There once was a time in Oxford, it was a perfect summer’s day, cool breeze, no work that day, so we went to Witherspoon’s, our favourite pub. We had made it our own as Africans, we even changed the menu, got credit, and were treated like we were at home. It was frequented by Kenyans, Burundians, Congolese, Rwandans, Ugandans, Tanzanians, Ethiopians, and Zimbabweans, it was just like home for all of us. So we sat with our usual banter, ragging on some poor sucker whose turn it is to get dissed, the jokes were flowing, but one guy went too far, another went farther. I don’t remember the original joke, but the victim was embarrassed and he dropped the H-Bomb, he retorted that he was “just a Hutu” and laughed. The air sucked out of the room, it just went cold, there was a standoff and we all wondered if we heard what we heard. He repeated his words, and said that it’s true and no offence, but the offence was real, “just a” is what really hurt. There was no retort to that punch-line, so my friend just froze, walked out to the toilet and cried. I found him and comforted him “you are an engineer, this kind of thing shouldn’t even affect you, at least you do something with your life, unlike him.” It cut so deep for him, the next day it was all smiles but he had learned to never trust again, to buy a man drinks then he dismisses and insults you.
I am always asked about the Hutu-Tutsi thing, especially in Europe, when I moved into a house and the white neighbour would peep over the fence and asked “So where are you from?” Oxfordshire, near Watlington. “No, where are you really from, like originally?” I am from Rwanda. Off to google it, then the next day as he’s washing his car, he peeks over and giggles “if I see any Hutus around I’ll warn you!!” Then laughs for ten minutes hysterically; like he made the joke of the century, and repeats this joke to everyone, even unknowingly to my Hutu friends, I smile awkwardly and walk off. I was in Uganda during primary in the athletics team, one term I grew quite tall but it affected my running, I was in danger of being dropped. In front of the class, my Ugandan teacher laughs “We’ll have to get some Hutus to chase you, maybe that will improve your time.” The class laughed, it was a topical joke as they were finding out about these terms for the first time. The joke was to turn sour when we saw what happened in 1994. I always find myself trying to explain the concepts behind the words, I tried to explain it to East Africans on an internet forum. I tried to make it simple that even an idiot could understand, so it’s an idiot’s guide.
man it would take you several books to understand, we can’t say how many H or T exist in Rwanda because it is largely a personal definition, so you’d have to ask each Rwandan how they would define themselves. Hutu is not a tribe, neither is Tutsi for that matter, it is an agglomeration term for all the myriad local tribes that farm the land, previously they were Banyanduga, Bakiga, Bashi, Bagoyi, etc but the Belgians took a previous word for servant to bunch all these farmers together. Like if Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kamba were all bunched as farmers in a tribe called Walima and Maasai, Turkana, Borana, Kalenjin are all bunched in a tribe called Wang’ombe. Beneath this Hutu identity there are regional dialects, custom variations, to even make them separate in looks, lineage, dialect and custom. For example Banyanduga Hutu from the south historically hated the Bakiga from the North till 1993 when all Southerners in the army were being killed or fled to join RPF. So for the Tutsi thing, you must see it as a caste system, but one that can be fluid over time. Herders have advantages in setting up kingdoms in that they had a wider network and weren’t tied to the land, young boys would look after cattle and men would fight in armies. So Kingdoms of the great lakes were started by Hamites, the first and greatest was Bunyoro Kitara which was founded in around 700 AD, all kingdoms and nations are a result of splinters in this original kingdom which ranged from Congo to Lake Victoria. The Chwezi myth of tall handsome people coming down from the moon was born to explain these new interlopers, they intermarried and formed a caste in every kingdom in the region, and dominated from within. So they exist in Bunyoro, Toro, Buganda, Ankole, Rwanda, Burundi, Karagwe, Kitara-Congo, Kivu, Ituri, and this web still holds the region together. It is like if every region and tribe had a Masai caste, then this network covers a nation and relatively few guys can control a region, add to that experience in warfare, politics and diplomacy and you see this network is here to stay,
In America, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) had a funeral for the word NIGGER, there was a coffin with NIGGER inside it, eulogies, choirs, crying, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. They said that after that funeral the word Nigger and his cousins “coon, spick, wop, kyke, mick, dego” and all other racial epithets would die as well. In Rwanda we never had a funeral for the words Hutu, Tutsi, we never re-appropriated them and never removed their power to shock, their power to mobilise, and their threat is still present. Beneath these words are complexes of superiority and inferiority, of pride and grievance, of deep hatred, and mistrust. What do these words mean? Are they mutually exclusive? We have simply said they don’t exist anymore, but these concepts go deep to the original colonisation of Africa by Africans. History heals, Rwanda is a nation always running away from its history, concentrating on the future like it doesn’t matter, but history is the prism through which you understand the world. We can say these concepts don’t exist, or we can say they do but they don’t matter. A group of young Rwandans put on cultural shows where they bring people together, discuss history, sing, recite poems, dances and people realised the history is fun, it is not just 1994, it is wider than that.
