Why Is There Conflict Between Hutus and Tutsis?

Class Warfare in Rwanda and Burundi

Removing The FDLR
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The bloody history of the Hutu and Tutsi conflict stained the 20th century, from the 1972 slaughter of about 120,000 Hutus by the Tutsi army in Burundi to the 1994 Rwanda genocide where, in just the 100 days in which Hutu militias targeted Tutsis, about 800,000 people were killed.

But many observers would be surprised to learn that the longstanding conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis has nothing to do with language or religion—they speak the same Bantu tongues as well as French and generally practice Christianity—and many geneticists have been hard-pressed to find marked ethnic differences between the two, though the Tutsi have generally been noted to be taller. Many believe that German and Belgian colonizers tried to find differences between the Hutu and Tutsi in order to better categorize native peoples in their censuses.

Class Warfare

Generally, the Hutu-Tutsi strife stems from class warfare, with the Tutsis perceived to have greater wealth and social status (as well as favoring cattle ranching over what is seen as the lower-class farming of the Hutus). These class differences started during the 19th century, were exacerbated by colonization, and exploded at the end of the 20th century.

Origins of Rwanda and Burundi

The Tutsis are thought to have originally come from Ethiopia and arrived after the Hutu came from Chad. The Tutsis had a monarchy dating back to the 15th century; this was overthrown at the urging of Belgian colonizers in the early 1960s and the Hutu took power by force in Rwanda. In Burundi, however, a Hutu uprising failed and the Tutsis controlled the country.
The Tutsi and Hutu people interacted long before European colonization in the 19th century. According to some sources, the Hutu people lived in the area originally, while the Tutsi migrated from the Nile region. When they arrived, the Tutsi were able to establish themselves as leaders in the area with little conflict. While the Tutsi people became "aristocracy," there was a good deal of intermarriage.

In 1925, Belgians colonized the area calling it Ruanda-Urundi. Rather than establishing a government from Brussels, however, the Belgians placed the Tutsi in charge with the support of the Europeans. This decision led to the exploitation of the Hutu people at the hands of the Tutsis. Starting in 1957, the Hutus began to rebel against their treatment, writing a Manifesto and staging violent actions against the Tutsi.

In 1962, Belgium left the area and two new nations, Rwanda and Burundi, were formed. Between 1962 and 1994, a number of violent clashes occurred between the Hutus and Tutsis; all of this was leading up to the genocide of 1994.


On April 6, 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, was assassinated when his plane was shot down near Kigali International Airport. The Hutu president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was also killed in the attack. This sparked the chillingly well-organized extermination of Tutsis by Hutu militias, even though blame for the plane attack has never been established. Sexual violence against Tutsi women was also widespread, and the United Nations only conceded that "acts of genocide" had occurred two months after the killing began.

After the genocide and the Tutsis' regaining control, about 1.3 million Hutus fled to Burundi, Tanzania (from where more than 10,000 were later expelled by the government), Uganda, and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the great focus of Tutsi-Hutu conflict is today. Tutsi rebels in the DRC accuse the government of providing cover for the Hutu militias.

View Article Sources
  1. Burundi profile - Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Dec. 2018.

  2. Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter.” BBC News, BBC, 4 Apr. 2019.

  3. Rwandan genocide: Security Council told failure of political will led to ‘cascade of human tragedy.’” UN News, United Nations, 16 Apr. 2014.

  4. Janowski, Kris. “Eight-year Rwandan refugee saga in Tanzania comes to an end.” UNHCR, 3 Jan. 2003.

  5. Why has Tanzania deported thousands to Rwanda?” BBC News, BBC, 2 Sept. 2013.

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Johnson, Bridget. "Why Is There Conflict Between Hutus and Tutsis?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/location-of-conflict-tutsis-and-hutus-3554918. Johnson, Bridget. (2021, July 31). Why Is There Conflict Between Hutus and Tutsis? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/location-of-conflict-tutsis-and-hutus-3554918 Johnson, Bridget. "Why Is There Conflict Between Hutus and Tutsis?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/location-of-conflict-tutsis-and-hutus-3554918 (accessed January 31, 2023).