What people in the Great Lakes region demand is justice

I worked in a UN organization that treats all staff with a high degree of fairness. There is an ombudsman office where complaints of injustice are presented for a solution. You can also make recourse when you feel you missed a promotion unfairly.

I grew up in a Christian family where our parents exercised fairness. We sat together at meal times and we shared domestic chores proportionately. When it was about time to go back to school, our parents brought us together and gave us allowances (pocket money) according to our needs in a transparent atmosphere. And there was no favoritism.

In the Great Lakes region injustice has reigned supreme. Since John Speke racial theories popularized by Seligman that Nilotic Batutsi people are superior, more intelligent and born to rule over Bantu Bahutu and Bantu Bairu people who are inferior, unintelligent and born to be ruled the latter has suffered crushing humiliation.

Colonial officials and religious leaders picked up this racial theory and used it to exploit Bantu – the commoners – as though they were less human and had no feelings. These commoners were taxed, canned, imprisoned and were forced to work for free on public projects under the supervision of Batutsi who were chiefs under the colonial indirect rule system. Most of the food commoners produced was consumed by their Batutsi masters. It is believed that the short stature of Bantu is in large part the result of poor feeding since they lacked enough food and most of all proteins.

Bantu went to school much later than children of chiefs and relatives in colonial days. They worked against all odds to catch up. As it turned out commoners are smarter than Batutsi people particularly in science and math subjects. But this superiority hasn’t been recognized and western powers continue to favor Batutsi in the Great Lakes region over Bantu Bahutu and Bantu Bairu people. They have also been ignored when their rights are abused including through genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Stephen Weissman described the killing in 1972 of between 100,000 and 200,000 Hutu in Burundi by Tutsi as “the first clear genocide since the Holocaust” (P. Kaarsholm 2006). Yet, the international community kept virtually silent. “The unwillingness of the international community to see through the humbug of official media and take heed of the many warning signs preceding the slaughter, all wrenchingly clear, is little short of astonishing. Perhaps the most surreal of all international responses to the slaughter came from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) – now the African Union (AU) – on May 22, 1972, during the visit to Bujumbura by the OAU Secretary-General Diallo Telli. ‘The OAU’, said Telli, ‘being essentially an organization based on solidarity, my presence here in Bujumbura signifies the total solidarity of the Secretariat with the president of Burundi, and with the government and the fraternal people of Burundi’” (Samuel Totten et al., 2004). This international attitude perhaps encouraged Tutsi to commit more genocide against Hutu in 1988 and 1993 which received virtually no mention in the media.

Since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda the international community has demonized Hutu people collectively at home in Burundi and abroad as “bad guys” or “wild beasts” thirst for Tutsi blood and deserve no mercy. Consequently, Hutu have suffered massacres and genocides in DRC and inside Rwanda witness the Kibeho massacre. Reports of experts on genocide have been ignored and the perpetrators are still free and committing more crimes against humanity with impunity.

The United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights don’t appear to have included the Hutu people. If they did the international community would have acted as it did in the wake of Rwanda Genocide in 1994. This is a case of double standards which many believe is eroding the credibility of the United Nations.

In Uganda the Tutsi people who came in since 1958 as refugees are taking over the country at gun point. They have western support in foreign aid and technical assistance and military training and weapons which they have used to suppress indigenous people. Much of development aid was diverted into private pockets through rampant corruption and the international community kept quiet. NRM is allowed to conduct unfair elections using public money including some donor funds and NRM is returned with large majorities which receive congratulatory messages from western capitals.

What the people are demanding is justice that should apply to all people in the Great Lakes region. John Locke the 17th century British medical doctor and philosopher observed that “the goal of human life is the pursuit of happiness. Men [and women] are born equal in their rights to life, liberty and property for these are indispensible to the pursuit of happiness”

During the French Revolution, the National Assembly adopted a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen about freedom and equality regarding liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression. These principles were enshrined in the United Nations Charter and Covenants and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In order to secure this liberty, justice, equality and dignity, we have to point out the injustices that abound in practice including in the Great Lakes region. Those who want to preserve the status quo complain that their justice is being taken away and accuse those fighting to spread justice and liberty to all of bias and even of promoting genocide. But how do you solve a problem without identifying it and its root causes? Should those who venture in this direction be punished and those who keep silent be rewarded in the name of neutrality?


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