So what are the origins of me? I have been reading so much on African history, about how it was inhabited, and it is so different to what we think. I found out that I was Cameroonian mixed with a bit of Afro-asiatic, weird. Africa has not always been black as we see it, there have been migration patterns going back millennia. East, Central and Southern Africa was occupied by pygmies and Khoisan, Bantu were still a small tribe in Cameroon. The Congo forest created a natural barrier which kept Bantu out, in those days some 2-3,000 years ago the Sahara was fertile, but climate change happened when the Earth shifted its axis and the north began to dry. Tribes were pushed down into West Africa, these Nilo-Saharans also pushed east into Sudan and came down the Nile. The Bantu began to migrate across the Congo, they lost many of their crops they planted before like millet and Sorghum and resorted to yams and tubers which could grow in the jungle. The Bantu migration was not a single wave but several waves over 2,000 years, some 2 million crossed over at a rate of 1,000 per year, and it was a harsh journey. The Bantu encountered pygmies who were the original inhabitants of the forest, interbred with them and made them adopt their culture. Pygmies in African represent a biological wonder, they are related to aborigines in Asia, even in the Amazon, they don’t have hereditary diseases, no cancer, not heart disease, no defects and they are perfectly built for their environment.
The other group was the Afro-asiatic group, Africa was never isolated on the East, it formed a single landmass with Asia until the last ice-age, you could walk across where the Red Sea is, the people who inhabited this side were similar to Ethiopians today, they cultivated cereals, kept cattle, sheep goats. Cattle were domesticated in Asia and brought to Africa via the Horn, these herdsmen rolled down the plains but encountered Sleeping Sickness and Trypanosomiasis, this limited their numbers, just like malaria did for the Bantu, it took them 2,000 years to cross the Congo. The Bantu arrived on the other side of the jungle by 20AD and they reached the Cape some 100 years later, it was the biggest human colonisation in history, much like how the Vikings discovered new worlds and inhabited them, the Bantu went up river, growing yams, fishing, foraging and hunting. The Bantu lost their agricultural skills in the jungle, so when they emerged on the other side, they had forgotten millet, sorghum, cattle, irrigation, terracing, and even beans. The Bantu had yams which helped them cross the jungle, cassava hadn’t yet arrived from India, sweet potatoes from South America, but yams restricted them to rivers and swamp beds.
We, The People
Bantu means people, they must have thought they were the only people on Earth, until climate change brought more advanced Sudanic and Nilotic tribes down towards their lands. Other than fight with these tribes they moved south through a harsh jungle. It was above all a language code, Bantu was a different way to speaking, therefore a different way to thinking, and acting. It was an oral language with no written code, some of the tribes evicting them had a written code, often taken from Egypt, or Nubian kingdoms, but the Bantu never adopted it. A civilisation is defined by; language code, food production, animal domestication, bureaucracy, and technology. Only small bands of people made it across, so government structures were lost, or irrelevant. The various bands were isolated and developed dialects of the same language with identity given according to geography as they were the same tribe. The animals in this area cannot be domesticated, almost all of Africa’s domesticated animals have come from outside Africa, our animals are too wild, in Europe and Asia, animals need humans to survive but this is the Garden of Eden. Animals provide so much in nutrition but labour is crucial, animals being beasts of burden saves humans from slavery. Bantu societies would always be unequal because of the lack of animal labour, like ploughing, carts, horses for transport, meant humans would bear that burden. Tribes would forever subjugate each other to use as labour, or society was stratified for exploitation.
