Why Bahima men will not marry Bairu women

I was very pleased to learn at a wedding function in Uganda recently, that the President of Uganda endorsed the culture of intermarriages.

In societies – in time and space – that are relatively stable, there have been intermarriages both ways: men from different ethnic groups marry women from different ethnic groups, and vice versa, thereby ending ethnic exclusiveness. It has been reported that societies in Northern and Eastern Uganda, Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro and Northwest Tanzania are relatively stable because two-way inter-ethnic or inter-tribal marriages have taken place there.

However, in Southwest Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Eastern DRC where intermarriages have been one way (Bahutu and Bairu men marrying Batutsi, Bahima, Banyamulenge and Bahororo women whereas Batutsi, Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge men are not marrying Bairu and Bahutu women), there has been constant conflict that contributed to the tragic events of 1972 and 1994 in Burundi and Rwanda respectively.

It has been reported that the desire by Batutsi, Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge men to dominate Bairu and Bahutu politically and economically led them to refrain from marrying outside of their circles. This has been written about extensively by historians like Kevin Shillington (1989) who wrote that “some immigrant pastoralist groups intermarried with settled cultivators and between them produced new mixed-farming populations.

But the Hima and Tutsi [and later Bahororo and Banyamulenge] of the Southwest highland zones (Great Lakes Region) did not mix so freely. They avoided intermarriage and by keeping themselves distinct they managed, in time, to establish a position of domination over the majority peasant cultivators (Bairu and Bahutu) of the region.”

In Rujumbura County of Rukungiri District where Bahororo (Batutsi from Rwanda) fled to and sought refuge in 1800, (60-90 years after Mpororo Kingdom disintegrated and were replaced by Bahima in Uganda), there is not a single Muhororo (singular for Bahororo) man – to the best of my knowledge, since I come from Rujumbura – who has married a Mwiru (singular for Bairu) woman because, it is said, Bahororo do not want to be infiltrated and weakened politically since secrets about dominating Bairu and others would no longer be kept.

Because of this exclusiveness, Bahororo led by the Bashambo clan have ruled Rujumbura since 1800, dominating all major political positions and making them economically, and by extension, militarily powerful.

Educated and wealthy Bairu have been urged to marry Bahororo, Bahima and Batutsi women and become “tutsified’ and abandon their ethnic relatives who have remained leaderless. Bairu men who have not married Bahororo women have been systematically marginalised, however educated they are, sowing the seeds of instability in the area.

That is why there are increasing complaints that Uganda is now led by Bahororo, Bahima and Batutsi with support from Ugandans that have married Bahororo, Bahima and Batutsi women. It has been brought to Ugandans’ attention that everywhere you look in Uganda’s major political parties, you will find that their leaders are either Bahororo, Batutsi or Bahima, or Ugandans who have married Bahororo, Bahima, and Batutsi women.

And that is why some informed commentators are beginning to say that FDC, NRM and, to a certain extent, DP, are actually political parties of the same feather. Ugandans are challenged to research into these developments and decide on the way forward for the unity and stability of the country.

I spent 30 days in the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda in January and February 2010 and devoted some sleepless nights investigating this intermarriage issue. The conclusion was the same: namely that for the sake of political domination, Batutsi and Banyamulenge (in Eastern DRC) men do not marry outside their ethnic groups while wealthy and educated Bahutu marry Batutsi and Banyamulenge women and thereafter become ‘tutsified’ and abandon their indigenous ethnic people who remain leaderless and vulnerable politically and economically.

I am putting this forward not because I want to cause trouble, but on the contrary I am trying to help in averting trouble which is gathering on the political horizon in the Great Lakes Region as stories about the ‘Tutsi Empire’ spread in the region and beyond.

Once again, I thank the President for endorsing the culture of intermarriages which should be carried out both ways if it is to have meaning and contribute to peace, security and stability. An old friend of mine from Senegal confirmed that comprehensive intermarriages in his country have ended ethnic exclusiveness and contributed tremendously to the stability the country has enjoyed. The Great Lakes Region needs to draw a lesson from this example.

The author is a Senior Policy Advisor on the United Nations Millennium Project.



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