Despite the sharp salience of ethnicity in Burundi’s politics historically, the ongoing disturbances are not about that. They centre on one issue: the people are protesting against violation of their Constitution by a greedy and dumb political class.
The truth of the matter is, ethnic bias is very much alive in Burundi. It’s not just alive; it’s legal, considering that it’s in our constitution. The Hutu get 60 percent of the “power” (representation in the government and parliament) while the Tutsi get 40 percent. (In the mix, 30 percent at least must be women and the Batwa must be included somehow, although it’s not clear whom between the Hutu and the Tutsi must give up their place for them… anyway).
How do they know who is what? Well, you state it. I had to, in writing, when applying for my job in the public sector. It sucks, I know… although I believe the power sharing agreement was necessary to create some sort of balance that helped get us out of the civil war. Sadly it’s starting to look like we’re losing the balance dangerously… #MerciNkurunziza.
Everyone agrees that these ethnic labels have been dangerous for our country in the past and that they can still be, especially now. But they’re very much a part of our lives. We talk and sometimes joke about them. I think it’s healthy, as long as they’re not used to harm. Differences are good (except that I do not personally believe the “differences” between Hutu and Tutsi have a scientific basis). Unfortunately, sometimes differences can be used to spread hate. Like today…
I’m writing this article on the night of the 26 April 2015. Today marks the first day of public protests against President Nkurunziza’s announced run for a third term. He is a Hutu, everybody knows, and he is a member of CNDD-FDD, a political party that, for many reasons, is branded as Hutu.
Coincidently, and unfortunately, today’s demonstrations took place in Ngagara, Cibitoke, Musaga, Nyakabiga and Mutakura, neighbourhoods branded as Tutsi (I’m not sure about Mutakura though). There are historic reasons behind this branding. These neighbourhoods were predominantly Tutsi for a long time. Some still are. But another important element we should remember about these neighbourhoods is that unemployed and low-income intellectuals largely populate them. Riots have always started in these areas, even when the Tutsi ran the country. That today’s demonstrations started there has nothing to do with the fact that Nkurunziza is a Hutu from a “Hutu party”, although some perverted spirits may use it to try to make it look like we’re hitting a Hutu Vs Tutsi crisis… again.
The CNDD-FDD claimed today that two of the people who have already died in the protests – God rest their souls – were Imbonerakure (the name the party’s youth go by). We don’t know the circumstances of their deaths (who killed them? The police or the protesters?), nor their ethnic origins, but saying that CNDD-FDD youth died in neighbourhoods that are branded Tutsi is not a piece of information to throw around lightly. It’s dangerous.
It’s amusing but sad how all this wouldn’t mean a thing had the FNL (another “Hutu” party, which is strongly against the third term) participated in the protests today. Nobody would have tried to make it look like a Hutu/Tutsi problem. We’d all be looking at the real issue: people (from all ethnic groups) protesting against the violation of their Constitution.
Unfortunately, the World, and in this case Burundi, is full of people with wrong intentions. We are where we are (and I’m not even talking about the term, but everything the country has gone through) because of such people. Hence it’s unwise to talk about fixing Burundi’s problems without taking into account everything that they may use to hinder the progress.
The ethnic bias is one of them. We need to learn to accept and anticipate that it can be used in a wrong manner. We cannot get annoyed at people for asking questions that bring us back to ethnic labels. Instead we must be ready to bring those people back on the right track when we see them deviating. But this first requires acknowledging that Ngagara, Cibitoke and Musaga are “Tutsi” neighbourhoods (even though Hutus also live in them) and CNDD-FDD a “Hutu” party (even though they have Tutsi followers). Then we explain why these labels exist (and are losing relevance today) AND THEN we show how the protests have nothing to do with the ethnic labels. Ignoring the Hutu/Tutsi element doesn’t work, as much as we’d really want it to disappear.
I sincerely believe that Hutu/Tutsi differences are no longer an issue in Burundi. I’m strongly convinced the people have realised that all the problems we’ve gone and continue to go through are consequences of political games played by greedy and amazingly dumb individuals. I hope from the bottom of my heart that our problems have nothing to do with the shapes of our noses or how tall we are. Not today at least…
But I’m disappointed with some folks I see getting emotional arguing that “ethnic labels are no longer relevant blablabla” while not showing how, and saying things like “poverty knows no ethnic background blablabla”… okay, you’re right but Ngagara, Musaga and Nyakabiga are “Tutsi” and the CNDD-FDD is “Hutu”… How about we start deconstructing any false and dangerous assumptions that may arise from this relatively TRUE information, na’mean?
Anyway, in the meantime, I hope you’re praying that all that’s happening does not degenerate into something nasty and irreversible. April is a really bad month in this part of the world…
* Karl-Chris Nsabiyumva currently lives and works in Bujumbura. You can follow him on Twitter: @Mr_Burundi and check out his blog: misterburundi.wordpress.com.
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