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Ethno-political conflict in the ex-Belgian Colony


By Dr. Claude Shema Rutagengwa

Founder and Chairman of GLPN Foundation ( )


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An ethnic conflict or ethnic war is a war between ethnic groups, often as a result of ethnic nationalism. They are of interest because of their apparent prevalence since the Cold War and because they frequently result in war crimes such as genocide. Academic explanations of ethnic conflict generally fall into one of three schools of thought: 1) primordialist,  2) instrumentalist, or 3) constructivist. Intellectual debate has also focused around the issue of whether ethnic conflict has become more prevalent since the end of the Cold War, and on devising ways of managing conflicts through instruments such as consociationalism and federalization. ( Source: Wikipedia)

  1. While reading some books written by Ervin Staub, Collete Braeckman, Phillip Reyntjens Romeo Dallere, Johan Galtung and others, I realize that the former Belgian colony went through the endless agony as the results of long-term implanted seeds of colonialists - Belgians, even though citizens are to blame as well, since they never found their own way to overcome from the divisionism and look forward into a peaceful region.
  2. The tension between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, or the conflict between Kinyarwanda speaking people in the Eastern of Congo (DRC), really rely on the results of colonialists.

The Hutu vs. Tutsis case in Rwanda

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was the result of unsolved and long-time-period conflict between privileged Hutus and oppressed Tutsis, and of course vice versa, the oppressed Hutus by privileged Tutsis before the 1950’s. Hutus, who were in power since 1959, forced Tutsis into exile, and the rest who remained in the country became the caste, even scapegoated and devalued by the Hutu regime. No Tutsi in public secondary school, or in University, ever held a good post in public services.

The aborted negotiation process in the 1980’s and 1990’s underpinned the genocidal ideology until the genocide took place. Reconciliation I progress in Rwanda, especially through Gacaca semi-tradition courts, is a very good idea.
Unfortunately this is regarded as punishment against Hutus since there was no Tutsi to appear in the Gacaca courts assemblies, despite that Gacaca courts organic law stipulates that it should look at the genocide crimes and crimes against humanity, including some Tutsis of RPF (former rebels who are in power today) who may have committed some crimes committed against Hutus as well.

The fact is that, even though it is said just inside doors, nobody can speak about it publicly due to the fear of persecution, even death, and the high strong respect of people for the authority. The attempt to revoke ethnicity in Rwanda is well-founded since its introduction by Belgians in 1920’s was unfounded. But unfortunately, it will take a long time to teach someone who was taught Tutsology and Hutology for more than 30 years to believe that there are no longer Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda.

For Hutus (former), to revoke the ethnicity is a legalized justification  way to avoid majority vs. minority democratic style, because the new regime lead by Tutsi predominance would lose its power, while on Tutsis (former) side there is still fear and bad memories of 1994 genocide, exodus, oppression, discrimination and devaluation they endured for more than 3 decades.

What does the situation look like now?

►Under the surface.

The Hutu vs. Tutsis case in Burundi

The ethno-conflict in Burundi escalated in the 1970’s. It happened because there was the problem of Tutsi vs. Hutus as well. And the main reason was that one group (Hutus) wanted to have the minimum satisfaction in terms of power sharing with Tutsis. Unfortunately, these did not want that, and mass killing happened on both sides, which is different from the Rwanda case. In Rwanda Hutus were in power, while in Burundi Tutsis were in power, and harm-doing became legalized. On the Hutus side the anger of being marginalized from power emerged.

However, the victims on both sides are enormous. The peace agreements helped to share power by 60 % quota for Hutus (majority) and 40% quota for Tutsis (minority). Nevertheless, this helped to end a decade long war and hostilities in Burundi, with a probable long lasting peace in Burundi, if all needs for both parties are maintained without dividers influence.

What does the situation look like now?


The Hutu vs. Tutsis case in Eastern Congo

The conflict in this part of Congo DRC (Ex-Zaire), like Rwanda and Burundi, has the same roots in the pre-colonial era, especially the Berlin convention of 1885 when they drew frontiers and put the Kinyarwanda speaking people in Congo-Belge (former name of Congo-Zaire-DRC).

Ignoring the influence of outsiders who played key role in fueling the conflict, there was also another fact of the Kinyarwanda speaking people who were not open for other cultures to be integrated into the entire Congolese society, and then they became an exposed prey in the eyes of their hungry predator. Of course, the other oppressed communities raised their concerns as well, when Banyamulenge people stood up to fight for their rights.
How does the situation look now?

►Boiling and escalation level still.

Some few reasons generate the ethno-political conflicts, wars and political instability in the great lakes region of Africa:

        • Regime anocracy
        • Lack of integration in global economy
        • High levels of militarization
        • Warfare in neighboring states
        • Mismanagement or unfairness of natural resource matters.

In all of the conflict mentioned above, bystanders inside the country or outside played key roles in fueling the tragedies. Countries, individuals, organizations etc…

Each country needs appropriate steps and interventions which can respond positively in a sustainable way for long lasting peace in the region. Among others, there is an urgent need to deal with armed groups present in the region, the meticulous implementation of DDRR (demobilization, demilitarization, re-integration and rehabilitation). In the long term, there should be another pathway towards regional cooperation between countries from the region. Resource management as a key of conflict in this region is another point to look at, so that the countries with sovereignty like (DRC) is respected, and DRC itself needs to set up mechanisms and strategies to use its enormous resources equally and transparently.

The outsiders should play a positive role in region, not fueling the conflict. The presence and emergence of China in the region should bring more positive change as an economic partner, and the West should not see China as a challenge in any way. Further, the competition between China and the West should not victimize local people as well.

According to Eva Joly, any single euro (or dollar) given to Africa ( Southern) by Westerners, must generate the double. This is true, and if so, it is time for southerners to think twice. But what would one YEN (or Chinese currency) invested in DRC (Ex-Zaire) generate? At what cost in terms of environment issues, socio-economic impact etc…? Does this new horizon of cooperation in Africa-China/Asia respond to the local needs? Does it bring any change in terms of the endless ethno-political turmoil in this region?