|Case Study: Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi
What role has ethnicity played?
(Extracted from a report issued by The Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland.)
In the second half of the twentieth century, Rwanda and Burundi have shared a history of communal conflict which has resulted in death and internal and external refugee flows on a massive scale. Rwanda and Burundi share many characteristics such as size, geography, language, culture, economy, and historical experience. Almost eerily, both have a similar population of communal groups. The Hutus (85% of the population) and Tutsis (14%) have the same language, culture, and beliefs. There is also much intermarriage between the two groups. Yet, within three months in 1994, 800,000 people were killed within these groups due to extreme ethnic violence. Why?
The communal conflict in Rwanda and Burundi is often described as a contest between two tribes with markedly different physical characteristics. Tutsis are depicted as tall, lighter-skinned, with long necks and narrow noses, and Ethiopian or more European in appearance. Hutus are described as short, squat, broad featured, with darker skin tone . . .Yet, more sober and detached analysis leads to the conclusion that while a small percentage of individuals may fit the ideal body type of their communal group, these people are the exception rather than the rule.
As Alison des Forges, a historian of Africa and Rwanda specialist has observed: "There are some people who are clearly distinguishable as Tutsi. There are other people who are clearly distinguishable as Hutu. And then there is the great mass of people in between, who are not immediately distinguishable as one or the other...In general they know who is who. But they know more because they know the person and his personal family history. If they see someone walking down the street, they cannot immediately tell you, in most cases, whether that person is Hutu or Tutsi." While long ago Hutus and Tutsis had different genetic pools, similar lifestyles and intermarriage promoted genetic resemblance over time.
Just as physical characteristics are an unreliable guide for identifying individuals as Hutu or Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi, so too is geography. In neither country is there a particular region that can be described as a historical Hutu or Tutsi homeland. Of course, there are sections in both Rwanda and Burundi in which one group is more prominent. In Rwanda, for example, about 45 percent of Tutsis inhabit a region in the center of the country around Nyabisindu, which was once the seat of power of the Tutsi monarchy.
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© 2000 World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh • From Global to Local: Causes and Costs of Ethnic Conflict 16What role has history played ?
Turning to the question of language, this attribute again fails to divide Hutus and Tutsis within the two countries. Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda both speak Kinyarwanda, which is closely related to the language spoken by the Tutsi and Hutu of Burundi, namely Kirundi. The two groups also share other aspects of culture, such as dance and music.
In short . . . the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda and Burundi are quite clearly not different tribes. On the other hand, it is true that in both countries the two groups perceive of themselves as distinct and competitive. Hence, at least in times of extreme danger, people have a conscious desire to identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi.
What is clear from recent scholarship is that the dividing line between Hutu and Tutsi was drawn differently at different times and in different places. Before colonialism, relationships among Hutus and Tutsis were essentially peaceful. As historian David Newbury notes, the term "Hutu" in pre- colonial times probably meant "those not previously under the effective rule of the court, and non-pastoralist (though many 'Hutu' in western Rwanda owned cattle, sometimes in important numbers)" (Kings and Clans. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).
Leading Burundi scholar Rene Lemarchand notes the use of the term "Hutu" to mean social subordinate: "a Tutsi cast in the role of client vis-à-vis a wealthier patron would be referred to as 'Hutu,' even though his cultural identity remained Tutsi" (Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). But both "clients" and "patrons" could be either Hutu or Tutsi. There were Hutu as well as Tutsi who raised cattle. A family could move from one group to the other over generations as its political and economic situation changed.
When the Belgians colonized the region in the 19th century, they altered the social climate. The Belgians identified all those having 10 or more cows as Tutsi and all farmers as Hutu and proceeded to issue ID cards that reflected this new “tribal” identification. In addition, the Tutsi elite was sent to government schools to learn the art of colonial administration. The Catholic Church also built schools and seminaries that drew from the Hutu population.
In 1959, the Hutu in Rwanda rallied en-mass to overthrow the Tutsi monarchy. Since regaining independence from Belgium in the early 1960s, the majority Hutus have controlled Rwanda, while in Burundi Tutsis have maintained their status as a dominant minority.
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What role has leadership played?
In 1973, General Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu) took power there was a bloodless coup d'etat. Habyarimana favored his own clan and Hutus from his home region in the north. Ministers were typically related to Habyarimana by birth or marriage.
The President's exclusive inner circle became known as the "Akazu," or "little house," and controlled or had influence in all major government institutions. The Akazu had command of the Presidential Guard, control of Radio des Milles Collines ("thousand hills radio"), and responsibility for the formation of the Hutu militias around the country.
A fundamental fact of life in Rwanda under Habyarimana was discrimination against Tutsis. Rwanda was the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa where citizens were required to carry identity cards stamped with the bearer's ethnicity, a practice first begun under the Belgians. The national identity card had great significance in determining the course of a person's life, as it decided who was eligible for higher education and therefore government employment. The government's conduct indicates that, while officially maintaining that Rwanda had no ethnic problems, the practice of discriminating against Tutsi was considered a key ingredient in the regime's survival.
For example, a census was suppressed because respondents were required to identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi. Reportedly, a large number, if not most, people claimed that they were of mixed parentage. If this fact became widely known, it would obviously undercut the "us versus them" ideology Habyarimana was relying on to legitimize his dictatorship. This supports the argument of many observers that at the root of the ethnic conflict is a political leadership ambitious to mobilize support by means of manufactured tribal hatred.
Under the Hutu government, in a policy known as "equilibre," Tutsis in theory received a 15 percent quota of positions in schools and workplaces, but Tutsis and outside observers claimed that this program was never fairly implemented. In 1990, for example, only one Cabinet member and one ambassador were Tutsis. In 1992, the US State Department observed that "[i]n practice, this [quota] policy limits access of Tutsis to education and important positions in the Government and military." In short, Hutus dominated all key government bureaucracies, with Tutsis having influence only in private business and the Catholic Church.
