Neighbours who kill 'without hatred': Hutus and Tutsis deny the depth of their hostility, writes Richard Dowden

THE GENOCIDE of Hutu and Tutsi is not something that the people of Rwandi and Burundi discuss easily. When you ask about it the first reaction is shame and a reluctance to talk about it. And those who are willing to discuss it cannot explain why it happens. They tend to tell you how well the two groups were getting on together and they will not admit to ethnic hatred. If this impression is a true one it means that the killings were carried out - neighbour against neighbour - without hatred but with some inexplicable fatalistic acceptance that it had to be done.

The traditional explanation of the difference between these two groups is that the Hutu, the Bantu-speaking farmers, lived there first but were conquered by the Tutsi, Hamatic cattle-keepers who came from the north about 400 years ago. The Tutsi then formed a permanent and separate aristocracy and kept the Hutu as serfs and underlings. Some anthropologists these days argue that the process was not achieved by foreign conquest but emerged from within the society. Today the two groups, easily distinguishable in their stereotypes, have become inextricably bound up in a hierarchical social system.

When the two kingdoms were taken over by Germany at the end of the last century and then turned over to Belgium as protectorates after the First World War, the imperial rulers reinforced the existing social system. Tutsi chiefdoms were maintained and Tutsis given preference in education and advancement. At independence the Tutsi aristocracy turned into an elite. In both Rwanda and Burundi the Hutu outnumber the Tutsi by about six to one.

They are among Africa's smallest countries and two of the poorest but they are also the most densely populated, the steep rolling hills cultivated from top to bottom in small subsistence plots of maize and bananas. The two ethnic groups live on the same hillsides and are no longer distinguishable by wealth or status. They speak the same language, Kirundu, and share the same culture. There have been increasing instances of inter-marriage though the children always belong to the ethnic group of the father. Many people had come to believe that the pathological rivalry between the two ethnic groups was a thing of the past.

In Burundi, the Tutsis maintained their power and status until last year, but in Rwanda the Hutus took power soon after independence. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were driven out following massacres and those that remained were subjected to discrimination. Rwandese must carry identity cards which bear their ethnic group and there have been numerous instances of Tutsi children being shunned or humiliated in schools and many cases of adults being refused jobs or houses.

In 1990, the Tutsi exiles in Uganda formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front and launched an invasion. Out of this came the coalition government of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a dictator for 20 years past: his death last week triggered the current killings.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game