Hutu and Tutsi of Burundi

Location: Burundi (also Rwanda)
Population: Total 4.2 million (1981), Hutu 3.5 million, Tutsi 670,000
% of population: Huti 83%, Tutsi 16% (est.)
Religion: Christian (Catholic 60-65%, Protestant 5-10%); Muslim
Language: Kirundi

The Hutu and Tutsi are the two major peoples of Burundi together accounting for almost all the population. The Hutu are the majority people consisting of around 83% of the population and are mostly peasant farmers of southern Bantu stock. The Tutsi are around 16% of the population and are the descendants of the herdspeoples from the Horn of Africa. 1% of the population are from the Twa minority, a pygmoid group, who play little part in the mainstream society of Burundi. Burundi is a small landlocked country which was a German colony from the 1890s and a Belgian colony from 1918 to 1962, when it gained independence, first as a monarchy and, after a military coup in 1965, as a republic.

The Tutsi, Hutu and Twa are each divided between patrilineages of different social rankings which has produced considerable social differences within each ethnic group. In addition the Tutsi have been divided into two separate categories, the “lower-caste” Tutsi-Hima group and the “higher-caste” Tutsi Banyaruguru, the latter generally, although often erroneously, associated with the south and the former with the north. The Tutsi-Hima are the politically dominant group within the Tutsi. However, not withstanding divisions within ethnic groups, the major factor in Burundi, in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial politics, has been the continued dominance of the Tutsi group over the majority Hutu.

The killings of 1972

During the 1960s, despite their majority, the Hutu had few government or military posts and were discriminated against at all levels. In the period the Hutu made several attempts to gain majority rule, inspired by the victory of the majority Hutu population in neighbouring Rwanda. There were apparently Hutu-led coups in 1965 and 1969 which were crushed by Tutsi officers and which increased Tutsi dominance. In 1972, during the military regime of President Micombero, increasing tensions led to Hutu uprisings in Bujumbura and the provinces of Rumonge, Nyzanza Lac and Bururi, in which 2,000 Tutsi were reportedly killed. In retaliation the Tutsi-controlled government, especially the “revolutionary youth brigades” and army, began reprisals which resulted in the deaths of between 100,000 and 150,000 Hutus, and which has been described as “selective genocide.” Restrictions on travel and fear of further atrocities prevented Hutu reprisals but many thousands of people — largely Hutu — managed to flee the country and seek refuge in Zaire, Tanzania and Rwanda. These refugees totalled about 150,000.

Many Hutu still remain as refugees in these countries. The largest number are in Tanzania which is relatively underpopulated and where the Ha ethnic group speak a similar language to Kirundi. There are at least 60,000 refugees at Ulyankulu in Tabora region in addition to other settlements, and while there have been some complaints against interference by Tanzanian authorities in refugee affairs, most Hutu refugees in Tanzania have no immediate plans to return to Burundi. 35,000 Hutu refugees initially crossed to Zaire, mainly to the Ruzizi plain and the towns of Uvira and Bukavu, but some returned to Burundi after an amnesty in 1976. Of the 6,000 Hutu refugees who initially fled to Rwanda, about half left within three years, mainly for Tanzania.

During the 1972 killings particular groups among the Hutu were “targeted”. These were principally educated Hutu in the civil service and students in higher education. From 1972 there appeared to be an unwritten yet widely enforced policy by Tutsi-led governments, to exclude Hutu from these positions. This succeeded partially because of Hutu memories of the killings of 1972, and many Hutu parents attempted to take children from secondary and higher education for fear of Tutsi reprisals. For example, of the 36,000 students who complete primary school education each year, only 4,000 go on to secondary education, and within this group Hutu are consistently under-represented. It has been reliably reported that the inspectors who determine entry from primary to secondary school are all Tutsis. Large numbers of Hutu secondary school students have been educated in neighbouring countries. It is also reported that only one third of students at the University

Burundi provincial borders 1962-1984 - Hutu and Tutsi of Burundi

of Burundi in Bujumbura are Hutu.

After 1972 the Hutu had only a nominal representation in government. In 1987 during the Bagaza regime they held four government ministries out of 20; seven of the 65 seats in the National Assembly and two places of 65 on the Central Committee; one provincial governor out of 15.

The Bagaza regime, which came to power in a bloodless coup against Micombero in 1976, continued a series of repressive measures against the Catholic Church. The church was criticized ostensibly because of its colonial origins, but observers claim that government actions were an attempt to quash independent opposition to the Bagaza regime and to one of the few organizations where Hutu have some influence. Many foreign priests were ordered to leave the country and in 1987 some 450 had left, placing extra pressures on rural Hutus who now had to travel long distances to attend mass or see a priest.

The killings of 1988

In 1987 another bloodless coup brought to power a new military government under the leadership of Major Pierre Buyoya, under whose rule there initially appeared to be an improvement in the position of the Hutu. A number of Hutu politicians were brought into government, political prisoners were released and restrictions against the church were relaxed. Nevertheless inequalities between the two groups persisted; the President, three quarters of the cabinet, three-quarters of the National Assembly, 13 of the 15 provincial governors, two-thirds of university students, all army officers and 96% of enlisted soldiers were Tutsi.

In August 1988 reports of violent incidents between members of the two major groups were reported from the provinces of Ntega and Marangara. It has not been established which group was responsible for beginning the violence but it appears that increased expectations on the part of the Hutu and rising resentment by the Tutsi may have generated ethnic tensions, which after an initial attack, spread rapidly and violently. Killings on both sides seem to have been brutal and indiscriminate with regard to individuals, with women, children and old people among the victims. However Hutu refugees reported that government troops, including those in tanks and army helicopters, played an important role in the killings, deliberately targeting Hutus and acting on government orders. Independent reports by journalists and Amnesty International corroborate this interpretation, and comparisons were made with 1972. It is estimated that about 25,000 people, mainly Hutu, were killed, chiefly by the army, and over 50,000 fled across the border into Rwanda.

In October 1988 President Buyoya announced the formation of a new government headed for the first time by a Hutu Prime Minister, Adrian Siboana. He also announced that a National Commission composed of both Hutus and Tutsis would investigate the events of 1988 and make recommendations for furthering national unity. The Commission reported in April 1989; among its recommendations were that all forms of exclusion must be condemned and combated; that there should be a charter of National Unity; that employment and the public services should be managed objectively; and that there should be equality in the education system. Refugees began return from Rwanda at the end of 1988, under UNHCR auspices, apparently voluntarily to farm their land. While it appears that President Buyoya is anxious to improve the position of the Hutu it is unclear whether the steps needed to satisfy the Hutu can be implemented without another Tutsi backlash.

(See also Uganda)