Why a stable Burundi is thorn in Kagame flesh


President Kagame pays a visit to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza- Kirundo, 5 August 2011

In 1925, the Belgium parliament resolved that Rwanda-Urundi was to be administered as a province of Belgian Congo.

Rwanda was governed by a Tutsi monarchy while in Burundi the monarchy was by the Ganwa who were neither Hutu nor Tutsi.

Therefore while in Rwanda the monarchy symbolised oppression of Hutu, in Burundi it was a symbol of unity.

The Hutu in Rwanda saw early independence as the only way of freeing themselves from the yoke of the Tutsi monarchy.

In 1958 the Tutsi King of Rwanda Mutara Rudahigwa III went to Burundi to receive medical attention but died during the same trip.

It is alleged that his Physician administered into him an overdose of Penecilin that killed him immediately.

The Belgian colonial administration, the Catholic Bishop and the Hutu in general were the suspects. Because he had no kids he was succeeded by Kigeri IV Ndahindurwa.

Around 1958/59 while the Party for the Emancipation of Hutu (PARMEHUTU) was formed for the advancement of Hutu interests, the National Union of Rwandaise (UNAR) was also formed for advancement of Tutsi interests.

On the other hand ASSERU was formed to advocate for immediate independence and the retaining of the monarchy.

Tension between Hutu and Tutsi had been brewing and only to explode in 1959 when militant Tutsi attempted to kill a prominent Hutu a one Dominic Mbonyimutwa who was the leader of PARMEHUTU.

Dominic Mbonyimutwa survived the assassination but new had already spread that he had been killed. Consequently, Hutu in the country side went on rampage killing, looting and harassing Tutsi in the countryside. Thousands of Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.

It took the intervention of Belgian troops from Congo to cool down the situation. The events of 1959 in Rwanda has been recorded in history as the Hutu Revolution and it gave rise to Africa’s first legal refugees.

The King of Rwanda Kigeri IV never fled in 1959 however in 1960 while he was on a trip to Congo he was deposed by the Hutu clique.

He crossed over to Burundi from where he continued to monitor developments in Rwanda. Dominic Mbonyeumutwa and Gregory Kayibanda declared themselves President and Prime Minister respectively.

The Tutsi UNAR petitioned the UN for the return of the King and the former organised a referendum in which majority 80% objected to Kingship. UNAR and the King were not satisfied with the outcome of the referendum and petitioned the UN again.

In 1962 the UN passed a resolution No. 1743 instituting a commission to study the question of Rwanda. That commission recommended that Rwanda and Burundi should be separated and each granted independence and indeed both countries became independent on the same date in 1962.

Gregory Kayibanda became the first President of independent Republic of Rwanda.

In the meantime the Tutsi now in exile resorted to armed struggle to regain their lost glory. Their political party UNAR external wing established a militant organisation that they called Ingengarugo Yiyemeje Kuba Ingenzi – IN.YE.NZI (who had committed himself to bravery).

Ingengarugo had been an army division under King Kigeri Rwabugiri who had ruled Rwanda towards the end of the 19th century. The term Ingengarugo had its origin in the phrase Kugangura Urugo Ri’ibwami (provoking trouble in the king’s court).

Because of their method of operation i.e attacking at night and disappearing before daylight, the Rwanda government called them INYENZI (cockroaches in English).

Small bands of Inyenzi would attack from mostly Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda killing Hutu and sneak back before daybreak. In 1962, the external UNAR under Francois Rukeba set up base in Bujumbura.

It further split to give rise to another faction called Armee de Liberation du Rwanda led by Rwangombwa and Mundandi before it left for Congo to join hands with the Laurent Kabila (Snr) led Mulele rebellion.

Another faction called Front de Liberation du Rwanda led by Gakwaya mostly composed of students who had studied in Congo and opposed to the return of the monarchy was also born. King Kigeri’s faction was based in Dar es salaam, Nairobi and Kampala and coordinated by Kayihura (not the current Uganda Police Chief) and Sebyeza.

