The struggle in the Gt. Lakes region is between poverty and wealth

I have defined the Great Lakes region to include southwest Uganda (former Ankole and Kigezi districts), Burundi, Eastern DRC (North and South Kivu) and Rwanda. Since interaction between the two ethnic groups of Bantu and Nilotic peoples, the region has been characterized by ethnic conflicts of so-called Bantu agriculturalists and Nilotic (Tutsi) pastoralists. Bantu designation of all people in southwest Uganda is a linguistic convenience because Bairu and Batutsi are ethnically very different. Tutsi are Nilotic people that originated in South Sudan (not Ethiopia as originally thought) home also of Nubians, Acholi and Dinka, etc. Bairu and Bahutu are Bantu people that originated in the Cameroon and Nigeria border.

The Nilotic pastoralists or Batutsi entered the region around the 15th or 16th century poorer and less civilized than the Bantu people they found there. They adopted Bantu language, names and culture (the Tutsi title of mwami or king was originally Hutu’s). Batutsi resisted intermarriage with Bantu people: occasionally a prominent Mwiru or Muhutu man would be given a Tutsi woman to marry and then the man would be tutsified and join the social Batutsi club as a junior partner and abandon his ancestral people thus depriving Bantu of capable leaders. This was a tool of Tutsi dominating non-Tutsi people. These were politically-induced and arranged marriages, not through love. Batutsi have many distinct characteristics.

1. Pastoralists survive in hostile environments marked by frequent and often intense and long droughts that cause a shortage of pasture and water points. Therefore to survive they have to fight all the time. Thus, Batutsi comparative advantage is fighting. Batutsi have retained this monopoly wherever they settle by denying Bantu the ability to fight (in pre-colonial times Bantu who were recruited in Rwanda army didn’t fight. They cooked, buried the dead and carried luggage).

2. Batutsi fertility rate is lower than Bantu’s. Consequently, Batutsi are numerically inferior to Bantus. Like in any other ethnic group, Batutsi produce more girls than boys (you will see the political implication later).

3. As noted already, Batutsi are numerically inferior than Bantu. Therefore, Batutsi have always worked with foreigners in their struggle to defeat, impoverish and dominate Bantu. Here is what Adam Jones (2006) wrote on the topic in Rwanda: “In the divide-and-rule tradition, Tutsis became colonial favorites and protégés. In part, this reflected the Tutsi’s minority status – it is often easier for colonizers to secure the allegiance of a minority, which recognizes that its survival may depend on bonds with the imperial authority”. This has been Batutsi practice since they arrived in the Great Lakes region. In their quest to expand their Rujumbura territory, Batutsi under Makobore, the chief of Rujumura, hired Arab and Swahili from the Indian Ocean Coast in the slave trade wars. “The coastal traders were also employed in interstate raids for slaves. For example Makobore, the king of Rujumbura, employed them [Arabs and Swahili] 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 the arms trade. Weaker societies were raided for slaves while interstate warfare became rampant” (Bethwell A. Ogot 1976). The defeated people were dispossessed, impoverished and turned into producers of goods and services for their new Batutsi masters. Through indirect rule in the Great Lakes region, Belgians and British retained Batutsi as chiefs over Bantu named Bahutu and Bairu. The colonial exploitation on top of pre-colonial tributes of goods and services made matters worse. In addition to tributes Bahutu and Bairu paid taxes, tithes and supplied free labor on public projects like road and public construction and chief houses etc. Through this exploitative process, Bantu (Bahutu and Bairu) who were previously wealthy became impoverished and Nilotic pastoralists who arrived in the area poor became wealthy, marking the beginning of the struggle that we are witnessing today in the Great Lakes region. Privileged Batutsi as chiefs sent their children to school and got good jobs in colonial and church administrations. Bahutu and Bairu children became cheap laborers. It is these majority impoverished masses (85 percent) that rose up in Rwanda’s Social Revolution of 1959 against the wealthy minority Batutsi (15 percent). The benefits of independence since 1962 to Bahutu and Bairu are being lost since Batutsi recaptured power in Uganda in 1986 and in Rwanda in 1994.

To reverse the fortunes and return Bahutu and Bairu (and the rest in Uganda) back to mass poverty Batutsi have resorted to a four-pronged strategy.

1. Acquire training and experience in military and intelligence with which to intimidate populations, wage wars in the Great Lakes region, defeat Bantu people and bring them once again under Batutsi domination and exploitation.

2. Dispossess and impoverish defeated people. In Rwanda, Bahutu have already lost their land to Batutsi and in Uganda the process is ongoing at breakneck speed but much of it is being done discreetly. For example, the expansion of district municipality boundaries including Greater Kampala is designed to deprive indigenous people of their land which is then taken over by the moneyed Batutsi (Greater Kampala is has fallen under the supervision of the office of the president depriving Mengo of its inalienable right to land). (Those who may doubt what I am saying take some time and look around you in your area and see who the new owners of land are. They may carry local names and speak local languages but you need to go beyond that and check the family tree to know exactly who your neighbors who may be your representatives in the district council or parliament are). The recent decision announced by the prime minister to transfer land from Uganda peasants to rich farmers is designed to give the land to Batutsi because they are the ones with money to buy large chunks of land. Another method of losing land to the rich is the notion of willing seller and willing buyer. Coupled with this land robbery is the NRM policy of encouraging rural people to sell their assets, mostly land, and begin money-making activities in urban areas. Depriving people of assets in the long term especially land is reflected in NRM’s refusal to help with school lunches and unemployment relief. Uneducated and/or unemployed people have no means of accumulating wealth or retaining what they already have. Development funds donated by development partners that would have provided the necessary funding for school lunches and unemployment relief have been stolen or mismanaged by NRM officials in high positions with impunity. As an aside, you need to recall that one of Museveni’s struggles was to find land for his landless Batutsi people.

3. Collaboration with foreign powers through commissions or omissions especially some major western countries in regional geopolitics has strengthened Batutsi hands. While western powers have used Museveni and Kagame in their national security interests, the two military leaders have also used some western countries in various ways in pursuit of the Tutsi Empire project of which M23 invasion of eastern DRC is a part. Military capture of neighbor’s lands including in eastern DRC would ease Tutsi population density problem. Additional space might be acquired peacefully through changing national boundaries especially between Rwanda and Uganda making Rwanda and Uganda into one nation possibly under the name of The Republic of Rwaganda, facilitating mobility from densely populated Rwanda to less densely Uganda. They hope their allies will look the other way.

4. Batutsi women are increasingly and strategically marrying non-Batutsi influential men as a political tool of domination which is enshrined in Batutsi Covenant. Paragraph 5 of the Covenant states in part: “Offer them [non-Batutsi men] our girls, and if necessary, do not hesitate to arrange marriages with them. They will not resist our daughters’ angelic beauty”. Many ignorant non-Batutsi men in the Great Lakes region including in Uganda rushed into these arranged marriages and became ‘tutsified’ as junior partners and are supporting Tutsi interests of dominating non-Tutsi people. In Rwanda Hutu hit back by discouraging Hutu men marrying Tutsi women but without much success. That Tutsi women are still marrying Hutu men is confirmed by the fact that “Marriages between Hutu men and Tutsi women has caused resentment among Hutu women. During the recent massacres, some Hutu women praised the killing of Tutsi women, saying they deserved to die because they have been stealing their men” (BBC Focus on Africa October-December 1994). There are reports subject to confirmation that non-Batutsi women in other parts of the region or outside are complaining that Batutsi women are taking their men. If this trend continues we might witness a shown down in one form or another.

Batutsi and their surrogates who didn’t expect these things to come to public attention have put up resistance and denial but don’t have evidence to prove their case. Instead they insult messengers and threaten them with all kinds of punishments. The Great Lakes region doesn’t need military and verbal confrontations. It needs healing. To do the latter, all participants within and without the region must accept that the widening gap between impoverished masses and wealthy few won’t continue indefinitely. They must come together and negotiate a new deal that creates equal opportunities for all. That is why I have been writing these stories and identifying the source of the problem which was kept hidden for a long time that some people are still in denial. Since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Tutsi were seen as victims in a hostile environment but didn’t look back to what had happened in their relations with Bahutu people in Rwanda and Burundi especially the genocides against Bahutu committed by Batutsi in Burundi in 1972, 1988 and 1993 (Batutsi should stop calling others genocidaires when they have also done the same to Bahutu). In the wake of 1994 genocide, Batutsi have taken advantage of international guilt, settled scores, grabbed others’ land and properties and enriched themselves at the expense of others, causing mass poverty in the midst of plenty going to a few mostly Batutsi and their tutsified junior partners.

Massive poverty in Uganda including in security forces (witness police spouses demonstrations) that is spreading and deepening amidst plenty owned by the few well connected to NRM government will only lead to conflict and possibly a civil war when there is no other alternative. Accumulating military weapons, constructing more torture buildings, muzzling public debate by anti-sectarian law, assassinating or poisoning dissenters, lobbying in western capitals or buying votes to dominate political parties and legislatures will only make matters worse. Once people understand their rights and freedoms as Ugandans are doing they will not be silenced – that is a historical trend. Some development partners that have cushioned Rwanda and Uganda governments as they impoverish and abuse human rights and freedoms of powerless citizens need to refocus their policies in the interests of all.

What Uganda needs is a transitional government of all stakeholders to sort out the mess and return the country to normalcy before organizing genuine multi-party politics that allow Ugandans to elect their representatives in a free and fair environment and hold them accountable for commissions and omissions. Elections in 2016 under the current arrangements will definitely be stolen by NRM on international observer teams’ watch and suffering of the majority will spread and intensify.

I have researched the Great Lakes region for a very long time and I come from the region and know what went on unreported or distorted for centuries. I welcome substantive debate with those who believe that I am wrong or biased in my reporting. I am only trying to identify the root cause of the problem in order to apply a lasting solution that will benefit all Ugandans equitably.


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