Origins of Me
The Rift valley is a cauldron, a melting pot where the earth is tearing itself apart, it is also a human cauldron, an accident of nature where human experiments are conducted. I am a product of disease, Rwanda is what happened when malaria meets Sleeping Sickness, they are my mother and father. As the Bantu emerged on the Western side of the Congo some 1,500 years ago, they began meeting strange people and familiar enemies. This had been the realm of the Afro-asiatic black man, but there were there in small numbers, Nilo-Saharans also came down the Nile, the Luo language is closer to languages in Chad than Uganda. The three groups met in East Africa, the Bantu, the Nilotics, and the Afro-asiatics, these were the main parts of the stew about to cook. The Bantu brought Malaria which they had immunity to as West Africans with the Sickle gene, other groups died off. The Bantu also fell sick of sleeping sickness which they had no immunity to, three sides were secretly engaging in biological warfare on a molecular level, infecting each other, reintroducing diseases that had been eradicated. They must have noticed the cross-breeds were immune, over time it became necessary to cross-breed for survival. The Afro-asiatics were absorbed into the Bantu tribes, this is denoted by the fact that they adopted their language.
There is no doubt when I meet an Ethiopian, Somali, Kikuyu, Maasai, Dinka or Kalenjin I see a little bit of my family in them, I wonder to myself “surely at some point we were related” and yet the origins of each is different. What I see is the remaining traces of that Afro-asiatic race and the Nilotes, in the curly hair, in the light-brown skin, black gums, the nose, the height. What Rwandans call looking like a Tutsi is really someone who is Bantu but displays some of the original traits of those Afro-asiatics, it is a hint here, a hint there. If I was to be sent back to where I came from, I would be 96% Bantu from Cameroon and the rest Nilotic and Afro-Asiatic, but that 4% is what defines me, those dominant genes that keep making the same faces over and over. The Genocide against the Tutsi was an attempt to erase these genetic markers entirely, to create an ethnically homogenous society where those Afro-asiatic features would never infer superiority. Ryzhard Kapucinsky was a journalist for Russia during the cold war, he stayed on and during the Genocide spoke of a bitter twisted tale. The radio was blaring “Hutu women, prepare yourself, you are soon going to be the most beautiful women in Rwanda, Belgian men will fly from Brussels to marry you.” That says it all, using a person’s self-hatred to kill others.
On a logical level, genocide is pointless and cruel, but on a genetic level it makes sense, beneath our skins, genes are fighting each other for dominance and the right to multiply. When two people have sex and the egg is fertilised, the chromosomes start warring, X vs Y, then everything from height, features, desires, nature are determined. A human comes out the way they are, whatever genes they have, they cannot wait for their genes to win, sometimes they need outside help. The original battles between the Bantu and the Afro-Asiatic Black man were still deep in their conscience, even though they mixed to survive, once they got the immunity they needed they shunned each other. Even though they had mixed with the Bantu they separated again, in a bid to preserve the last remaining traces of that original race. Hence was born the schism, all had Bantu blood but the ones with a hint of Afro-asiatic blood still had cows, thought pastorally, had a different outlook towards resource management – the look and the mindset became to be seen as one. It becomes dangerous when these genetic markers indicate an economic outlook, like Whites had to kill the Native Americans, because they had a different outlook to land use, so all had to die. It is sick, it is cruel, but a gene doesn’t care, it is selfish, it sees itself multiplying once the competition is removed. The whites never rationalised killing off Natives, nor did killers in 1994, they saw a utopia afterwards.
Genocide is wired into our make-up as humans, we killed off the Neanderthals, man has conquered man since day one. There is a genetic reflex to kill those who are different to you in times of trouble, in good times the reflex is to breed with them, you feel expansive, limitless, and there is enough for all. Evil politicians have learned to harness these reflexes to kill millions, make a people believe they are under threat unless they do the unthinkable. It is now called nationalism, there has never been a genocide without nationalism of some sort, it is like when an ant colony attacks another, same species, different outlook. The Nile and Congo come within 30 kilometres of each other in the Rwanda-Congo basin, we are all the product of those rivers, Bantu on the Congo, Nilotics on the Nile, Afro-asiatics in the Rift Valley which stretches from Syria down to Mozambique. It has been a human corridor and the cradle of mankind, it is the Garden of Eden, the home of the oldest human remains and footprints which date back 2 million years. This was the first place man said “where am I? Who am I?” Man went out exploring, then came back to re-inhabit their original home, and mix with the originals.
