The Zairian/Congolese Abahutu (abantu) people live in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the border with Uganda and Rwanda. They resemble the Hutu people in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. Their mother tongue is similar to Kinyarwanda spoken in Rwanda, to Kirundi spoken in Burundi and to the gikiga spoken in Bufumbira, south-west Uganda. They form less than 5% of the entire Congolese population. They are found in the Kivu region in the actual districts of Nyiragongo, Rusthuru, Masisi, Walikale, Kalehe, Lubero and the town of Goma (the provincial capital city).


Before 1885, the Bahutu people (formerly known as the Congolese Hutus and discriminatively called Banyarwanda) were living in well structured kingdoms united and led by the “umwami”(meaning the “king”). The Germans are the first western society to have visited the kingdoms.

Abahutu at creation recognized and identified themselves as “abantu” (singular “Umuntu”) meaning a “human being”. The abahutu oral tradition is silent about the origins of the word “Hutu”. Some people believe the word emerged well before 19th century. Arabs-traders had infiltrated the African great lakes region well before the 19th century. At that time the Arabic and the “African” languages (the Bantus languages as we will see latter) symbiosis resulted into the “Kiswahili” language we know today. A human being was then identified in Swahili as “muTU’. It is then said that Whites arrived in one of the Bahutu kingdoms. Pointing the finger to a citizen of the abahutu kingdom, the Whites asked one of the African servant who was with them” who is that?”. The African guider replied he is a” Umuntu”, meaning “a human being”. The Whites exclaimed ” u’m’Hutu” trying to pronounce correctly in swahili what the African guider has just told them. The Whites spread the news that they saw a” ‘Hutu”. The word HUTU was thus born. Latter in 19th century the western powers explored central Africa. The abahutu oral tradition states that when Europeans came to the abahutu empire they asked the king “who are those”? The king said “n’abantu” meaning they are human beings. The European captured the word “Bantu”. The word “Bantu” was thus born. Latter all African communities who related to a human being as a “NTU” were called “baNTU” people and belonged to the “BANTU” ethnic group known today. A human being is called “umuntu” in the language spoken by Abahutu. However the word “Umuntu” (plural “Abantu”) used in capital letter would as realized above mean a “Umuhutu” (plural “Abahutu”).

For long time people believed the words Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were created in Rwanda and Burundi by Belgium to divide and therefore to better rule over those two countries (Machiavelli principle: divide to better rule). Scientists are no longer accepting that thesis that the words were created by Belgians in order to rule over the two countries. Belgium only had control over the two countries in the 20th century soon after the World War I. However Belgium introduced the presence of ethnic group on identity card. In case of Rwanda, it was in 1933 that Belgium instituted the rule to add Hutu, Tutsi and Twa on the National Identity card.

Many scientists are now studying in-depth the hypothesis that Bahutu are actually one of the biggest ethnic Bantus group and that they are the major components of the Bantu people. These findings would be useful in Congo-DRC as discussed below. Abahutu originally were part of the great empire that extended from actual south-west Uganda to Eastern DRC, to Rwanda, to Burundi and to north-western Tanzania. This empire was divided into kingdoms that were administered and led by the “umwami” (resulting in the word umwami meaning a king). In some parts of Eastern DRC the descendents of the “umwami” are still leading the Abahutu community. In the district of Rutshuru the Abahutu united around their “umwami” Ndeze kept the abahutu traditional power throughout colonization and Mobutu regime. Mr. Ndeze is amongst the descendants of the “umwami”.

The Abahutu kingdom was kind of independent. One would say in today’s language that there was federalism in the Abahutu Empire. The most close kingdoms to the Congolese abahutu organizational structure were the Hutu kingdoms in North-Rwanda (in the Bushiru, Murera, Bukamba, Buhoma, Bugoyi) and in South-West Uganda (in the Bufumbira). All these kingdoms spoke the same language. There are three hypotheses on the language that was spoken by Abahutu originally. Some schools think it is “kihutu”, others say it is “Kinyarwanda” (the actual Rwandan national language), and others stipulate that it is “kibantu”. Seemingly the Kihutu is the language spoken by the Bahutu people (in Eastern DRC). Linguistics however identify numerous horizontal variations within the kihutu language.

