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The War Nerd November 25, 2003
 
Burundi: Heightism Rears Its Ugly Head
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 3
 
The first Bantu tribe to elbow their way into Rwanda-Burundi was the Hutu, the famous "short people" in the tall/short war in Rwanda. The other Bantu tribe, the Tutsi, showed up around the time Cortez was taking down the Aztecs. The Tutsi were even taller than the Hutu, who were already way taller than the pygmies.

In fact, what happened is a clear case of Heightism, a new prejudice the liberals haven't caught onto yet. First the really short pygmies get killed by the pretty-tall Hutu, and then the really, really tall Tutsi charge down out of the North and start killing off the Hutu. Heightism rears its ugly head! Call Hillary! I bet those heightist Tutsi play that old Randy Newman song, "Short people got no reason to live" before they head out on a Hutu-hacking mission. (The only other time the Wa-Tutsi get into the History of Music was back in the sixties, when their name turned up in a dance hit from Motown, "Do the Watusi," but that's another story.)

The Tutsi weren't just tall, they were serious badasses, the Vikings of East Africa. They killed the Hutu kings and made the Hutu peasants into slaves, and settled down to a nice happy life raising cattle to buy wives or raising wives to buy cattle, depending on which was in short supply on a given day. The Tutsi claimed all the land, on the legal basis that if you objected they'd kill you. So if you were a Hutu peasant and wanted to raise crops or graze cattle you had to ask your Tutsi overlord to let you take some of it as a sharecropper. If he agreed, you gave him half of your crop, or more if he had a hangover or just didn't like your looks.

If you know anything about medieval Europe, this lifestyle should sound familiar. It's good old "Feudalism," where a lot of little barons in small castles line up behind a few big barons in big castles, who line up either with or against a king in the biggest castle of all. These barons were black and didn't joust, but otherwise it was pretty much pure feudalism in Burundi until the whites showed up. Lots of fun for the Tutsi, not that much fun for the Hutu peasants, and not too bad for the cattle. Probably not that much fun for the wives, but nobody worried about their opinion back then.

Around the time we were having the Civil War, the Europeans were poking around the whole East African lakes region, sniffing out the Nile headwaters, but they were slow making it all the way inland to Burundi. A German Count showed up in 1894 -- I bet he felt right at home with all those Tutsi barons -- and Germany got a "protectorate" over Rwanda-Burundi in 1899. In 1915, when the Germans were busy back in Europe, the Belgians snuck east from Congo, made sure no Germans were around and then proudly claimed all of Rwanda-Burundi. They kept it until 1945, then agreed to give the UN formal control till independence in 1962.

But these dates don't matter much. When you say Burundi became independent, you're not talking about George Washington and James Monroe debating the rights of man. You're talking about a little medieval kingdom with a small, warlike aristocracy and a big, sullen peasant population getting jerked around by the dumbest of all the European colonizers, the Belgians. These guys were bad news wherever they went. They turned Congo into one big killing zone, and had enough energy left over to play tribe-vs.-tribe games with the Tutsi and Hutu, stirring up old tribal hatreds and then losing control of them.

Meanwhile, the whole phony newspaper-talk about "democratic elections" and "representative democracy" was installed by the UN like one of those compulsory upgrades that's so damn efficient it destroys all your documents. Nobody asked if the "democratic" upgrade made sense on the ground in Burundi. They just knew that the whole world was supposed to be run like some stupid high-school Student Body election. So the Burundians started parties with big names like "Front for Democracy in Burundi" and "Union for National Progress." And underneath, the same old feudal games were going on. The parties were just new names for tribes. "Front for Democracy" meant Hutu, and "Union for National Progress" meant Tutsi. The only difference was that the Europeans wouldn't let the Tutsi barons get too medieval on the Hutus' ass any more. That meant that the Hutu could start using their advantage in numbers.


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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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