In her response to my article in Observer (Uganda) titled “Why Bahima men will not marry Bairu women”, Ms P. Kesaasi reduced me to a theoretical and ignorant individual regarding the history of and current events in the Great Lakes Region. She challenged me to produce evidence or lock up my pen and drafting pad.
I have studied the Great Lakes Region in particular Burundi, Eastern DRC, Rwanda and South West Uganda for over forty years. I have written three books on the region: (1) Uganda’s Development Agenda in the 21st Century and Related Regional Issues (2009); (2) Rethinking Africa’s Development Model (2009), and (3) For Present and Future Generations: Using the Power of Democracy to Defeat the Barrel of the Gun (2010). These books are available at www.johnsharvest.com. I have also created a blog at www.kashambuzi.com. I invite everyone to visit the blog and read the three books and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further discussion as and when necessary. Let me add at this juncture that debate is important and I welcome it provided it is constructive and civil.
Symbiotic or antagonistic interethnic relationships
Any objective and sincere student of the Great Lakes Region cannot fail to see the antagonistic relations between Bahima, Batutsi, Bahororo and Banyamulenge on the one hand and Bahutu and Bairu on the other since the two ethnic groups met around the 15th century. There have been serious abuses of human rights including all sorts of crimes, massacres and genocides. Let me be clear. All those that have committed crimes – all of them – in Uganda since 1981, Burundi since 1972, Rwanda since 1993 and Eastern DRC since 1994 should be punished according to the law. There should be no exception whatsoever including immunity from prosecution!
Because of time and space constraints I will focus on a few areas that have emerged out of the discussions on my article referred to above: the origin and meaning of the term Bairu (and Bahutu); how Bairu became cultivators, poor and stunted; abuse of Bairu human rights; intermarriage and diplomatic tools of interethnic interactions.
The fact that I have not mentioned names should not be interpreted as lack of evidence, I am just being polite at least for now.
Origin and meaning of Bairu
According to John Hanning Speke (1863, 2006), the epithet (term of abuse) Bairu was coined by Bahima. Bairu means slaves who would produce food and clothing for the ruling Bahima class. The latter had invaded and conquered indigenous Bantu people in the area west and south of Lake Victoria. When they arrived in Burundi and Rwanda, they changed the name and became Batutsi and gave the epithet of Bahutu (slaves) to the indigenous people they found in the area. In short Bairu and Bahutu are both slaves.
With Speke’s book reprinted in 2006 and has become a text book in many educational institutions around the globe, the epithet of Bairu and Bahutu is going to take on increased visibility and demoralization of groups that come under the category of slaves. This is not a development to take lightly and brush it off as of no consequence.
By definition when you are a slave you have lost your human rights and labor for someone else. Therefore in the Great Lakes Region Bahutu and Bairu are slaves and by extension inferior. Bahima, Batutsi, Bahororo and Banyamulenge are masters and superior. This relationship was confirmed by colonial administrations and has remained the same since independence except it is practiced in subtle ways including legislation against sectarianism and certain ideologies.
Transformation of Bairu into cultivators
Bantu people who later became Bairu and Bahutu (slaves) arrived in the Great Lakes Region from the Nigeria/Cameroon border some 3000 years ago. They brought with them short-horn cattle, goats, sheep and iron technology. Using abundant resources, adequate rainfall and good weather, they cleared the land of vegetation with iron implements and grew many crops, grazed their animals and manufactured a wide range of products for domestic needs and surplus for sale. They ate well, became healthy and wealthy. Because of resource abundance including much land, there was no need for conflict over scarce resources. Accordingly they lived peacefully in settlements according to their ethnicity. They established governance systems that maintained law and order, settled disputes when they arose and protected themselves against external invasion. Therefore they were not stateless as claimed by European commentators and Africans who think like them.
This was Bantu’s economic, social and political status when the Nilotic Luo-speaking and long-horn cattle herders arrived from Southern Sudan – not Ethiopia as claimed by Speke.
The Luo-speaking people were poor and nomadic who lived in grass thatched huts, wore simple clothes and cow hide sandals. Because of their harsh environment characterized by shortages of pasture, water supply, droughts, epidemics (e.g. rinderpest of 1890s) and cattle theft, they became warriors to make ends meet. When they arrived they changed from Luo to Bantu languages.
In order for the new comers (pastoralists) to snatch the wealth of indigenous people, dominate and suppress them indefinitely, Bantu people were stripped of their means of sustenance particularly cattle (resulting in loss of access to proteins through milk and meat) and later manufactured products following arrival of Arab slave and ivory hunters with cheaper imports.
Cultivation was considered beneath the dignity of long-horn cattle herders and was consigned to Bantu now dubbed Bairu. That is how Bantu or Bairu became cultivators. They were mixed farmers (crop cultivation and livestock herders) and manufacturers until the arrival of Nilotic Luo-speaking long-horn cattle people and Arabs. Henceforth Bairu became cultivators or agriculturalists while Nilotic people now speaking Bantu language monopolized cattle and retained their pastoral classification. Short-horn cattle owned by Bantu disappeared in large part because the grazing land was lost to long-horn cattle.