With the colonization era the fate of the Bahutu people lacked consideration. The Berlin conference in Germany in 1885 resulted in the tearing apart of Abahutu kingdoms as Germany, Great Britain and King Leopold II of Belgium shared the colonies in central Africa. After 1885, the Abahutu were divided into Eastern Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, North-Western Tanzania and southern Uganda. However the Eastern Congo border is only traced latter in 1911 following agreements regarding precise border markings between King Leopold II (Belgium) (taking Congo), Great Britain (taking Uganda) and Germany (taking Ruanda and Urundi).The border markings between Congo and Ruanda were drafted at the Brussels Convention on 11 August 1910. Latter the convention was approved by the 14 June 1911 Law. Following this division Abahutu families found separated from their family relatives and friends across the Eastern Congo border. Some members were living in Congo on one hand and the other relatives living either in Ruanda (actual Rwanda) or in Uganda on the other hand. Migration between these families took place voluntarily and unofficially. This is important to understand the issues around “Transplants”, a “discriminative word” used in DRC to identify the immigrants from Rwanda during Belgian colonial rule era.

Following the First World War (1914-1919), Germany lost the war campaign and lost the control of Ruanda and Burundi. These two German colonies were placed under Belgium trustee by the Society of Nations (actual UNITED NATIONS-UN). Belgium encouraged and supported movements’ across the eastern Congo border towards 1937-1955 mainly from Ruanda into Congo. The highly populated Ruanda, the well structured Abahutu kingdoms (Bushiru, Bugoyi, Buhoma, Burera etc, in Ruanda) and the hard work and loyal spirits of Abahutu people on one hand and the increasing need for human resources in the Eastern Congo to work in the Belgian commercial and wide scale farms on the other hand motivated the Belgium into encouraging and supporting the migration. Belgium latter even recruited Abahutu from Ruanda-Urundi to go and work in the mines as far as Kipushi, Kolwezi, Likasi in the Katanga province, deep in Congo far several miles away from Ruanda-Urundi. Belgium felt the Abahutu had particular social structures that entrusted the hard work and the loyal spirit.

Early 1902 Germany also had noticed the highly populated Ruanda and Urundi and was thinking of organizing migration of some of the Abahutu into the actual Tanzania (that was also a German colony). Soon after Ruanda-Urundi was put under Belgian trustee by the Society of Nations (actual United Nations) Belgium realized some emigration is needed in the highly populated Ruanda. In 1926 Belgium studied the Ruanda migration file. The conclusions of the study were drawn in 1936. However migration of population between Congo and Ruanda did not cease when the Berlin Conference divided central Africa. Borders did not make sense to the population. Relatives and family members continued to visit each other and to move and settle wherever they wished to across the ” Berlin borders”. The Kivu region (including North-Kivu, South-Kivu and Maniema provinces)(currently famously known to be red zone of war crimes by the rebels and militia) was only created by Belgium in 1933.It is quite clear that Belgians did not force any “Umuhutu” {(singular word meaning 1 (a) Congolese Hutu)[ 2(more than one) umuhutu = Abahutu]} into migration but they simply encouraged, supported and financed the migration. It is clear that Rwanda and Burundi are German colonies. They were just put under trustee to Belgium.

“Nyirarukundo” an elderly lady who lived in “Rusho (murugano)” county in “Masisi “(unfortunately passed away in 1999 at the age of 80 years!) explains” they brought to us big potatoes and informed the land across the lake (currently known as lake Kivu) is fertile”!”…” My husband and I decided to go and see as well as others were going to settle there. We first settled in the area down the Nyiragongo volcano. It was all bushes. No people lived there. One day as I went to fetch water down the river I escaped death from a lion threat. When I went back home, I forced my husband to leave and we went back to Bushiru (region of North-Rwanda). Few months latter we decided to cross again. This time we settled in Rusho. It was all bushes. Now the fields are all green!”

The Belgian’s motivation was driven by the already existing self-initiated movement across the eastern Congo border. This is crucial to understanding subsequent conflicts that arose around migration.

