Ikiza

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A CIA map of Burundi showing areas of Hutu rebel activity and refugee concentrations from the Ikiza.

The Ikiza (translated variously from Kirundi as the Catastrophe, Great Calamity, or the Ubwicanyi (Killings) was a series of mass killings — often characterised as a genocide — which were committed in Burundi in 1972 by the Tutsi-dominated army and government against the Hutus who lived in the country. Conservative estimates place the death toll of the event between 100,000 and 150,000 killed, while some estimates of the death toll go as high as 300,000.

Background

While the neighbouring countries of Rwanda and Burundi have a shared history and a similar demography they embarked on different paths after gaining independence from colonial rule in July 1962. As in Rwanda, the elites in Burundi had traditionally been drawn from the social class of pastoralists, Tutsi, who had higher positions in society and was later favoured by the colonialists, while the less privileged Hutu farmers were in a majority in both countries.

While Rwanda transitioned to independence as a republic, controlled by Hutus, Burundi retained its constitutional monarchy with a government comprised of representatives of mixed origin. The violence and the massacres of Rwanda's Social Revolution of 1959-1961, in which thousands of Tutsis where butchered instilled deep fears and horror among the Tutsis in Burundi. A thwarted attempt to overthrow the government by Hutus in the Gendarmerie in October 1965 led to repression and violence against Hutus in the country, and around one hundred Hutu officers, politicians and other influential persons were executed. The Tutsi king fled to Switzerland which led to the monarchy being abolished in 1966. Michel Micombero turned the country into a Tutsi-dominated military dictatorship and Hutus were increasingly excluded from the ruling class of Burundi. This is the background to the events of 1972.

The key organizers of the insurgency appear to have been a mix of young radicalised students and a former parliamentarian who recruited and mobilized underprivileged Hutu workers and peasants and unemployed youth. The government acted swiftly to suppress the rebellion and to exterminate all who had taken part in it. The repression would soon reach a nation-wide scale, with purges affecting every sector of the civil society.

Jeunesses Révolutionnaires Rwagasore (JRR), the militant youth wing of the ruling party, UPRONA, played a central role in the mass murder together with the army. While acting as an auxiliary force to the army in the beginning of the purge JRR turned into a more independent force as the campaign continued and was responsible for massacres throughout the country.

The killings were clearly an ethnic cleansing of a genocidal nature. Hutus in the army and institutions were executed, students in schools and universities were rounded up and butchered. Not even the churches were spared. The carnage continued for months. Lemarchand have forcefully argued that planned extermination of 200-300 thousands of the Hutu population amounts to a “selective genocide”.

It has never been established how many were killed during the Ikiza. Lemarchand mentions that estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000. The International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi 1996 mentions “over a hundred thousand victims”.