On July 9, 2011, I said a prayer silently and then stood up in front of fellow Ugandans in a conference hall in Los Angeles, USA and officially declared that I was going to devote the balance of my life to finding a lasting solution to the endemic problems in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA). I added that in carrying out this task I would be honest and fair to all stakeholders, notwithstanding that some findings may be contested even when everyone knows they are accurate. I have read and written extensively on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA) and posted some articles on www.kashambuzi.com.
I was born and grew up in Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda which for centuries has been a battle ground between Bantu (Bahutu and Bairu) or agriculturalists and Nilotic (Batutsi, Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge) or pastoralists. Because of shortages of pasture and water, nomadic pastoralists fight most of the time to destroy or chase away the competitor and dominate the territory. Because of constant wars and dispossession of opponents, pastoralists end up destroying more than they construct. Pastoralists in GLRA (and possibly elsewhere) don’t have a culture of negotiations and sharing with others on equal terms.
Because they are a minority numerically (pastoralists produce fewer children than agriculturalists in GLRA), they always rely on foreigners (they allied with Arabs and Swahili during slave trade, with Belgium and Britain during colonial days and now with some western countries to stay in power because in free and fair elections they can’t win).
Batutsi (Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge) entered the GLRA with long horn cattle. In southwest Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi they found Bantu people who had been in the area for a long time. Bantu had short horn cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. They grew a variety of foodstuffs complemented with wild fish, game, fruits and vegetables. They engaged in manufacturing enterprises using local raw materials such as iron ore, timber and clay. They had established trade among themselves. They had established efficient administrative systems of kings, chiefs and councils of elders. Bantu (later dubbed Bahutu) in what later became Rwanda had kings called Mwami, a title that was adopted by Batutsi. Different communities cooperated with and protected one another. By and large, they resolved disputes by peaceful means. Because of balanced and adequate diet and absence of wars, births exceeded deaths and the population grew fast. Thus, before pastoralists arrived around the 15th century, Bantu were healthy, wealthy and peaceful and there was no need to build and sustain standing armies.
Then came Nilotic pastoralists used to fighting even when not provoked. There was plenty of land and they could have settled and co-existed with their new Bantu neighbors. That is not in their blood. They descended on peaceful and defenseless Bantu people and reduced them to paupers and beggars especially during drought periods. In Rwanda, all the land was taken away from Bantu and owned by the king, reducing Bahutu to landlessness. Pasture previously used to graze short-horn cattle was taken over for long horn cattle and the short horn cattle perished, depriving Bantu who were dubbed Bahutu (slaves or servants) a source of nutritious food, a store of value, a means of exchange and source of pride. Bahutu were reduced to producing food mostly for the new masters in exchange for so-called protection.
Apart from sending food and alcohol to Batutsi regularly, Bahutu and Bairu suffered food losses in other ways that contributed to their short stature. At harvest time, Batutsi would visit and stay in Bahutu and Bairu homes. Using Rujumbura as an illustration, Batutsi would eat the food, sleep with Bairu women and produce children they would disown. During this time all adult Bairu males would be chased away, staying with relatives or in the bush. As a rule Batutsi never ate or drank alcohol with inferior Bairu although the latter cooked food and brewed the beer. Batutsi ate all goat meat, leaving only mutton for Bairu because they despise it. But sheep don’t do well in these regions therefore there was always a shortage of domestic animal protein. During colonial days hunting was restricted following formation of inaccessible forest reserves and game parks, limiting consumption of game meat.
Bahutu and Bairu were exploited in many other ways. They carried Batutsi in stretchers (engozi) and their luggage. Although Bahutu and Biru were recruited in the king’s army the majority were never allowed to fight. They were reduced to cooking, carry luggage and burying the dead. When a Mututu raped a Mutusi woman, he was executed but when a Mututsi raped a Muhutu woman, the matter was left between the Tutsi and Hutu families to resolve, meaning that there was no punishment.
Culturally, Batutsi women were expected to remain virgin until they got married. And intermarriage between the two ethnic groups was forbidden except in a few cases where Batutsi would benefit. However, Batutsi boys had to learn the art of sex before they got married. So they practiced on Bairu women. Kressel (2002) captured these points when he reported that “… unmarried Tutsi boys would be ‘given’ Hutu girls, temporarily, for sexual purposes. Intermarriage occurred, but usually with successful Hutu men marrying Tutsi women. Tutsi men would take Hutu women as concubines, rather than marrying them”. Children born out of this relationship were disowned by their fathers and grew up under very poor conditions if they survived. This degrading relationship existed in southwest Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
In southwest Uganda Batutsi with help of Arabs, Swahili and muskets hunted Bairu and captured those not killed and sold them into slavery (B. A. Ogot 1976). Human trafficking and human commercialization in Uganda under Batutsi NRM government has brought back bitter memories of slave trade.
Many of these dehumanizing relationships continued under colonial rule as Belgium and Britain relied on Batutsi for the indirect rule system. On top of that Bahutu and Bairu were subjected to paying taxes in cash and forced labor on public works. Until the 1940s, schools such as Budo were introduced for chiefs’ sons. They realized that educated chiefs’ sons needed educated wives, versed in home economics. So they started girls’ boarding schools for chiefs’ daughters and that is how Gayaza High School came into being.
Post-World War II political developments changed all that. Independence based on majority rule favored Bahutu and Bairu because of their numerical superiority over Batutsi. It was Batutsi resistance of this reality in Rwanda that led to the 1959 Social Revolution. They wanted a minority government as in apartheid South Africa. As Catharine Watson observed “The Tutsi elite failed to forestall the storm, many seeing their privileges as natural [and they still do]. In November 1959, the Hutu revolution exploded” (Africa Report 1992). From neighboring countries Batutsi refugees launched attacks against the newly established Bahutu government, causing many more Batutsi to be killed or flee into exile.