With independence of the Congo on 30 June 1960, Abahutu acquired the Congolese citizenship as all Congolese. Before independence they freely contributed to the management of the province and the country. After independence they continued to be part of the administration until Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngwendu wa Zabanga came to power and the “kanyarwanda” war took off in the Kivu region. Abahutu people were massacred and were being forced to leave the Kivu region. President Mobutu made it worse latter in 1971. He stripped off the Abahutu people citizenship pretending they were transplants “aliens”. But at the same time he failed to chase them from the Kivu region as they were tightly rooted there and some of their family members were settled in the Kivu region well before the 19th century. The consequences were multiple. The Abahutu people were not protected by any state and were apatrid. At the same time Mobutu needed support of the Abahutu in the region. So he decided to unofficially (‘verbally”) “give” citizenship to the Abahutu native of the Rutshuru district. This was apparently a way of deviding the mighty Abahutu ethnic group in the Eastern Congo-DRC. Abahutu were victimized and marginalized for more the 33 years Mobutu was on power in Congo-DRC (that he named Zaire in 1972). This confusion arisen during the 33 years rule of Mobutu constitutes the major source of the current crisis in the Kivu region.

With the multiple political parties in Zaire in 1990, Abahutu stood up for their rights and wanted to claim their ultimate right, the right to citizenship. The issue of nationality was raised by the civil society and discussed in the Sovereign National Conference. On the 20 March 1993 they were severely oppressed and massacred. Mobutu government sponsored Maimai militia, in the name of kivu region autochthons, attacked the poor defenseless Abahutu peasants in the farms in the districts of walikale and Masisi in Ntoto, Mokoto, Nyaripi, Katoyi, etc.

With the arrival of Kabila Laurent Desire and the AFDL rebellion they were subsequently massacred. Most of them had welcomed Rwandan Hutu refugees in their lands and have assisted them with food and shelter. This did not please most of the Rwandan-Ugandan-Burundian supported rebellion that latter toppled Mobutu and installed an anti-Abahutu regime in Kinshasa. Wide scale massacres continued against Abahutu people in Eastern DRC. The United Nations Commission for Human Rights sent a delegation in the Kivu region to investigate the massacres and wide scale crimes committed against Abahutu people and the Rwandan Hutu refugees in 1996-1998. The delegation was led by Mr. Roberto Garreton. Reports of the Roberto Garreton investigations still sit in the United Nations offices. They were discussed once at the UN and were put in the drawers and until today they remain pending.

The Kivu region remains torn by wars. The Congolese minorities like Zairian Congolese Abahutu in the kivu region might be crashed by the fighting in the Eastern Congo where control over the African Great lakes region seems to become an international conflict.

Following a couple of consortium in Congo it was discovered that other Congolese people tend to marginalize Abahutu because they feel they are not Congolese, they are called “Hutus” (identical to the Hutus of Rwanda and Burundi) and are identified as Rwandophons (people speaking kinyarwanda-a national language of another country). The fact that Kinyarwanda is the national language of Rwanda makes it difficult. Congolese feel people whose mother tongue is Kinyarwanda are merely “Rwandese” (have Rwandan citizenship). This is a wrong school of thought and the Congolese government has to work hard to educate all the Mobutu generation and the subsequent generations about the right school of thought. Kinyarwanda is just a horizontal variation of the Kihutu , the Abahutu original language that was rendered a national language in Rwanda by the Rwandan Hutu regime soon after independence of Rwanda in 1962.

In recent research scientists stipulate that it would be beneficial to the Congolese government to draw a policy to emphasize the fact that “Abahutu are Congolese not transplants-aliens, have the rights in DRC as any other citizen of DRC and speak “Kihutu”. The Kihutu should be known amongst the 332 Congolese dialects as a language spoken by Abahutu people. Thus the false umbilical cord mistakenly linking Abahutu to Rwandese would be eradicated from the minds of Congolese people taken in hostage by the Mobutu controversial rules on citizenship. The Abahutu are congolese Hutu and speak the Kihutu.

Reporter Correspondent

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