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The Burundian Genocide of 1972

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

What factors led to the Burundian genocide in 1972? In this lesson, you will learn about the underlying causes of Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Burundi and the resulting violence that plagued the country throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The Hutus and the Tutsis

First things first: What's a Hutu and what's a Tutsi? The question is actually not so much a 'what?' but a 'who?' The Hutu people arrived in Central Africa anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. They traditionally lived in large families and survived by farming the land. About 400 years ago, a new group of people made their way into the Hutus' home. These people were called the Tutsi. The Tutsi moved from place to place and didn't really establish a permanent home until they ran into the Hutu. Instead of farming, the Tutsi made a living by herding cattle.

Most of the Tutsi assimilated, or became a part of, Hutu culture. They spoke similar languages and practiced similar traditions. From the outside, the two groups looked like the same people. There was, however, one critical difference.: how they made a living. Having cattle gave the Tutsi greater status in the community--more cows meant more wealth. More wealth meant more power. While the Hutu and the Tutsi were very similar in all other aspects of life, economic status between the two groups created large divides in the community.

The Belgians, the Hutus, and the Tutsis

Eventually, Europeans arrived on the scene and began carving up Africa. The Belgians made their way into Central Africa and took over the region where the Hutus and Tutsis lived. The Belgians viewed themselves as superior to both the Hutu and the Tutsi people, but they also recognized a difference between the two peoples. The Tutsi were viewed as wealthier, and therefore superior, to the Hutu. In 1935, the Belgian government started requiring the Hutu and Tutsi to carry cards that explained who they were and what group they belonged to. To make matters worse, the Tutsi were given special privileges and access to things like education and government jobs. The already-tense relationship between the Hutu and Tutsi was reaching a boiling point.

The Burundi Genocide

Eventually, the European imperialists began to leave Africa, but that didn't mean the relationship between the Hutu and Tutsi would get any better. Two countries formed: Rwanda and Burundi. The Hutu made up the majority of the population in both countries, but because of the special status given to the Tutsi, they were the ones who controlled the government. Until 1966, a king ruled Burundi, but he was overthrown by a Tutsi man named Michel Micombero. Along with the Burundian army, Micombero deposed the king and seized control of the country. Talk about a power grab!

Micombero was powerful and wealthy, but he did not have the full support of the other Tutsi. The Hutu living in Burundi saw this as their opportunity to strike--Micombero showed signs of weakness, and they could move to get rid of him. In a violent coup d'etat, a group of Hutu attempted to seize the government and killed over 2,000 Tutsi.

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