In 1963 Sebyeza relocated to Bujumbura to set up base before relocating to Kampala in 1964. The King Kigeri faction became the Socialist Party because it subscribed to socialist ideology and in 1966 it became the Organisation for National Reconciliation.

In 1962 the Inyenzi attacked Rwanda in Umutara region before retreating to Tanzania where some of their members like Numa, Nyabujagwe, Mpambara (not the Obote I GSU Chief who recruited Museveni into secret services) and others were arrested and extradited to Rwanda.

Others fled to Bujumbura where they enjoyed support from the King of Burundi. At the time Burundi was allied with the communist world and was hosting the government of Congo in Exile that was struggling against Mobutu whereby Che-Guvara was assisting the Kabila (Snr) led rebels.

In 1963, a big attack by Inyenzi from Burundi was foiled before another grand attack was launched a few months later in the same year. In the grand attack of 1963, the Inyenzi attacked from Burundi via Bugesers, overran Gako military base, commandeered military vehicles and arms before heading for Nyamata where there was a Tutsi IDP, but were confronted and defeated by government forces at Kanzanze hill near Nyabarongo bridge – 20 km from Kigali.

Consequently, there was a purge and arrest of UNAR members (both Hutu and Tutsi) inside Rwanda. Consequently, UNAR was banned and marginalisation of Tutsi in almost all social sectors became official.


This led to more Tutsi to flee Rwanda and it is believed that Paul Kagame’s father Rutagambwa fled in 1961 following such Inyenzi attacks.

In 1964, more attacks from Burundi on Bugesera and Bugarama could not bear any impact but another strong attack on Nshiri did have devastating effect. From then on till 1967 smaller attacks and incursions from Burundi did take place.

The 1959-1962 Hutu revolution in Rwanda had made the minority Tutsi in Burundi to carry out pre-emptive measures against the majority Hutu. The 1963, 65, 68, 69, 72 incidents of ethnic clashes and the general alienation of Hutu had led to thousands of them to flee Burundi to neighbouring countries among them Rwanda where their cousins were in power.

In 1968, it became official that Hutu were not to get government scholarships to study abroad. The Hutu government in Rwanda had a duty to provide education to Burundi Hutu who could manage to escape from Burundi.

After repeated failure by Tutsi in exile to reclaim power in Kigali between 1961 and 1967, they settled down to life in Burundi as their natural heaven. Majority integrated into society while some got involved into the politics of Burundi. Inyenzi leader Froncois Rukeba was imprisoned in Bujumbura for involvement in a coup attempt against President Mucombero in 1972.

A Tutsi refugee working at the USA embassy in Kigali is said to have masterminded the shooting dead of one of Burundi’s Hutu Prime Minister. The Tutsi dominated government of Burundi that was faced with the question of majority Hutu found an ally in the Rwandese Tutsi refugees in Burundi.

These Tutsi refugees were accorded preferential treatment from the Hutu nationals. They established themselves in leadership positions, in health, education and business sectors.

Consequently bad blood between Kigali and Bujumbura grew by the year. Their respective national radios were often used in a war of words to attack each other.

In May 1973, Burundi refugees attacked northern Burundi from Rwanda through Butare area. The then Rwanda Minister of Defence who was also the Army Chief, Juvenal Habyarimana, was in the air monitoring how the ground attack was being conducted.

In the same year, the differences among the Rwandese Hutu based on the regionalism i.e Nduga and Kiga was one of the reasons for the military takeover by Juvenal Habyarimana.

The Habyarimana administration made Rwanda a one party state under the ruling MNRD party. However, unlike in Burundi, Rwanda made concessions by introducing quota system for Tutsi in the civil service jobs.

That is how there came to be ethnic calmness and no mass exodus of Tutsi in Rwanda between early 1960s and 1990 when the Tutsi led RPF invaded.

