How is the relationship between Hutus and Tutsis today?
If I wrote a book trying to answer that question, you still wouldn’t get close to an exhaustive answer, but I will try.
For starters, we need to understand what a ‘Hutu’ and a ‘Tutsi’ are. Trying to define these terms has become an extremely politicized issue in Rwanda since the end of the genocide.
Before I move to the more controversial aspects, let me state some facts about Hutu’s and Tutsi’s that most everyone agrees on. Hutu’s and Tutsi’s currently inhabit the countries of Rwanda and Burundi, and parts of Eastern Congo, Southern Uganda, and Western Tanzania.
In Burundi and Rwanda, where they speak the mutually intelligible languages of Kirundi and Kinyarwanda, they make up about 98-99% of those countries’ population, with Tutsi’s composing a minority of somewhere between 10-20% and Hutu’s the remaining 80-90%. In the other countries I mentioned, the situation is a bit more confusing, with separate ethnic groups such as the Banyamurenge/Banyamulenge who are considered ‘Congolese Tutsi’s’ having roots in their Congolese communities for many generations, and displaced Hutu’s and Tutsi’s from Burundi and Rwanda living in the diaspora.
Since you mentioned the 1994 genocide, and not the 1972 genocide, or the 1993 assassination and ethnic conflict, I’m assuming your question is about Rwanda, but it is important to understand that Hutu and Tutsi communities (co)exist outside Rwanda, and their relations are different than they are in Rwanda. I’ll focus more on Rwanda but return to the situation in neighbouring countries/regions when necessary.
Since Hutu’s and Tutsi’s share a common language and history, they are unlike some other ethnic groups in neighbouring countries, in the sense that they have been considered separate classes, races, and ethnicities at different points and by different leaders and historians.
Colonial ‘anthropologists’ immediately identified the Tutsis as a superior leading Nilotic/Hamitic/European(ish) race, with the Hutu as an inferior Bantu peasant race. You probably know about the way the Germans and Belgians imposed their racial fantasies on to the population by issuing identity cards, racial quotas, and racist propaganda.
Post-colonial historians often consider them ethnic groups; recognizing that the farming Hutus likely inhabited the region before the pastoral Tutsis moved in and established monarchies. Over the centuries, these ethnic groups became less rigid, and Hutus were able to ‘become’ Tutsi through wealth acquisition or intermarriage. Nonetheless, despite all those generations of mutual assimilation, Tutsi and Hutu remained separate and self-identifiable markers, and Hutu and Tutsi often lived somewhat separated before, during, and after the colonial period.
The current Rwandan government has a different interpretation of Rwandan history and considers Tutsi and Hutu outdated concepts which were nothing more than social classes. They emphasize the shared language and attribute the idea of Hutu and Tutsi as ethnicities or races as entirely due to colonial intervention. In modern-day Rwanda, referring to Hutu or Tutsi anywhere but in a historical context is not approved of, and done in a political context, it is actually illegal. In order to understand fully the details, origins, and implications of this policy, I have to rehash a little bit of the history of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda.
In 1959, sensing the coming independence of the countries, the Belgians switched to supporting the Hutu majority, resulting in a revolution, independence, and a Hutu majoritarian regime which fanned further ethnic tensions. Tutsi’s were intermittently massacred and exiled to neighbouring countries, Hutu nationalism became more and more entrenched, and the amount of exiled Tutsi’s reached big proportions, especially in Uganda.
There, Tutsi rebels, from within the Ugandan army, organized a powerful, well-organized rebel force called the RPF, which repeatedly invaded the country in order to force the leadership out of power and demand the return of the Tutsi diaspora. This escalated Hutu oppression, and, after the assassination of the Hutu President by as yet unidentified forces, ultimately led to Hutu-on-Tutsi genocide organized by a Hutu leadership. The RPF continued on with their invasion, and took over the country and has ruled it ever since as the dominant political party under the leadership of Paul Kagame.
The RPF has been hailed by many as a progressive, inclusive, and forgiving party which has brought a remarkable stability and relative economic prosperity to the country. However, its leader is also, without doubt, a dictator who has shut down independent media and opposition parties, orchestrated a series of manipulated elections, and put the need for security above all else.
Because of this, many critics maintain that the policy of ‘erasing’ the concepts of Hutu and Tutsi in favour of the concept of ‘Banyarwanda’ (Rwandan) is partly a ploy to hide the fact that the Tutsi President and his close confidants are all from the minority ethnic group. These same critics would argue that the policy has been effectively used to imprison political opponents and journalists, and that the dramatic, traumatic, and continuous displays of mourning and remembrance of the “Genocide against the Tutsi” have been used to legitimize the government as the saviours of the nation, since they can claim to have ended the genocide.
