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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hutus Versus Tutsis - The 100 Days of Massacre

Military vehicles bring water for Rwandan refugees
at Camp Kimbumba, Zaire, in August 1994
Between April and June 1994, in a space of only 100 days, more than 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda. The scale of the killings was unprecedented, even for a violence-prone country like Rwanda.

It is believed that around 200,000 Hutu extremists participated in the campaign of slaughter—they were targeting the members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as the Hutu moderates. Around 2,000,000 Rwandans fled the country during and immediately after the genocide.

The genocide was trigged by the assassination of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana whose plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. Everyone onboard the plane was killed. The identity of the person or the group that fired at the plane continues to be a mystery. Initially it was rumoured that the Hutu extremists were responsible. But later it was alleged that the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front may have orchestrated the killing.

On the night of 6 April 1994, the organized campaign of killing began. The next day the country’s Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu, was assassinated. It is believed that her killing was part of a campaign to eliminate the moderate Hutu and Tutsi politicians. After that the campaign of slaughter went on for 100 days.

There is a significant historical background to the conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis. In 1890s, the colonial era began in Rwanda with Germany taking control of the country from the Tutsi monarchs. After the First World War, the Belgians took over and they administered the country indirectly through the Tutsi monarchs till 1960.

Both the Germans and the Belgians followed the policy of divide and rule, and they deliberately nurtured the differences between Tutsi and Hutu communities. As they preferred to deal with the Tutsi elite, they strengthened the hegemony of the Tutsis, and fuelled the feeling among the Hutus that they were being exploited in a country where they were in majority.


Refugees fleeing Rwanda
The surprising thing is that there aren't any tribal differences between the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus and the Tutsis are not even tribes; they are collectivist socio-economic and socio-political categories. They speak the same Bantu language and French, and most of them are Christians. Their culture is quite similar.

The strife between the Hutus and the Tutsis is mainly a class warfare. The Tutsis are perceived to have greater wealth and social status than the Hutus. Also, the Tutsis are mostly engaged in cattle ranching, while the Hutus are low class farmers.

The Colonial governments of Germany and Belgium issued ID cards, measured noses and cranial dimensions, to clarify who is ‘Hutu’ and who is ‘Tutsi.’ The entire power structure in Rwanda was defined by such biological classifications of the population.

Collectivism of the most venal kind got established in the country, and divided the population into two antagonistic groups. It became generally accepted that there are irreconcilable class differences between the Hutus and the Tutsis.


The first major Hutu uprising began in 1959 and it led to a Hutu led regime coming to power in 1961. In the months of violence, it has been estimated that about 20,000 Tutsis were killed and many more were forced to flee the country.

Since then the violence between the Hutu and Tutsi groups has been flaring periodically in Rwanda and their have been several mass killing campaigns, such as in 1963, 1967, 1973, and 1990. From 1972 to 1994, between 80,000 and 200,000 Hutus were killed by the Tutsi forces.

Such senseless slaughter will not end as long as the collectivist idea of class-based or biological classification of human beings is accepted. Individualism can bring an end to this conflict. But there is no intellectual movement in this part of the world to propagate the ideas of individualism. Collectivism of different kinds is the only ideological option before the people.

The idea that Hutus and Tutsis can’t mix and that they will always kill each other is firmly ingrained in the mind of the Rwandans and they can’t see beyond their class identities.

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