Intra-ethnic Conflict in Burundi

Here’s another paper I wrote in undergrad:



Intra-ethnic Conflict in Burundi



An Essay by LaTasha T. Johnson



25 February 1998



Political Science 543 Honors



Ethnic Conflict



Professor Robert Melson






“Where ethnic hostility is reinforced by the exigencies of intraethnic party competition–and particularly by the vulnerability of ethnic parties to being accused of being too moderate–ethnic conflict is likely to take a nasty turn.”  (Rene Lemarchand quoting Donald Horowitz)


In Burundi, ethnic conflict abounds.  The climate is saturated with fear.  There is a constant struggle between the Tutsi elite and the Hutu mass.  The Tutsi minority dominates the state.  The conflicts are not only between the Tutsi and the Hutu but also within these groups.  Internal conflict is often as harsh and bloody as the main conflict.  In the case of the Tutsi, this internal conflict developed into desperate power struggles over control to state offices.  These tensions directly affected the relations between the Tutsi and the Hutu.  This essay briefly discusses the intra-Tutsi conflict first by describing the real and perceived Tutsi divisions.  Then, it states more specifically how this inner conflict led to a violent outbreak.  It also mentions the necessary condition of the state.  The condition of the state and intra-Tutsi conflict combined with other factors to lead to the occurrences of 1972 in Burundi.

In Burundi, social origins are assumed to define political allegiance.  More often than not this assumption becomes truth.  The intra-Tutsi conflict is ethno-regional.  The Tutsi are divided into sub-groups of people from regions, class strata, clans, lineages, and possibly more.  [See chart.*]  The basic divisions are one based on traditional sociocultural strata and the other on regional identifications.  The first division is between the Hima and the Banyaruguru.  The traditional view of the Hima is one of contempt; while, traditionally the Banyaruguru have connections to the monarchy.   The Banyaruguru and the Hima can be likened to an aristocracy and a peasantry.  While modern progress has virtually eliminated the material distinctions of these groups, the social distinctions are still there.  The second major division is between Bururi (a southern province) and Muramvya (a north-central province).  In Bururi, areas once controlled by Hutu chiefs were given to the Batare (Mwami Mwezi’s brothers and their supporters).  The Batare do not support the monarchy, because restoration of the monarchy would threaten their authority in the Bururi region.  Muramvya is the cradle of the old monarchy.  The Bezi [supporters of the Mwami (king)] are centralized here.  This is the area with the greatest amount of Hutu support for the monarchy.  Theoretically, a Hima from Bururi would detest a Banyaruguru from Muramvya.  Also, a Hima from Bururi would suspect that a Banyaruguru from Muramvya would be conciliatory to the Hutu in order to maintain support for the monarchy.  The Hima of Bururi are further divided into clans of Bayanzi and Mushingo.  Jean-Baptiste Bagaza was from the Bayanzi clan.  The Mushingo are divided into Michel Micombero’s supporters and Pierre Buyoya’s supporters.  These divisions are not always precise, but they are important in generalizing Tutsi political identities.

The Tutsi, using their ethno-regional identities as political affiliations, manipulated the Hutu.  They (the Tutsi) used them (the Hutu) as pawns in a powerful game of chess.  Tutsi leaders were concerned that if they were too conciliatory, they would lose power to supporters of a stronger leader.  In order to avoid being outbid, Tutsi leaders struggled to be the “strongest” by being brutal and cruel toward the Hutu through policy and practice.  The intra-Tutsi conflict can be likened to a sport where the participants must prove that they are the quintessential players.  A true Tutsi would never be lenient to Hutu.  It reminds me of inner-city gang life in the U. S.  Gang members must prove that they are “hard”.  The competitive Tutsi factions must prove to each other and themselves that they are the “hardest” where the Hutu are concerned.  It must be realized that while the Tutsi elites attempt to manipulate the Hutu and use them as pawns, the Hutu are not mindless pawns detached from reality.  In the same arena where this intra-Tutsi struggle is occurring, the Hutu are struggling for power as well.  The Hutu do not sit idly on the chess board waiting to be played.  Whatever the Tutsi view of the Hutu, the Hutu are not willing to be the gamepieces in an intra-Tutsi tournament.  The violence and fear perpetuated by the intra-Tutsi conflict foreshadowed the events of 1972.  Lemarchand suggests that we view the 1972 watershed as the unexpected result of competition among Tutsi elites for control of the state.  He notes that the state is not only a tool for group domination but also a venue for the dominate group to compete within itself for control.  This is exactly the case in Burundi.

Internal Tutsi tensions affected the relations between the Tutsi and the Hutu in Burundi in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In the late 1960s, Bururi factions accused Muramvya factions of being too conciliatory to Hutu.  The Bururi factions operated with the basic assumption that Muramvya factions have monarchial sympathies.  Hutu support of the monarchy was most prominent in Muramvya.  The Bururi factions assumed that the Muramvya factions were “soft” on the Hutu in order to garner support to restore the monarchy.  They sought to crush the Hutu and the Muramvya in order to dominate the state.  Under the assumed threat of Hutu uprisings to restore the monarchy, leaders such as Artenon Simbananiye and Albert Shibura earned reputations as good “Hutu bashers”.  Both men were from Bururi, and Shibura  was Hima.  The Bururi factions effectively gained control of the state.  They were the new owners of the state offices.

Burundi had become a patrimonial state.  Offices in the state were perceived to be private property, particularly  the private property of certain Tutsi elites.  Segmentary Tutsi conflict led to the 1969 purges of Hutu in power.  In the army, both the officer corps and the troops were largely Hima-Tutsi from Bururi in origin.  The Bururi factions were suspicious of the monarch and his supporters.  Traditionally these supporters were Banyaruguru-Tutsi from Muramvya.  The next move for the Bururi faction was to attempt to eliminate Banyaruguru from the army and the government.  In early 1972, there were purges of Muramvya-Tutsi and remaining ganwa (people of royal lineage).  Trial proceedings publicized the tensions among Muramvya and Bururi factions and created a great fear throughout the country.  The resulting trials were a “parody of justice”.  They were an attempt by the Bururi factions to legitimize their control of the government.  Many people were outraged, both Tutsi and Hutu.  The purges led to a violent reaction by the Hutu:  the 1972 watershed.  While it is too simplistic to say that intra-Tutsi conflict resulted in the 1972 watershed, it can be said that Tutsi ethnocracy was a primary factor in the Hutu uprising.  The Hutu uprising was repressed with extreme violence and hostility by the Tutsi army.  Hutu were killed.  Tutsi objectionists were killed.  Hutu government supporters were killed.  Thousands of Hutu refugees fled to Tanzania.

In conclusion, the condition of the state as a patrimonial combined with the intra-Tutsi conflict directly contributed to the genocidal violence of 1972 in Burundi.  The determination of Bururi factions to maintain power and to crush the Muramvya and all possibilities of monarchial restoration, unfortunately, required the manipulation of the Hutu.  Thousands were sacrificed.  Each step of the Bururi ascent to power led to the culmination of fear and violence manifested in the 1972 Hutu uprising.  Intra-Tutsi conflict deepened Tutsi-Hutu divisions.  The divisions are so vast that the only way they will be eliminated is if the Tutsi or the Hutu are eliminated, leaving only the Tutsi or only the Hutu.

*The chart is in a format that I couldn’t update to share.


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