Moral Courage



Tour Diary


Ethnic Conflict in Burundi

[The Hutu and Twa] believed that the Muzungu [Europeans], ganwa as well as the Tutsi all shared responsibility for their misfortunes.

Seeds of hate
The ganwa, continuing their rule through the colonial period and for a few years after independence, at times manipulated Hutu and Tutsi rivalries to extend their own power. Hutu and Twa, aggrieved by the decline of prices of the agricultural commodities they were forced to grow, the heavy taxation burden and the requirement to participate in road building and swamp clearances staged a number of violent rebellions during the colonial era. They believed that the Muzungu [Europeans], ganwa as well as the Tutsi all shared responsibility for their misfortunes. [8] Indeed, as Rose Kagari attests, members of the Twa ethnic group joined Hutu in attacks against the Tutsi as recently as the 1993 crisis.

In the runup to independence, it was clear that the Belgians were hostile to the nationalist Parti de l'Union et du Progrès Nationale [Uprona] and its charismatic leader, Prince Louis Rwagasore. He was assassinated while dining at the Tanganyka restaurant in October 1961 by a rival political party aligned with a Tutsi faction. Some scholars claim that the Belgians were complicit with his killing. Rwagasore's death was doubly tragic, Lemarchand believes, because it also "destroyed whatever ethnic cohesion he had achieved during his meteoric rise to power. Rwagasore's death, and the fact that the legitimacy of his role as a nationalist leader owed very little to constitutional niceties and virtually all to [his] personal qualities... were critical elements in the background of the Hutu-Tutsi problem." [9]

In neighbouring Rwanda a violent Hutu revolution overthrew the Tutsi king. By 1965, half of Rwanda's Tutsi fearing for their lives sought refuge elsewhere, including fifty thousand in Burundi. One of them assassinated Pierre Ngendandumwe, Burundi's first prime minister and a Hutu, exacerbating ethnic tensions. Machinations by the King favouring Tutsi interests despite Hutu electoral victories and his decision to disenfranchise the elected [and mostly Hutu] local administrators led some Hutu officers and gendarmerie to attempt an overthrow the monarchy in October 1965. This coup attempt failed. Some five thousand Hutu were executed, including many army offices and most political leaders. [10]

Now firmly in control of the army, Tutsi officers staged a successful coup a year later and abolished the monarchy. Colonel Michel Micombero dismissed the National Assembly and ran the country with sixteen other members of the National Revolutionary Council, almost all of whom fellow Tutsi. Their ethnic hegemony was reinforced by strongly discriminatory policies. Following unsubstantiated rumours of a coup plot in 1969, more Hutu were purged from the government and civil service. Many were executed or sentenced to long terms on dubious evidence. [11]

© Burundi Voices Project, 2006.