The presidential elections in Rwanda are being held on 9th August, 2010 and one historic event is fresh in our minds; the 1994 genocide which left thousands of people dead. What lead Rwanda to the dark stage and what are the consequences that the country is facing? Ethnicity coupled with ethnic polarization is believed to be the basis of the 1994 genocide. The paper narrows down to one of the minority groups of the country, their lifestyle, they way they were affected and how they have managed to cope with present day life in light of the discrimination and prejudice subjected to them by other ethnic groups including their own government.
Rwanda: The Bwata
The land of a thousand hills is the name under which Rwanda is mostly recognized. It is also widely known for the 1994 genocide which saw Rwanda capture attention of other nations internationally. Rwanda is a country that is primarily dominated by three ethnic groups namely; Tutsis, Hutus and the Twa. Though Rwandans are classified into three ethnic divisions, it is striking to note that all the three ethnic groups speak the same language of Kinyarwanda, subscribe to same religion and live within the same territories therefore they can be said to share the same culture. They used to live together and coexist peacefully before the arrival of the Europeans. The Hutus were the majority comprising of 85% of the population, followed by the Tutsis who made up 14% and the Twa or the Bwata were the minority with only 1% of the population. The Twa are known to be the original inhabitants of Rwanda before that Tutsis and the Hutus migrated to the country. Being a minority group, the Bwata’s have always been discriminated by the Tutsis and the Hutus (David, & Catherine, 2000).
Culture depicts the way of life of a particular people. In Rwanda, The Twa was originally comprised of hunters, gatherers and used to practice pottery and still live their traditional life up to present day. The Hutus are an agriculturalist group while the Tutsis are predominantly pastoralists and were the elite group who had more political power over the other two ethnic groups. Ethnic lines among the three ethnic groups in Rwanda are drawn by their economic activities as opposed to differences in religion, language and other traits that normally differentiate on ethnic group from another. Race on the other hand refers to a mixture of one or more tribes, for instance, the Tutsis and the Hutus are thought to be descendants of a Himitic race who had distant blood links with Europeans and this was used to justify the political dominance of the Tutsis and the Hutus over the Twa tribe (Catharine, 1998).
Bwata’s have been prejudiced since Europeans arrived in Rwanda and around Lake Chad. History shows that before the arrival of the Europeans, the three ethnic tribes used coexist peacefully. However a myth was developed to explain the inequalities between the three groups and discrimination and prejudice gained its roots in Rwanda. The Tutsis were placed at number one in social status because they owned the cattle according to the myth, followed by the Hutus and then the Twa and the basis upon which segregation was established and picked momentum was born. The Batwa ethnic group has always been subjected to the Tutsis ruling over them. They are seen as untouchables and even up to present day, the Bwata’s still feel threatened by the ruling government of Rwanda which is made up of the Tutsis ethnic group. The Bwata’s have never had any political role or a higher rank in the government despite the fact that they are one of the major ethnic groups in Rwanda (David, & Catherine, 2000).
The Bwata’s continue to be discriminated by other ethnic groups in Rwanda. Being predominantly hunters and gatherers, Bwata ethnic group has stuck to their traditional way of life and find it hard to cope with any other lifestyle when the forests they used to call their homes have been put under conservation making them seek new ways of earning a living. The largely Rwandan society views the Bwata as low lives’s and outcasts and these has made them lose self confidence and self esteem. They have been denied the chance to use their forests skills to make a living. The mi minority group is also not allowed into public gatherings. They are mistakenly judged as dirty, lazy and people even refuse to share things with them. Hutus and Tutsis also discriminate the Bwata based on their physical appearance, the Hutus and the Tutsis are more physically built that the pygmy Bwata’s. For instance, when the Hutus migrated to Rwanda, they pushed the Twa’s to retreat to the mountains and took their hunting and gathering grounds for farming (David, & Catherine, 2000).
The Bwata’s economic way of life has been a contributing factor towards their discrimination by the Tutsis and the Hutus since time in memorial. History has documented that while the Hutus were allowed to climb up the social ladder and join the class of the Tutsis if they acquired cattle wealth, the Bwata’s were never given the chance. In addition, the Twa have been kicked out of their ancestral land to pave way for agriculture, logging and tight controls for conserving the forests have been put in place by the government and this leaves the Bwata group with no other option than to keep moving from one region to another and little has been done to compensate them by the same government. The Twa are liable to compensation for they are made to leave their ancestral land and settle elsewhere, which consequently makes them very poor because of the movements. Their children lack proper schooling and the interests of the group are not adequately represented in the ruling government. Discrimination is seen when actions are taken by a government of a nation without consideration of its citizens. For instance, due to the recent land policy in Rwanda, The Bwata is on the verge of loosing access to marshes where they harvest clay for pottery to allow rice growing. For a government chosen by the people to represent its people, Rwandan government ought to protect the Bwata ethnic group which is not the case (David, & Catherine, 2000).
Due to discrimination and segregation of ethnic groups in Rwanda, the country has gone through a dark stage especially in 1994 when they were genocide. Thousands of people were killed and some of them fled to neighboring countries as refugees. Children saw their parents being murdered and the trauma has affected them to present day. The children lack proper parenting in addition to missing out on going to schools for they cannot afford school fees. This has subjected the country to poverty as it is unable to educate its younger generation who are the leaders of tomorrow. Majority of children who were victims of the genocide now live in orphanages. The country is still struggling to rebuild its cities, hospitals, schools and business malls after they were burnt and destroyed during the genocide slowing development and growth of the country. Life has also become expensive and hard for most of the citizens, a very sad state to a country that is endowed with natural resources like tourist attraction sites and favorable conditions for agriculture to thrive. During the political unrest in Rwanda, the Bwata were greatly affected and up to present day they have not been able to adapt to the modern lifestyle and live in very poor conditions (George, & Yinger, 1996).
Barely days to presidential elections, have people lost trust in their government to hold purely democratic elections. There have been various bombs attacks in the country which are purely blamed on the Hutus. The incumbent president, Paul Kagame, is from the Tutsis ethnic group. As a result of ethnicity and ethnic polarization, the Rwandans have lost hope in their country and their government to hold purely democratic elections. Political unrests find their place in the heart of Rwanda whenever there is any major political activity. For instance, following coming elections, killings have been recorded including the recent killings of vice president of the Democratic Party of Rwanda and the murdering of a journalist (David, & Catherine, 2000).
Discrimination and prejudice towards certain groups of people in a county is a time bomb in the making. Using the case of Rwanda, discrimination and prejudice has lead Rwanda to sink into political turmoil as a country. In as much as the ruling government claim that Rwanda is a democratic country, democracy is not seen, when a government ignores a certain group of people. Efforts should be made to make every citizen of a country to feel safe in the country they call their own instead of relying on foreign organizations to help marginalized ethnic groups like the Twa’s. Therefore, the benefits of having a unified and united Rwanda outweigh any discrimination and prejudice even for the minority group for the country to reclaim its peace (David, & Catherine, 2000).
Catharine, N.: (1998): The Cohesion of Oppression: Client ship and Ethnicity in Rwanda: New York: Columbia University Press.
David, N. & Catherine, M. (2000): “Rethinking Rwandan Historiography: Bringing the Peasants Back In” American Historical Review.
George, S. & Yinger, M. (1996): Racial Minorities: An Analysis of Prejudice and Discrimination: 5th Ed. New York: Press.