So in time we have come to see ourselves as separate, when what separates are only genetic traces of previous peoples. I remember a Tutsi girl who survived genocide who preaches reconciliation, at the end of a meeting she was asked whether she would marry a Hutu, she dodged the question but she was pressed, she said we are all Rwandans now, but they pressed again. “You see? We have a long way to go.” Were the moans from the crowd, the train of reconciliation was stuck at the platform until this girl could declare that she could marry a Hutu. Humans breed by genetic selection, in picking a mate you pick the features that you find attractive, we being Freudian pick people who look like our parents and relatives because that is the beauty myth we are brought up with. Therefore the girl was not discriminating but choosing features she found attractive, add to that the guilt of surviving “when I have children, I want to see my brothers again, my parents again, my sisters. I can’t wait till I look down and see the eyes of my aunt, or the nose of my father.” These traits, they are the underlying factor in this, wanting to preserve an aesthetic, a look, it is not shallow, it is survival, these tiny strands of DNA make us who we are.
So how can people who share the same DNA except for some strands be hateful of each other? Why is it an insult for a man from another group to marry your sister? You share 99.97% of your DNA with other humans, 0.03 % is what divides an Eskimo from a pygmy, so a Hutu and Tutsi is even less variation. Rare genes are often more coveted, in Sweden where many people are tall and blonde with blue eyes, a Swede with dark hair and brown eyes is considered beautiful. I lived in a village in UK where I was the only black man and the girls were fascinated. I did not pose a numerical threat, so I added some variety. Even after the Bantu had mixed with the Nilotes and the Afro-asiatics, there were still traces of the old genes, some must have feared these traits disappearing altogether, so there was a decision made to stop mixing. These genetic traits did not have a name, the words Hutu and Tutsi meant different things then. What we now call the Hutu was a dozen or so tribes that farmed the land, it later became an agglomerative term for all outside of the patronage system, or farmers. What we call the eternal struggle between Hutu and Tutsi is 3 separate battles that have manifested in ethnic hatred. First one is the battle of the genes, trying to absorb, dominate each other genetically, a continuation of the competition when the groups first met.
Second aspect to this is different mindsets towards means of production, use of resources, and ownership. Which group came first? Was it the Bantu farmers or the herders? In some way we believe that first come, first served, possession is nine tenths of the law. As we have seen the two mixed along the way to get immunity from each other’s diseases. The original differences in views towards production became ingrained in the DNA, as the original herders held on to their cattle, therefore they sought to limit farming where it clashed with pastureland. Mindsets change, since I became a farmer I think differently to the cattle mindset of my grandfathers, but in the old day things were set in stone. These competing mindsets were juxtaposed in a small country, especially when population pressures mounted. So what we call these tribes are really mindsets based on how we survive, they often correlate to features, the traits, the strands of DNA. The bands of kinship and lineages that crossed the Congo and mixed with people on the other side, these people became part of them, then separated away culturally in a sub-group, but the grudge was there.
The third aspect to this is a minority attitude vs a majority attitude, a minority group rules differently to a group coming from the majority, or claiming to do so. When a minority is ruling it is conservative, has people depending with the lives on the government, loyalty is survival – as long as they stay together they are unbeatable. Minorities are often militaristic, have control over the means of violence and form armed elites. Information flows are often controlled in order to keep the people rested, the ancient Egyptians had writing but only 0.5% of the population could read. Loyalty and support is rewarded, even bought, there is risk in opposing and reward in supporting. Lastly there is a social charter, an agreement between the minority and the majority. A Magna Carta – an unspoken deal that sets conditions for the rulers and the ruled, for peace, for development and a balance. Majority governments are chauvinistic to minorities, expect loyalty based on ethnicity, push for change even when it is dangerous because they are unable to control the expectations of their followers. They have open flows of information, are non-militaristic and have weak armies to prevent a coup from within, the people are the army – a blunt tool to be exploited. The pride of the majority ruling is seen as enough, the Githongo Maxim – “It is not our turn to eat!!” The past sins of the minority are seen as justification for current sins. Any criticism is ethnic disloyalty. See South Africa, Burundi, Argentina, Pakistan. All governments are minorities, because out of millions, only a few hundred actually know what is going on and make decisions, so all majorities are an artificial creation, but minorities can point to preserving interests to bond them.
