The Rwanda-Burundi, Hutu-Tutsi Conflict Is Far From Over

March 11, 2021 Topic: Rwanda-Burundi Region: Africa Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RwandaRwandan GenocideBurundiGenocideHutu

The Rwanda-Burundi, Hutu-Tutsi Conflict Is Far From Over

How is the past of the two Hutu-Tutsi countries likely to influence their future?

The historical antecedents presented show a cycle in which in both Rwanda and Burundi, whichever group is in power at any particular time excludes and kills the other. Thus, the root cause of genocide in the Great Lakes Region lies in the extent to which collective identities have been mythologized and manipulated, making the Hutu-Tutsi hatred transcend individual enmity. It is more of who we are than who I am. Today, the Hutu-Tutsi classification is not just about ethnicity or socioeconomic caste, but rather, a kind of a divined classification that carries tremendous emotional charge in the heart but people have found ways to suppress it, at least for the meantime.

In Rwanda, a personal identification of either Hutu or Tutsi is frowned upon, but this is only on a superficial basis. People have been told this is how it should be, making this system one of the head and not the heart. I have personally had opportunities to talk with some Rwandan youth and although some few showed their identity, the majority claimed they have no idea of their identity. I wish this was true, but I have always doubted their answers in silence. The silence over who is who today is made possible by President Kagame’s strongman rule and claims that he is building an inclusive government, but the atrocities of yesterday are still in the people’s hearts. In any case, Kagame is not immortal. The crucial period is the transition in the advent of Kagame’s death. Thus, the next fifteen to twenty years will be telling. Yesterday’s atrocities have shaped Hutu-Tutsi identities of hatred, and thus, remain salient among the public. It is likely to continue to haunt the future of both countries for two main mutually inclusive reasons: fear and revenge.

Both Hutus and Tutsis are consumed by the fear of the unknown. Each is afraid that if he gets power and does not utilize it well by eliminating the other, the other will eliminate him when he gets the power. Each has no supernatural power to know what is in the mind of the other. It is a kind of defensive strategy that utilizes attack. Anyone who gets power engages in preemptive violence for the fear that he will lose it, lives, and livelihoods in massive violence by other. Revenge killing is also associated with all the various cases of mass killings reviewed. Revenge and fear shape each other. The historical killings have shaped a collective identity that makes it possible for each group in any country to attempt to avenge the death of kindred either within a territory or across the borders.

As a smart military man and a politician, President Kagame needs to put people he trusts in important sectors of Rwandan governance and these are obviously his Tutsi comrades to the exclusion of Hutu politicians. With Hutu rebels lurking and launching intermittent attacks from Burundi in attempts to take over power, it is difficult to argue that Hutu politicians and civilians are not supportive of them and, when the chance arises, they will not join the bandwagon—a charge that has landed Paul Rusesabagina in court facing charges of terrorism and murder. Today there is a Tutsi government in Rwanda and a Hutu one in Burundi and each is believed to harbor the other’s rebels in what I term as unholy alignment. In the advent that both regimes become either Hutu or Tutsi, it could also present unpalatable consequences. The cycle of fear and revenge killings has continuously shaped collective Hutu-Tutsi identities of hatred and constructed an enemy on the basis of past pain. I do not foresee why there wouldn’t be recurrent conflicts when fear and revenge are still significantly present. However, the next Hutu-Tutsi conflict is unlikely to have the same intensity and duration as the previous ones because of global public awareness, social media, and interest of the international community.

Thomas Ameyaw-Brobbey is an Assistant Professor of International Relations, Diplomacy and Security at the Faculty of Law and Public Administration, Yibin University, Sichuan, China

Image: Reuters.