperialists, especially French imperialism, is the fear that the Mobutu regime, which is on its last legs, may collapse and open the road to possible revolutionary developments in Zaire, or even precipitate the break up of the country. This is not new. Apart from its intervention in Zaire in the 1960s, using its Moroccan surrogates, France intervened to safeguard Mobutu in 1977 and 1978. They did the same thing in Rwanda to protect the government during the first half of the 1990s.

The Patriotic Front has out maneuvered the imperialists by attacking the refugee camps and forcing the Interahamwe to flee to the bush, so opening the way for the hundreds of thousands of refugees to return. However, this has not totally defused plans by the imperialists to intervene. France and Canada are still pushing hard for a full scale intervention. "Now is not the time to pause and reflect. We still have to have very direct action," stated Canadian Foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. The United States and Britain, however, are having cold feet. Overseas minister Baroness Chalker, described the French plan as "daft".

Any foreign intervention would now meet with hostility and even military opposition. This was made clear by both Rwanda and Laurent Kabila, leader of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. The Canadian advance force had difficulty getting out of Rwanda's capital, Kigali due to the opposition of the government.

The dis-United Nations has played the same baneful role as always. It represents the interests of the imperialists in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The strategic, economic and political considerations are prime. The very last considerations would be the needs and interests of the peoples involved. Britain and the US have pulled back from military intervention, putting pressure on France to do the same. However, it is not excluded that they may intervene again if civil war breaks out in Zaire - in order to protect the economic interests of world imperialism, particularly the enormous natural resources of this huge area. They will want to prop up the same interests as Mobutu represented.

The United States and the other imperialists have been converted to "democracy" in the ex-colonial areas of the world because they find such regimes much more reliable that the dictators that they supported previously. That is why they wanted to abandon Mobutu if they could, and why they came out for elections in Zaire (which were rigged in any case). They made a ghastly mess in Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and elsewhere in Africa. This is not due to the innate qualities of the Blacks (which was the imperialist's old argument), but the class interests involved. The imperialists interest in the so-called Third World is to bleed these countries economically through adverse terms of trade, where these countries' commodities are sold below their value, while those from the West are sold at high rates. Thus impoverishing these countries and peoples.

Even if "democracy" is established, it will suffer the same fate as all those "democracies" in Africa - all of which were run in effect by one-party states. There is no solution on a capitalist basis. In the long term, on the establishment of a Socialist Federation of Africa, linked to a federation of European socialist states could offer a real way forward. In the immediate period, the Labour movement should argue for the right of self-determination and allow the peoples to decide their own future without outside military intervention from imperialism. This is a principle. Despite all the hypocrisy about humanitarian intervention, what decides the policies of the imperialist powers is the interests of capital. That means that the Labour movement in the West must have a clear idea that the enemy of these countries is the same enemy they face at home - capitalism and imperialism. Only with that understanding can the movement see through the hypocrisy of imperialism and lay the basis for the real emancipation of the peoples of the third world.

HAVE YOUR SAY! Submit your comments
Disclaimer: Trinicenter will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all
e-mails will be published. Trinicenter reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Back to top

Online Forum / Trinicenter Home