The interaction of the two groups resulted in Bahima in Uganda and Batutsi in Burundi and Rwanda dominating and subjugating Bairu and Bahutu economically, socially and politically (B. A. Ogot 1976). In exchange for protection, Bairu produced foodstuffs including drinks for the aristocratic class and free labor including carrying the pastoralists – men and women – in litters. That is how the process of impoverishment, marginalization, domination and abuse of Bairu human rights set in to the present day in 2010.
Abuse of Bairu human rights
Bairu have been abused by Bahima and their cousins in many ways. According to article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
When one group refers to another one as slave, inferior, cultivator and worthless (one Muhororo in Ntungamo district is worth 1000 Bairu), you have a violation of human rights. When one individual canes or slaps another one with impunity for laziness or sloppiness or for choosing one candidate over another that is a grave abuse of human rights.
In Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district, people have been short dead or wounded for expressing their political rights, students have been killed or wounded for demanding adequate and better food, people have committed suicide because they cannot raise tax money because of abject poverty and do not want to be tortured in jail. I could go on.
Further, in Rukungiri Bairu are graduating from university but cannot find remunerative jobs or one at all. Bairu are being hoodwinked to sell their land to the wealthy class with a high probability of their ending on the streets as beggars. Bairu are having their agricultural produce taxed so much that are being discouraged and are reverting to subsistence agriculture. Bairu junior leaders cannot faithfully present grievances of the people they represent for fear of losing their jobs. These are serious human rights abuses in the 21st century.
The issue of intermarriage
This has unnecessarily become a controversial topic. I had thought everyone would welcome the two way interethnic unions, not one group of men marrying women from another group without reciprocity. Bairu and Bahutu men are increasingly marrying Bahima, Bahororo and Batutsi women but Bahima, Batutsi and Bahororo men are staying away from Bahutu and Bairu women under the pretext that marriage is a private and indivual matter.
But Bahima, Batutsi and Bahororo men regularly have sex with Bahutu and Bairu women for pleasure. Isn’t this a classic case of the powerful exploiting the weak and voiceless with impunity and therefore a violation of human rights? What else would you call it? Wouldn’t you feel bitter to see your aunt, sister, daughter, cousin or niece etc abused in this way? Here are some illustrative examples and tell me how you would feel if one of them was your relative
(1) In Rwanda “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” (N. J. Kressel 2002). Further, in Rwanda when a Hutu raped a Tutsi woman the sentence was death. When a Tutsi raped a Hutu woman the matter was negotiated and settled perhaps through compensation (J. L. Gibbs1965).
(2) In Ankole, in spite of the prohibition of intermarriage, miscegenation was common. “Bairu concubines were especially common among Bahima chiefs and gave rise to a class of half-castes known as Abambari” (R. Mukherjee 1985). The chiefs would disown the children. The two illustrations represent a clear case of the violation of Article I of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights referred to above.
(3) In Eastern DRC many Hutu men have married Tutsi women and become Tutsi or ‘Tutsized’ but Banyamulenge have remained pure Tutsi (H. Adelman & A. Suhrke 2000).
Interethnic interaction through diplomacy
There was reference to diplomacy as a method of interethnic collaboration. The evidence at my disposal does not lend support to this view. In Rwanda where Tutsi wielded total political and economic power, the enemies including Hutu were slaughtered and the victims’ testicles decorated the king’s drum which was his symbol of authority (J. Reader undated).
In Ankole “In their internecine wars the Hima aristocracy must have destroyed during the last fifty years a quarter of a million people according to native accounts” (M. R. Davie 1929, 2003). Additionally, in Nkore Bahima fought a very successful campaign against Rwanda in the early 1890s and pushed their campaign with massive but less successful raid into Rujumbura. The campaigns were described as necessary so that Bahima could capture cattle to recover from the disastrous rinderpest outbreak (G. N. Uzoigwe 1982).
In Rujumbura Miranda, Prime Minister, led Makobore’s army which crushed rebellions waged by indigenous people (Paul Ngorogoza 1998). Makobore described as a restless man also employed Arab slave and ivory hunters in his raids against Butumbi and Kayonza. “The important social effect of the coming of the coastal traders on the peoples of south-western Uganda was arms trade. Weaker societies were raided for slaves while interstate warfare became rampant (B. A. Ogot 1976, Paul Ngorogoza 1998) implying that Makobore and his army participated in slave trade. This was not diplomacy, it was naked warfare!
To conclude, as I mentioned at the start of this article more references and evidence are contained in my books and blog. If Ms. Kesaasi and those who shared her views in part or as a whole are not satisfied the onus is on them to investigate and produce evidence that refutes what I have outlined above.