History will not forget the twisting tales of the two tribes that birthed two countries and left millions of skulls as milestones of its story. The Hutu and Tutsi share a memory bathed in blood, exodus, colonialism, power tussle, love and images of terror that morphed into a haunting motion picture.
Asides height, Hutu and Tutsi are mostly physically indistinguishable. They share the same language, religion, have very similar genetic compositions and an intertwined cultural memory that would not make much sense alone.
The Hutus had risen out of the Bantu expansion and moved to occupy the current region that stretched from Rwanda to Burundi, displacing the Twa pigmies and reducing their role to mere servants. The Tutsi came much later, moving South of Ethiopia, to invade the Hutus. A resulting pact made between the two parties about 600 years ago had the Hutus cultivating crops while the Tutsi offered protection for the settlement.
However, the society clearly morphed out social differences between the two tribes. Tutsi, although much smaller, became the ruling and influential class, while the Hutu were the working class and represented the masses.
Colonialism & The Social Order
Rwanda and Burundi were largely colonized by Belgium in a colony called Ruanda- Urundi. The Tutsi monarchy existed since the 15th century, but the Belgians destroyed it on arrival. The Belgian colonialists further made apparent the differences between the two parties to ease their colonialism. The Tutsi were perceived as the tribe of higher status and wealth, and this reflected in deciding the ruling class. The Belgians ran the country with the Tutsis, using such factors as height, facial appearance and eloquence, which favoured the Tutsis to determine who is invited into the ruling class.
The Rwandan Genocide
Upon independence, the Belgians left the power in the hands of the Hutus, who would use the power in vengeance against the former ruling class, the Tutsi. On April 6, 1994, the president died when his plane was shot down while returning from Tanzania to sign a peace treaty regarding both tribes. President Juvenal Habyarimana was a Hutu. This marked the beginning of the full scale genocide. In Rwanda, the Hutus were in force while the Tutsi took power in Burundi.
Just weeks after, over 800,000 men and women were killed in the genocide. United Human Rights Council estimates that 200,000 people perpetrated the genocide. Tutsi were the targets as Hutu extremists aimed to exterminate the entire Tutsi population. Tutsis tried to flee, several families were wiped out in their homes and those who couldn’t avoid the roadblocks were also hacked to death. Hutus who were against the genocide were also killed.
A Paul Kagame led Tutsi army ended the genocide after it conquered the Hutu forces.
The Burundian Genocide
Prior to the 1993 genocide where Hutus massacred the minority Tutsi, there was the 1973 Burundian genocide where the Tutsis were the major perpetrators while the Hutus were at the receiving end. The 1973 genocide was led by the President Michel Micombero after Hutus had perpetrated a rebellion that resulted in the death of about 1000 people. The April 1973 genocide led to the death of at least 100,000 people majorly Hutus as the Tutsi army went on rampage. There were other reprisal attacks that followed from the Hutus in 1973 that claimed the lives of about 50,000 Tutsis.
In 1993, another strife ensured. On October 21, 1993, the newly sworn in Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated. This brought the country to another genocide which claimed tens of thousands of Burundian lives.
How the World Reacted
Many believe that if there had been quick intervention from international bodies like the United Nations or other countries with vested interest in these countries, the calamities suffered in the genocide would have reduced.
How Are They Faring Now
Rwanda has remained under the leadership of a Tutsi born Paul Kagame who became President after the Hutu President, Pasteur Bizimungu resigned in 2000. He was Vice President until then. Paul Kagame who recently won a re-election to remain president of Rwanda is in his 16th year as president of the country.
President Paul Kagame led the drafting of a new constitution which was voted into use in 2003. The new constitution made it illegal to set up political parties based on race, religion, sex, region or tribe. Nonetheless, there have been several moves afterwards to destroy all opposition parties. In the 2003 elections, only Rwandan Patriotic Front was registered as a political party. The other party was banned by the parliament and aspirants had to run individually. Kagame secured nearly 100 percent of votes of that election. In 2010, Kagame secured another 7 year term after running against two presidential aspirants largely considered to be in favour of the ruling party.
However, Rwanda’s economy has grown under Kagame who is leading the country on a Vision 2020 programme to make the country a middle income country. The country is home to one of the cleanest cities in Africa. Major income earning areas that have been transformed over the years are Agriculture, Tourism, Banking and Finance. Rwanda ranks as 3rd in Sub Saharan Africa in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index and 52nd in the world. Transparency International also ranks the country 8th least corrupt country out of 47 Sub- Sahara African countries in the world while the country ranks 66th in the world. There is also a drive to be one of Africa’s renowned tech hubs.
President Pierre Nkurunziza assumed office in August 2005 and his re-election for a third term in office means he will now spend at least 15 years in office. Born to a Hutu father and Tutsi mother, Pierre has resisted all opposition to remain president including a coup attempt in 2015 prior to the 2015 elections.
Agriculture employs over 90 percent of Burundians. Tea and Coffee are major foreign exchange earners. However, Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries and as a result is largely dependent on foreign aid. There is low access to quality education, economic freedom, ICT, financial services and legal system. These coupled with famines and food shortages have seen about 80 percent of Burundians live below the poverty line. The Global Hunger Index also rates Burundi as the country with the severest hunger and malnourishment rate in all 120 countries considered for the survey.
[Header image]– Rwandan Genocide by endgenocide.org