Rwanda's twins locked in eternal war: The Hutu and the Tutsi are old foes bound together by blood - and by colonial borders that are tearing a region apart

THE LAND is twisted and folded in on itself. Volcanoes thrust up from the horizon. Grey rivers of lava scar the plains. Earthquakes are common. Flying over this region, you quickly pass from rolling green hills to lava fields, to plains of scrub and grass, over lakes of brilliant blue and dark rivers in tropical jungles. The plane is thrown about by air currents from the jagged landscape. It is as if the heart of Africa is in turmoil.

Clinging to this capricious surface are two peoples who seem to have imbibed the spirit of the land. They live and die like Siamese twins who hate each other. The Hutus and Tutsis are inextricably bound together by history, culture, language and the struggle for survival in the most densely populated countries in Africa. Hardly an inch of cultivable land is unused and the two groups live hut by hut on the same steep hills.

The boundaries of Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire were imposed from Europe. Now the ethnic division, not only in Rwanda and Burundi, but in eastern Zaire and south-west Uganda, is tearing the region apart. Periodically in the past the Tutsis have massacred Hutus in their thousands. In the last year the Hutus have turned on their former masters. Somehow nothing can explain such hatred. In scale it is far worse than anything in Bosnia or Somalia. Its volcanic brutality, its mass murder - by hand - of thousands of men, women and children has no contemporary parallel. It is mass madness.

The traditional explanation for this genocide is that the Hutu farmers, ethnically Bantu people, lived there first and were invaded by cattle-keeping Tutsis, Hamitic people from the north who, though inferior in numbers, came to dominate and enslave the Hutu. In their stereotypes they are as different as Scandinavians and Greeks.

The Hutu tend to be round- faced and short, the Tutsi tall, long-faced and lighter-skinned. Some anthropologists, however, believe that they emerged from one people and an aristocracy grew by a process of self- selection, always marrying similar types. Cattle became a symbol of their dominance.

Whatever the explanation, the two groups have mixed so much that it is difficult for outsiders to tell the difference. But the gangs of killers armed with machetes and sharpened bamboo spears on the streets of Kigali think they can. The last scream of many people being chopped to death, however, has been that they are of the same people as their killers.

Visiting a colline - a hill which is also a village chiefdom - in Burundi in February, I got a taste of the callous contempt of the Tutsi overlords as well as the mistrust and fear and the fierce desire for revenge of the Hutu. The village had been the scene of horrific killings a short time before. No one was able to explain how it started and people told me miserably that there had been no local tension. The army, which is now exclusively Tutsi, had swept into the village and murdered scores of Hutu. The soldiers were now protecting the surviving Tutsis in a school on top of the hill. A nun who was a Hutu bravely took me to interview them and act as translator. Her lip quivered as she spoke to the commander, a tall languid man in a green tracksuit. When I asked what had happened he dismissed the question with an arrogant: 'Why do you want to know?'

When the Belgians took over the two kingdoms as protectorates from the Germans after the First World War, they added them to their empire of the Congo basin and reinforced the existing social structure. They left in place the monarchies of Rwanda Urundi, as the region was then called, and concentrated on giving Western education to the Tutsis, whom they regarded as more capable and intelligent than the Hutus. The Hutus remained peasants and serfs, even though they made up about 85 per cent of the population.

No one else paid much attention to these tiny countries. Rwanda and Burundi are at the back end of Zaire, the bottom tip of Uganda, the north-westernmost tip of Tanzania. If they had any strategic importance or produced any precious minerals there might have been more Western interest, but possessing neither they remained two insignificant countries, renowned only for gorillas.

In Burundi the Tutsis remained in power. Virtually all the university graduates, professional classes and army are Tutsis. When multi-party politics led to the end of the Tutsi- dominated one-party state and the election in 1993 of Melchior Ndadaye, the first Hutu president, the Tutsi army officers mounted a coup and killed him. In revenge the Hutus turned on their Tutsi neighbours. About 250,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

In Rwanda the Hutu gained political power after independence. The subsequent revolution in society led to massacres. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries, where they have lived ever since. In eastern Zaire the Banya Rwanda gradually established themselves as successful farmers and tradesmen. The local people, the Bahunde and other traditional farmers, grew jealous and felt threatened by a Banya Rwanda takeover. Ethnic war started there last year and still continues.

In Uganda the Rwandese exiles, squatting on precious scarce land, also became a target for local jealousy. They became caught up in Uganda's local politics. A division similar to the Hutu-Tutsi divide exists among some ethnic groups of south-west Uganda.

Yoweri Museveni, the president, comes from an ethnic group which is the local equivalent of the Tutsis. He is a Muhima, one of the aristocratic cattle-keepers. When he began his guerrilla war against the Uganda government in 1981 he was joined by many Tutsi exiles. The Obote government turned on the Rwandese exiles. Hundreds were killed or driven from their homes. Two of Museveni's top commanders were Rwandese. One of them, Fred Rwigema, became his army chief after his victory in 1986. Four years later Rwigema and other Rwandese exiles secretly formed an army to invade their homeland. About 10,000 fighters of the Rwanda Patriotic Front swarmed across the Uganda border and, although Rwigema was killed, they fought their way to the capital, Kigali. Here they were held up by government troops backed by Belgian and French paratroopers, but the country was already in turmoil. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the predominantly Hutu northern parts of Rwanda fled south.

The RPF, a largely Tutsi army, looked and behaved like a real army compared to the scruffy, ill-disciplined Rwanda soldiers. It could have taken over the capital, but it wanted only a share of power.

After protracted negotiations, a ceasefire was agreed last year in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, which committed President Juvenale Habyarimana to forming a coalition transitional government. But Habyarimana, who had been a dictator for more than 20 years, was unwilling to diminish his power, and cynically delayed the formation of a new government by a variety of trivial diversions. The political temperature rose. Looking across the border at the massacres in Burundi last year, Habyarimana could not have been ignorant of the price of political breakdown. Rwanda is now paying that price - and its first instalment was his own death.

In the anarchy which has followed and which may spark off the war in Burundi again, no one will ever discover who fired the missile which brought down the plane and killed the two countries' presidents last week. What is now certain is that the leadership of these two countries is incapable of working out a sustainable political solution to the fundamental problem of statehood.

In both cases the UN has tried to assist the leaders to reach agreement, but the frustration of the UN representatives in both countries has been palpable. They raged at the deviousness and small-mindedness of many of the politicians in Rwanda and Burundi and their inability to keep to agreements, or turn up at meetings.

After the catastrophe of Somalia it is unlikely that the UN will be willing to step into these two tiny countries, but nothing else can save the lives of thousands, possibly millions, of people who will otherwise die by violence or hunger in the weeks to come.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
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

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea