No peace now and for a generation: The blood spilled in Rwanda and Burundi, and the racial roots of conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, leave no room for reconciliation

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The Independent Online
AFRICA has a record of reconciliation almost as long as its record of brutality and war. But Rwanda - and also Burundi - may be beyond reconciliation.

It is not a question of drawing or redrawing boundaries. The relationship between Hutus and Tutsis is unique: they live on the same hills, in the same valleys and in the same villages. In a subsistenceeconomy fear of losing land is like fear of death. There are no 'home areas' or disputed territories. For Hutus and Tutsis the whole world, and all that is in it, is disputed. It is a war in the mind; it cannot be ended by agreeing a new map.

Cataclysm gives birth to fantasy. When the world becomes too ghastly to contemplate rationally, people turn to dreams and conspiracies for explanations and answers. Rwanda is no exception.

Recently, several documents have appeared in the region and among its exiles, which purport to show that there is a Tutsi conspiracy to take over the whole of Central Africa.

One document circulating in London is headed The Tutsi Dynasty - The Tutsi Colonisation Plan of the Kivu Region and Other Central African Areas. It is the African equivalent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and claims to have been drawn up on 6 August 1962.

'When the control of all important positions is achieved,' it says, 'we must remove all our Bantu enemies, especially (the Hutu) . . . Every Tutsi civil servant must use terror in order to get respect and authority from the uneducated Hutu populace. We must master completely all the members of the other ethnic groups whom we manage to control . . . and make them promote our interests.'

These forgeries are believed and circulated by Western-educated professionals, some of whom live and work in London. If that is what the intellectuals believe, what fears and fantasies are circulating among the ordinary people of Rwanda in the camps in Zaire and Burundi? Reason and reconciliation stand little chance in such poisonous waters.

In Kigali, the new Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) government may be trying to reassure refugees they are safe to return. President Pasteur Bizimungu says his government, which includes some moderate Hutus (he is one), wants to heal the wounds opened between Hutus and Tutsis in the bloodbath. But he also talks of justice: 'Reconciliation cannot be built on impunity. Justice must be the pillar of national reconciliation.'

On the other side of the border skulk the Hutu leaders of the remnant of the old Rwandan army, preying on the refugees and waiting for revenge. One officer, Jean-Paul Dyaraga, was quoted this week as saying: 'We will return to Rwanda with guns and knives and give no mercy . . . I will be back in my city.'

These men spread hysteria among the Hutu refugees in Zaire, persuading them they will be butchered if they go home. The refugees repeat the scares spread by the officers and an extremist radio station. 'They will pluck out your eyes and slit your bellies,' they say, and endlessly repeat the refrain: 'Hutus in this country will never accept rule by a Tutsi-controlled government.'

The Tutsis tend to be tall, fine-featured people who imposed themselves on the Hutu and other Bantu-speaking farmers of the region 400 years ago. A cattle-keeping aristocracy, they founded kingdoms in the rolling mountains of Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Zaire and south-eastern Uganda.

In Burundi there are about 800,000 of them, some 15 per cent of the population; in Rwanda there were 1 million, but that figure may - horrible to contemplate - have been halved. In Uganda there are another 1 million, and in eastern Zaire, where they form 80 per cent of the population, there could be more than 1 million. With the coming of independent nation states 30 years ago their systems were destroyed, and in Rwanda they lost power.

Those who believe in the Tutsi conspiracy, mostly Hutus and opponents of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, say it has already succeeded. Tutsis and members of their ethnic group rule in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, and are dominant in eastern Zaire. The believers say President Museveni is the prime agent of this conspiracy. They claim he is a Tutsi (his ethnic origins are related to the Tutsis), and that he created, controlled and armed the RPF.

The former Ugandan president, Godfrey Binaisa, now a London-based lawyer, is one believer. In an open letter he accused President Museveni of using the RPF to further the aims of the Tutsis in the region. Mr Binaisa says Mr Museveni - and the media - support the Tutsis for racial reasons. 'His socialism quickly turned into Fascism similar to Benito Mussolini, with a little mixture of the Nazi's 'herrenvolk', theory based on birth and looks. The tendency in the Western press is to look at the situation in Rwanda as if it were a beauty contest whereby the Tutsis, with their aquiline noses and thin lips and height, win the contest over the short, flat-nosed Hutus.'

Burundi, Rwanda's southern twin, waits like a powder keg. It suffered a similar genocidal war last October after the first ever Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was murdered by Tutsi officers shortly after his election victory. Hutus turned on Tutsis and the army, which is largely Tutsi, murdered thousands of Hutus in revenge. UN officials say 250,000 died.

Now the different ethnic groups lurk in their separate areas. Mike Dottridge of Amnesty International, who has just returned from a 10-day visit to Burundi, said he was unwilling to warn of catastrophe for fear of helping to bring it about. 'The two communities have completely separated out,' he said. 'In the towns 'ethnic cleansing' has turned districts into either Tutsi or Hutu. In rural areas the 'ethnic cleansing' has cost a lot of lives.'

In areas where Hutus and Tutsis can attack each other, the bloody killings continue. The political parties continue to bicker as they have done for 10 months about who is to have which portfolio in a government of national unity. Last Thursday the talks broke down because the opposition wanted a say in the appointment of a new security chief. The notional government is Hutu-dominated but power lies with the army, which is mostly Tutsi.

Is it possible to imagine a political solution that could re-create nation states in Burundi and Rwanda and allow Hutus and Tutsis to live together again? Even if justice could be delivered and those responsible brought to trial would it relieve the fury and despair? Would it end the passion for revenge for the organised extermination of whole families? The killings - hacking, beating, stabbing, chopping - have been carried out not only by soldiers but by civilians, often by neighbours known to their victims.

There can be no peace in the region for at least a generation.

(Photograph omitted)