Congo’s Mobutu also played a big role in calming tensions in that region. He initiated a number of bilateral agreements that were reinforced by a commissions that was called the Communaute Economic des Pays des Grand Lacs (the Great Lakes Economic Community) – CPGL in 1974.

The commission was on cultural, social and economic cooperation but security was the outstanding priority. Mobutu was worried of the Marxist oriented rebels operating in the eastern region with bases in Burundi but more so that its minerals in the eastern region would benefit Burundi and Rwanda.

The commission was a success story in that it saw joint power production, agricultural research, a regional bank based in Goma, civil aviation, immigration, refugee management, investments etc.

A refugee accord emphasized that host countries should not aid dissident activities and that refugee camps should be located 150 km from the national borders.

Rwanda maintained that its country was very small thus advocated for refugees to stay where they were. He regarded Rwanda as a Hutu state and Burundi a Tutsi state. Rwanda discouraged Burundi Hutu refugees from returning to Burundi.

Rwanda’s MNRD rivalled with Burundi’s UPRONA such that one time when Burundi’s President Bagaza was on an official visit to Rwanda his hotel room was decorated with offensive posters. However, each country knew that they harboured each other’s dissidents but efforts were always made to contain their activities.

Museveni’s involvement

That is how the dissident Tutsi failed to get a launching pad to attack and reclaim Rwanda until Museveni afforded them the opportunity. In the same regard, the then Hutu dominated government of Rwanda could not effectively support the oppressed Burundi Hutu to reclaim their share of Burundi.

CPGL suffered a setback in 1990 when the RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda and during the regional summit that was hosted in Bujumbura, Rwanda was not able to ratify the convention. CPGL finally crumbled in 1993 when even Congo and Burundi couldn’t meet their respective financial obligations.

It is the existence of this CPGL’s (Rwanda, Burundi and Congo) success story that had prompted Museveni to visit Goma in Congo to meet Mobutu the very day he was sworn in in Kampala on 26 January 1986.

Remember he had earlier visited eastern Congo during those early days he was surveying for avenues to launch his presidential road map. Indeed he destroyed CPGL and opened up the way to destruction of the historical alliance that had ensured stability and coexistence of the three countries.

When the Tutsi led RPF invaded from Uganda, Rwanda re-organised the Burundi Hutu refugees under PALIPEHUTU militants to its aid. PALIPEHUTU militants fought alongside the Ex FAR in battles against RPF.

In 1976 Francois Rukeba and King Kigeri had transformed UNAR into Rwanda Refugee Welfare Foundation that finally transformed into RPF Inkotanyi.

Museveni’s Minister of Defence and RPF founding Chairman, Gen Fred Rwigyema, had been visiting Burundi to meet UNAR members followed by subsequent preparatory meetings in Uganda and Nairobi.

In 1991 PALIPEHUTU Burundi Hutu militants launched attack into Burundi from Rwanda. Similar attacks continued through 1992 and 1993. In June 1993 a Hutu president Ndadaye who had been educated from Rwanda was elected as the first President of Burundi.

Such victory for Hutu in Burundi was a big boost to the Hutu government in Rwanda that was battling the Tutsi led RPF. President Habyarimana was to congratulate President Ndadaye but three months later the latter was slaughtered by the Tutsi army officers.

That killing sparked off another round of bloody ethnic clashes in Burundi that saw more Hutu flee Burundi to Tanzania, Congo and Rwanda. More Burundi Hutu militant groups were born and obviously registered the support of the Hutu government of Rwanda.

The subsequent attacks by Burundi Hutu militants from Rwanda often resulted into reprisal attacks on Hutu civilians in northern Burundi and the resultant fleeing of Hutu civilians to Rwanda and Congo.

By the time the Hutu president of Rwanda was killed in a plane crash together with his Burundian counterpart Cyprian Ntaryamira, Burundi was calling for foreign military intervention.

That is why it has never been clear as to what mission the Burundian President was up to when he met his death. The Tusti led RPF took over government in Rwanda forcing the entire government machinery to flee to eastern Congo together with millions of civilians thus forming a government in exile.