In reality, the situation is probably more complicated. I believe that the Kagame regime does care about reconciliation, and the fact that leading Hutu figures have been recruited to the party and the military (in effect an extension of the party) shows that they are not Tutsi supremacists. Poverty alleviation schemes target all Rwandans, and ordinary (former) Hutus benefit a lot when the country becomes more stable and prosperous.
Therefore, ‘the Tutsis’ do not rule Rwanda. In fact, inside Rwanda, there are other divides that might be more important. The ruling elites who control most businesses, have decided to switch the country’s national language from French to English, hold the key positions in the army and governance are overwhelmingly Anglophone Tutsis; those who were part of the Ugandan Tutsi diaspora during the years of Hutu rule, or their descendants. Tutsis who remained in the country throughout its troubled history – those who were most likely to be victimized – are Francophone Tutsis who sometimes feel like the Anglophone/Francophone divide matters more than the former ethnic divide.
Nonetheless, there remain a large number of former genocidaires outside the country who still want to seek ‘revenge’ on the Tutsis. This feeling is far less prominent inside the country, where a very large proportion of the population has been born after the genocide. Hutu killers have mostly been released from prison by now, after having to admit to their crimes, beg for forgiveness, and spend time doing community service.
The powerful presence of the government at every level of society has prevented most people from airing ethnic speech, and I think that the propaganda and the continuous attempts at erasing ‘genocidal ideology’ have succeeded when it comes to the youngest generations. The government has aggressively sought to reconcile survivors with perpetrators and has been successful in preventing ethnic political or other organizations besides widow, orphan, or survivor groups from emerging.
The government’s dream of a society where ethnicity does not exist is still a utopia, as even the youngest generation is well-aware of their ethnicity and those of the people around them. Ethnic stereotypes remain well-known, even if it is more taboo to discuss them. From personal experience, Hutus are more likely to date/marry Hutu and Tutsi to date within their group.
However, trying to find social scientific data on this is near impossible. While the country issues a lot of research visas, and a lot of PhDs and other research has focused on the genocide and certain post-genocide policies and developments, the country has banned a few prominent Rwandan experts for ‘propagating revisionist history’, and it would not approve of large-scale social science research aiming to find the exact answer to your question.
On the debates about pre-colonial relationships between Hutu and Tutsi, and on the post-genocidal policies of erasure, see Re-imagining Rwanda by Pottier.
On the post-colonial, pre-genocidal period, see Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims become Killers
Information about the origins of the RPF and the Anglophone/Francophone divide can be found in Prunier: Africa’s World War, Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. This book and In the Glory of Monsters by Stearns also give a good overview of the regional dimensions of the genocide and Hutu/Tutsi relations in general.
Still not great.
While Rwandans have a president they seem to like enough to change the constitution for allowing a third term, there is still a whole lot of tension.
The genocide still plays into politics heavily in Rwanda, and still provokes scandal.
This is a good piece on the topic of remembering the genocide, and how it plays into things today.
I mean look, it’s not open conflict. Rwanda, relatively speaking, is not warring. It has poor development indicators, as do most countries around it, but Rwanda has become more or less stable. The real issue is that Rwanda, while it looks like a healing nation, is a forced-silent one. Human Rights Watch sums it up by saying:
Rwanda has made impressive progress in economic and social development since the 1994 genocide, but the government imposes severe restrictions on freedom of expression and does not tolerate dissent. Political space is extremely limited and independent civil society and media are weak. Opponents and critics inside and outside the country have been killed, attacked or threatened. Despite legal reforms, the judiciary lacks independence in political or sensitive cases. Scores of people have been detained unlawfully in police or military custody, in unofficial detention centers, where some have been tortured or ill-treated. Dozens of people were reported forcibly disappeared in 2014. Some reappeared in prison after prolonged incommunicado detention; others remain victims of forced disappearances
And then there’s Amnesty:
Freedoms of expression and association in Rwanda continued to be unduly restricted by the authorities. Rwandans were unable to openly express critical views on issues perceived as sensitive by the authorities and the environment for journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition remained repressive. There were reports of unlawful detention by Rwandan military intelligence and past cases of torture were not investigated.
But, as you’ll notice, the ethnic tension appears to be more or less satisfied…for the time being.
I think the only other source I’ll direct you to that talks about it is the State Department (you may have to select Rwanda). Their section on national/racial/ethnic minorities talks a bit about the attempts to make national reconciliation possible, though that has been met with opposition because it is something that one must come to terms with (that one’s people committed a genocide) and also something that manifests in fears that the Tutsis are still favored by the new government. But it’s much, much better than some might’ve expected.
It will be interesting to see how it progresses, just as it’s interesting to see how ethnic tensions have manifested in Germany post-Holocaust.
What do you think?