Understanding and resolving conflict in the Great Lakes Region

understand and resolve conflicts in the Great Lakes Region will begin by a
professional and unbiased analysis of the history of the region. For a better
understanding of the challenges, we shall add the Eastern part of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the traditional Great Lakes Areas of
Burundi, Rwanda, North Western Tanzania and Western Uganda (former Ankole
District and Rujumbura county in Rukungiri District).

region is inhabited by three groups: Batwa, the smallest group,
Bahima/Banyamulenge/Batutsi/Bahororo (used interchangeably) and Bairu/Bahutu
(used interchangeably), the largest group. The Batwa have lived in the region
since time immemorial as hunters and food gatherers. They consider themselves
the indigenous people of the region who are being pushed into extinction.

people arrived in the area some 3000 years ago from the Cameroon/Nigeria border
region, bringing with them short-horn cattle, goats and sheep as well as iron
technology. The technology and the industrious nature enabled the Bantu to
clear vegetation and begin mixed farming absorbing or displacing Batwa who
moved deeper into the forest. Fertile
soils, reliable rainfall and mild weather enabled food and livestock production
in abundance resulting in rapid population growth and permanent settlement. The
Bantu had chiefs called Mwami in Rwanda and an administrative system commensurate
with the challenges at hand.

the 15th century or so, Luo-speaking pastoralists from Southern
Sudan arrived in the Great Lakes region with long-horn cattle. They subdued the
Bantu who lost their status and assets including cattle and land. Batutsi in
Burundi and Rwanda coined the term ‘Bahutu’, meaning slaves or servants. In
Ankole and Rujumbura they coined the term ‘Bairu’ also meaning slaves or
servants. The Bahutu and Bairu were totally subdued and impoverished that they
could not resist. In a few cases where
they did, the resistance was crushed. The Bahutu and Bairu therefore suffered
in silence and poverty but also in resentment.

gave the impression to Europeans that there was peace and stability in the
region and the groups were mutually supportive. In reality, although they spoke
the Bantu language, the Batutsi became the politically, economically and
socially dominant group. They lived on hill tops where they herded their cattle
while the Bahutu lived in valleys where they labored for their new masters. The
Tutsi became kings adopting the Bahutu King title of Mwami. Through very
restricted intermarriages (between poor Batutsi and poor Bahutu) and cattle monopoly
by Batutsi, the two groups remained distinct. The Batutsi/Bahima became leaders
and Bahutu/Bairu became workers.

missionaries and administrators brought the idea of racial superiority into the
region (racial superiority was abolished in Europe in the second half of the 20th century).

reported that the region was inhabited by three groups who spoke the Bantu language.
However, the three groups were strikingly different in appearance. The Bahima
and Batutsi were described as tall, slender, handsome, intelligent and born
leaders of Caucasian origin (DNA has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that
Batutsi/Bahima are black). The Bahutu were described as short, ugly, stocky and
hard workers but genetically too inferior to be leaders. These stereotypes have
remained to this day!

Bahima/Batutsi continued as chiefs following the introduction of indirect rule
in the region. As future leaders, the children of chiefs went to school and got
jobs in colonial and church administrations. By and large, educating Hutu
children was ruled out because it would be a waste since they were inferior
people. Their job was to serve their masters including forced labor and taxes.

colonial policy in the Great Lakes Region enabled the Batutsi/Bahima to tighten
their grip on every aspect of social, economic and political sector and in the
process marginalized the Bahutu/Bairu further. The Batutsi/Bahima used this
acquired position to seize cattle and land from the inferior groups of Bairu/Bahutu.

silent, the Bahutu/Bairu resented their status and waited for an opportunity to
use their numerical strength and correct the inhuman condition they had been
subjected to.

struggle for independence based on majority rule after the Second World War
offered such an opportunity. In Rwanda and Uganda, the Batutsi and Bahima lost.
In Burundi, the Bahima/Batutsi resisted majority rule by overthrowing the
popularly elected government.

losers in Uganda and Rwanda were not prepared to accept defeat. Since the
numbers were not on their side, they resorted to armed struggle with foreign
backers who were also pursuing their own interests and found it easier to
secure the allegiance of minority groups who recognize that their survival may
depend on bonds with foreigners.

political developments coincided with Cold War rivalry between the Communist
and Capitalist Blocks. With support from the Communist Block, the ousted
Batutsi waged guerrilla attacks on Rwanda immediately after independence in
1962 until 1968 when the attacks subsided. They resumed in 1990 and Batutsi captured
power in 1994, driving the majority of Banyarwanda – the Bahutu – into inferior
position – again.

Uganda the Bahima with Batutsi support waged war after they lost elections in

triggered the overthrow of the second Obote government in 1985 by a section of
the Uganda army led by Tito Okello who had western foreign backing.

is evidence that Museveni’s guerrilla victory was backed by western foreigners
from 1980 who have sustained him in power since 1986. Yoweri Museveni continues
to be described as the Blu-Eyed Darling of the West.

majority of Bahutu in Rwanda and Bairu and the rest of Ugandans have been
pushed into inferior position since Museveni and his minority tribe (and those
connected with it mostly through marriage) dominates the political, economic and
security sectors of Uganda.

silent majority in Rwanda and Uganda resent what is happening in their midst
and are waiting for an opportunity to use their numerical superiority to
recapture state power democratically.

a combination of instability, colonial policy and economic necessity, many
people from Rwanda including Batutsi who now call themselves Banyamulenge moved
into Eastern DRC (well endowed with vast mineral resources, fertile land and
tropical forests) and have stayed since. In DRC, they brought their superiority
complex and have insisted on dominating the indigenous people. They have used
their connections with the late Mobutu to acquire assets including land and
have made significant advances economically, socially and politically at the
expense of the indigenous populations causing resentment and resistance against

presence of interahamwe in Eastern DRC from Rwanda has given renegade Nkunda
and his foreign backers some of them in the region to embark on dismembering
DRC and form a state or an autonomous region of DRC. The indigenous people are
opposed to that – hence the fighting in the region that has caused the deaths
in excess of five million people mostly helpless children and women.

marginalized groups in the Great Lakes Region are now regrouping to regain
their inalienable human rights. The 60th anniversary of the adoption
of the Declaration of Human Rights in December 2008 has strengthened their

who believe in zero-sum games – of gaining everything at the expense of others
– are on the wrong side of history. The ruling minority in the Great Lakes
Region who believe they are going to dominate the majority for ever through the
barrel of the gun are mistaken.

is therefore advisable that arrangements be instituted whereby compromises are
reached so that all groups live together in peace, security and prosperity.

supporters of various groups should insist on win-win arrangements as a
condition for continued support. The United Nations should stress this point as
it strives to bring the conflict to an end. Above all, transparency,
inclusiveness and impartiality should guide the process to reach mutually
acceptable agreements that can be owned and sustained by the groups concerned.