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Hutu practiced political exclusion of Tutsi from the time they took control of the government in 1959-1961. Before Habyarimana's coup of 1973, which banned political activity, most parties in Rwanda were formed along ethnic lines. In 1973, a comprehensive program of expelling Tutsis from schools, government, and business was reportedly undertaken. Political and educational exclusion often extended to physical exclusion and even physical elimination.
Even after a multi-party system was created late in Habyarimana's tenure, most of the parties that were formed were largely single-group (Hutu) in composition. One party that had mixed Hutu-Tutsi membership was skillfully split along ethnic lines by Habyarimana's political intrigues.
The official media (especially Radio des Milles Collines) often deliberately incited tribal hatreds. Official communiqués used the vocabulary of pest control to describe RPF rebels and by extension all Tutsis, referring to them as "cockroaches" that had to be exterminated.
© 2000 World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh • From Global to Local: Causes and Costs of Ethnic Conflict 19
1926: Belgians decide that the population of Rwanda should be classified as either Tutsi or Hutu.
1950s: The reduced status of the Hutus under the Belgian supported Tutsi monarchy creates a Hutu resistance movement.
1959: The Hutu-Tutsi divide widens as ethnic politics intensify. Belgium dispatches paratroopers to rescue the Tutsi power structure. Clashes between Hutus and Tutsis commence in the north and quickly spread throughout Rwanda. An estimated 10,000 Tutsis are killed, with perhaps 200,000 more fleeing the country.
January-October 1961: Hutu-led political forces proclaim a Republic and abolish the Tutsi monarchy. A new constitution is drafted. The first Tutsi exile guerrilla group is formed. Tutsi exiles operate from sanctuaries in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire.
July 1, 1962: Rwanda gains independence from Belgium. 1963: Tutsi exile guerrillas invade Rwandan territory in three waves on
November 25, December 20, and December 27. 1964: Rampaging Hutus, in response to Tutsi rebel incursions, kill 5,000 to
14,000 Tutsis and drive another 200,000 (out of a total of 600,000 Tutsis in the country) into exile in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire.
July 1973: Major General Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu) leads A bloodless military coup and proclaims himself President. Portions of the 1962 constitution are suspended, the legislature is dissolved, and a more centralized administration is created.
1979: The Rwandan Patriotic Front is founded by Tutsi exiles in Uganda. October-November 1990: The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invades
Rwanda from its bases in Uganda. Government forces repulse the RPF invasion. There are reports that the government has arrested Tutsi businessmen, teachers, and priests as collaborators with the rebels. The government labels resident Tutsis with no connection to the RPF as rebel "accomplices." In fact, many Tutsis initially support the government against the RPF, but the regime decisively rebuffs them.
June 1991: Habyarimana signs a new Constitution which provides for multi-party politics, the creation of a prime ministership, a limited Presidential term (a candidate could seek a maximum of two terms of five years each), and separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government.
1991-1992: The RPF conducts repeated, small-scale incursions into Rwanda. A cease-fire is negotiated in July 1992.
1992: Habyarimana maneuvers to split two key opposition parties (one of which was composed of both Hutus and Tutsis), thus polarizing the political situation and promoting tribalism.
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August 1992: The regime and RPF rebels agree on sweeping political reforms and the formation of an interim government that will include substantial RPF representation.
1993: Habyarimana's regime begins to train militia cadres political movement and the Committee for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), a Hutu extremist organization opposed to accommodation with the Tutsi rebels. Deployed throughout the Rwanda, the militias commit massacres at the behest of both local Hutu officials and central Hutu authorities.
March 1993: Habyarimana denies that any massacres have taken place since he took office. Habyarimana blames violence on the insurgency exclusively, and denied ethnicity was a factor in Rwanda's problems. Ethnic problems will end when the war ends, the President says.
August 1993: At Arusha in Tanzania, a new comprehensive accord is concluded between Habyarimana and the RPF. A coalition government is promised, featuring a Hutu Prime Minister, and a 21-member cabinet with five Tutsis. The military forces and RPF troops are to merge, creating a new Rwandan army.
April 1994: Military clashes occur in the Rwandan capital of Kigali between RPF elements and the Rwandan military. Presidents Habyarimana of Rwanda and Ntaryamira of Burundi (both Hutus) are killed when their plane is shot down by a missile over Kigali, Rwanda. The Presidential Guard in Kigali and army and militia elements in other parts of Rwanda attack Tutsis and Hutus who are believed to be political opponents of the regime. With the targeting of moderate Hutus for extermination, the RPF for the first time is able to recruit appreciable numbers of Hutus into its ranks.
June 1994: France dispatches 2,500 troops to Rwanda to establish a "safety zone" where Hutus can take refuge from the RPF. Hutu radio broadcasts exhort Hutus within French safe-haven zone to flee before advancing RPF forces, causing 250,000 to go into exile in Zaire.
July 1994: The victorious Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) forms a government committed to the principals enunciated in the Arusha Accord signed in August 1993: societal reconciliation, national unity, and access to political power for all ethnic groups.
Mid-1994: Due to civil war and genocide, Rwandan society is in a state of complete collapse. At least 500,000 people killed between April and July, approximately two million refugees abroad and one million internally displaced people, the cessation of business and agricultural activities, the death or flight of the educated and talented, and the breakdown of routine government activity including legal, educational, and health operations.
April 1995: Hutus of the former Rwandan army in exile in Zaire stage cross- border raids into Rwanda.
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