Tens of thousands of Rwandese Hutu has also fled to Burundi and Tanzania. Also to flee to Congo were the Burundi Hutu refugees and militants who had been residing in Rwanda.

Birth of Interahamwe

In Congo the Burundi Hutu militants joined hands with the defeated Rwanda Ex FAR and militia Interahamwe. By 1996 Burundi Hutu militias under CNDD (the current ruling party in Burundi) would make deep incursions into Burundi from Rwanda.

Prominent CNDD top commanders like the recently slain Gen Adolf Nshimirimana had closely worked with Rwanda’s Hutu rebels in Congo.

At the instigation of the new Tutsi regime in Rwanda, Rwandese Hutu refugees in Burundi were subjected to gross persecution by the Tutsi regime.

They were placed in camps from where many were shot and wounded, killed, detained, movements curtailed etc. Tutsi extremists attacked aid workers who were assisting these refugees accusing them of helping génocidaires by stealing relief supplies making delivery difficult.

Those atrocities were being committed in a climate of impunity as real power in Burundi lay with the Tutsi military and extremist Tutsi political extremists.

They simply wanted the international aid agencies to leave so that the Rwandese Hutu in Burundi could suffer what befell their brothers who fled to eastern Congo.

With very few exceptions, majority of the Rwandese Hutu who fled to Burundi were peasants who did not engage in genocide but their presence was simply viewed as an ethnically destabilizing element and not necessarily subversive.

They had fled to Burundi not because they wanted to be there but because they had nowhere else to go as there flight had been instigated by fear of attack by the victorious Tutsi RPF.

Consequently many fled Burundi for Congo and Tanzania. Tanzania closed its border and in January 1997 the Burundi Tutsi army shot dead 126 Rwandese Hutu refugees who had been expelled from Tanzania as they allegedly tried to escape from a detention center.

Increased armed attacks by CNDD militias from Congo more especially in the northern region coupled by pressure from the RPF government of Rwanda saw the forced repatriation of thousands of Rwandese Hutu refugees back to Burundi.

Museveni sends mercenaries  

In December 1997 Ugandan mercenaries fighting alongside rebels were captured in Chibitoke. The former Tutsi President Buyoya returned to power in Burundi in 1996 thus the RPF in Rwanda now found an appropriate ally.

It was under Buyoya that the then Burundi Tutsi army entered the Congo war theater alongside the armies of Uganda and Rwanda to help Kabila (Snr) push out Mobutu.

This prompted the Burundi’s CNDD rebels to relocate to Tanzania. However in 1999 when Kabila (Snr) had fallen out with his backers, the Burundi rebel CNDD was reactivated in eastern Congo and fought on the side of Kabila alongside the Mai Mai, FDRL and the Congo Army against the Kigali backed RCD rebels.

Through both armed battles and peace talks, the Burundi Hutu rebels of CNDD-FDD, PALIPEHUTU FNL and others managed to reclaim Burundi and come to power. The Rwandese counterparts are still struggling with reclaiming Rwanda.

What is at stake

From the aforegoing, it can be concluded that the success of the Hutu in Burundi is partly attributed to the contribution of their counterparts in Rwanda.

The regional grouping CPGL was a success story in stabilising the three countries and had it not been for Museveni, the Rwandese Tutsi would not have had a launching pad to reclaim Rwanda.

The Museveni model of CPGL that was expanded to include countries like Angola, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe etc has failed to match the original well intention regional block.

As the Hutu government in Burundi strengthens its grip on power, it feels morally indebted to reciprocate the gesture of goodwill that was accorded to it by their Hutu counterparts when they were in power in Rwanda and as a government in exile in eastern DRC.

For Kigali this is unacceptable and everything must be done to deny this avenue.

Most African despots are preoccupied with installing client regimes in neighbouring countries.

Sarah Nalukenge, the author, is a social and political commentator

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