With Bahutu and Bairu in power in southwest Uganda and Rwanda, a new mood was set for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. Batutsi in Rwanda and Uganda prospered and continued to participate in regional and national politics. Habyarimana regime’s economic success was praised by development partners as a model for development.
Trouble started in the Great Lakes region when Anglo-Saxons and France fought over control of the great wealth of DRC. Anglo-Saxons looked for agents and found Museveni and Kagame ready. Favorable conditions were created for them to come to power. In Uganda Museveni was helped to fight a guerrilla war and discredited Obote by attacking structural adjustment program which donors had imposed on Obote II government and the donors didn’t defend Obote as they later did when Museveni introduced the same program in 1987. Eventually IMF and World Bank followed by other donors withdrew support and Obote government was overthrown by a wing of the national army that had no chance of running the country. With or without coordination with Museveni, Okello paved the way for Museveni to come to power. In Rwanda, donors changed their mind about economic success story and forced Habyarimana to introduce an austerity economic program and reduce expenditure on defense. These changes coincided with drought and collapse in coffee prices. Economic and political difficulties followed.
With overwhelming support of Anglo-Saxons through Museveni, Habyarimana government was overthrown (the president was killed in a plane that was shot as it approached Kigali airport) followed by genocide which the international community ignored even when there was ample evidence to prevent it, raising questions about the motive. Hutus have been blamed for committing genocide but with time some doubts are being expressed as to who exactly did what in that chaotic atmosphere.
Be that as it may, Bahutu were subsequently described as wild beasts or bad guys thirsty and hungry for Tutsi blood and flesh, implying they should be eliminated wherever they were. In Rwanda Hutus were killed in large numbers with impunity including those incinerated in one IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp. RPF government actions against Hutus were defended in some cases by well placed officials in western governments or connected with them. With satellite facilitation, Hutu refugees in DRC forests were followed and decimated and reports of this genocide covered up or ignored when they were published including by the UN.
Hutus have always outnumbered Tutsi by a wide majority of say 8 to 2. There are reports that Rwanda government wants through war and birth control to have a 50:50 ethnic ratio between Bahutu and Batutsi. With international pressure mounting at Rwanda government brutality against Bahutu, Kagame is getting worried. To escape further condemnation, Rwanda is campaigning to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
In Uganda, Museveni who has been facilitated by his foreign sponsors to stay in power this long despite his unpopularity among Ugandans, he has been implementing a political, economic, population and immigration policy in favor of Batutsi to dominate Uganda and together with Kagame to establish a Tutsi Empire which has tacit foreign backing. Through frustrating multi-party politics Batutsi in NRM are increasing political power. It is believed that Museveni has planted Batutsi in opposition parties to dominate and protect fellow Batutsi in NRN should opposition come to power or weaken them so Uganda ends up a de facto one party state. The civil and security services are overwhelmingly dominated by Batutsi. Most of the generals in the army, most of senior staff in the police and intelligence are Batutsi. Foreign affairs and embassies are dominated by Batutsi. Embassies in USA, UK and UN in New York have been in Batutsi hands. The ministry of finance is solidly in Batutsi pockets. The private sector and increasingly land ownership are solidly in Batutsi hands. Museveni is also extending his hand in religious politics and elections. Museveni has deliberately ignored public health, public education and food security. Private schools and hospitals cater for Batutsi who have the means. As part of crippling the future of non-Batutsi people in Uganda, Museveni has ignored the acute problem of unemployment and under employment and school lunch forcing many poor hungry children to drop out of school.
Kagame and Museveni have had a hand in the troubles of Eastern DRC where they are supporting their Banyamulenge and Tutsi cousins to cause mayhem to Bahutu. The two leaders are now demanding redrawing national boundaries in the Great Lakes region as an integral part of creating a Tutsi Empire.
I have written these sensitive stories after soul-searching and all the risks to me, family members, relatives and friends. These stories must be told not to incite hatred and possible genocide but to prevent them from happening. Early in 2010, I visited DRC, Burundi and Rwanda. I gathered a lot of information. The general mood is that war and instability won’t end in the Great Lakes region unless foreigners stop using leaders there especially in Rwanda and Uganda and arming them to cause ‘hell’ on earth. Hatred against Batutsi is building up again particularly in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.
Western partners are advised to recast their policies of favoring minority Batutsi at the expense of others that form overwhelming majorities and have people with potential of governing better because of their expertise and experience than those favored if we go by the destruction of Uganda under Museveni leadership. Poverty, unemployment, hunger, human rights violations and dispossession of assets are creating an atmosphere that could lead to another social revolution in the region. If we go by revolutions in France and Russia, there is no prior planning. They erupted from demonstrations for food, jobs and fuel. These demands exist in Uganda and could spark a revolution. What is needed in Uganda is a sizeable section of the military joining with civilian agitators and Museveni will be gone.
People resort to war because they have no other alternative to address life threatening challenges. Kagame and Museveni can’t be defeated at the polls because they steal elections and fraudulent results are accepted by western governments. Kagame and Museveni won’t allow non-Batutsi to do business because a middle class is a threat to them and their heirs. Accordingly Kagame and Museveni are blocking all avenues, forcing opposition to think seriously about resort to war. Some Batutsi that were interviewed while fighting to return to Rwanda explained that “In Uganda we were nonentities. We were harassed. To die here [fighting] is nothing” (Africa Report 1992). Ugandans are about to reach this stage if urgent measures are not taken.
I joined Uganda politics and accepted a position in UDU to be able to articulate these points in political rather than academic terms. Hopefully, we shall soon realize potential dangers of a mushrooming cloud over the Great Lakes region and act to dissipate it before it is too late.