Geno-cide – the killing off of genes – it was a word coined by Raphael Lemkin fairly recently in 1944 to explain the constant incidences of ethnic cleansing and mass-murder that man does and calls it politics. The competition during evolution made us animals, even if you don’t believe in evolution, most accept that man has been fighting man since we could swing a punch. For most of our history people were few on Earth, the emphasis was building strong humans, not many weaklings. Then food production expanded and it allowed humans to expand without having to fight for resources, until population pressure forced man into the World Wars of the 20th Century. Always deep in our blood, the genes are bubbling, they want revenge, they see different people as a threat. Racism is a natural instinct, it is only since we became civilised that we learned to hide mistrust, but for most of our history we competed for resources. Even today you will hear in any given country “They come here and they take our jobs and our women, who do they think they are? They should go back where they came from!” The underlying problem is they see themselves dying slowly, the genes seek preservation. The person will rationalise, it is “nothing person again any of them, some of them are nice people, but you can’t get an unfair advantage.”
In the genetic championship – all is fair in love and war, we can kill our enemy by physical means or we can breed them out. Black female slaves in America were raped by their masters and produced a lighter race that was neither African nor European, eventually these slaves believed that they came from Ethiopia but the deeper truth was they were a product of rape, and the slave master they hated was their father. So sleeping with the enemy is often the best way to kill him, but in the genetic wars you have throw-backs, genetic traits you thought were gone can come back to stare at you in the face. Often we hear of white couples giving birth to black babies, the gene was so silent that they didn’t know they were black. We keep saying Never Again, and it happens again, genocide is happening all over the world. Sometimes slowly, they can use drugs and alcohol to destroy a native community like in USA and Canada, or gas chambers, or poor healthcare and education to destroy genes or limit them to a ghetto where they will kill themselves. Racism is a remnant of evolution where bands stuck together against outsiders, it is just that it is exploited for political gain. People harbour resentments all the time but these resentments are stirred up in different ways. Hitler, Stalin, American settlers, Turks in Armenia, Brits in Australia, conquistadors and Hutu militia all committed genocides, their ideologies are divergent but goals the same.
Genocide ideology does not exist
There is no such thing as genocide ideology, ideologies turn genocidal for different reasons but there is a methodology that was faithfully followed by all. To identify, to separate, to stigmatise, to dehumanise, to juxtapose and finally eliminate then deny it ever happened. So Rwanda has so many laws on Genocide ideology, these laws are blamed for narrowing the political space and freedom of expression. It is a mistake to fight the ideology without fighting the methodology, removing those words without redefining and understanding them leaves them open to future politicians to exploit our pain. To fight genocide we have to do the reverse of genocide, doing the steps but in reverse. Identify people as different but equal, each being unique and also similar. Unite people instead of separate people. Demystify the whole Hutu-Tutsi thing with scientific facts and open discussion, as long as it is spoken behind hushed tones then it is incubating hate. Re-humanise people, humanity is something most people take for granted, but poverty, history, lack of education, poor health all can dehumanise a person until they kill. Let people know that Hutu and Tutsi all share 99.97% of DNA as humans, and these are artificial terms. Instead of seeing them as opposing groups, show that they were complimentary in a sense it was mixed farming, they allowed for trade, intermarriage, and community. Finally we must not deny that these words exist, but redefine them, understand them in their various contexts over time.
In order to understand our history we must understand our prehistory, our history may divide us but prehistory unites us. Before these things called tribes emerged we were one people, then geographic isolation, diet, selective breeding and cultures made us different. The phenomenon of tribal war is a fairly recent one, people were too sparsely populated to meet in battle, then it took a while for these tribes to become kingdoms and vie for resources, the Zenith was the Zulu Kingdoms where the Bantu had no land to expand into and fought their way back up Africa. Colonialism happened at a perfect time, population pressures were rising, ethnic competition was rising, new diseases were appearing, new resources like minerals, and new technologies. These tribal blocs became political blocs to plead for more resources, or fight for them. In Rwanda we have a political stasis because Hutu Nationalism is banned under Genocide ideology laws, so it is seen as discriminatory to have Ethnic Parties. The question is whether these are tribes or castes? Therefore, is their struggle an ethnic or class one? If it is class then everyone below a certain bracket qualifies. If it is ethnic then it is discrimination. Even CNDD in Burundi was a Hutu party but renounced ethnicity after it got power, it is a vehicle to power. So Hutu Nationalism is the product of an alternative history, its remnants like the FDLR cannot be relevant any more, but it casts a long shadow over hopes of open political space.
I am writing a novel and these essays have been part of my research in trying to understand, it is not the final version of history but a start of a conversation about who we are.