Burundi- The Next Rwanda?

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By Adithya Sivakumar

        In 1994, the world stood by in shock as a purported 800,000 members of the Rwandan nation were killed in the span of two months as the result of ethnic tensions between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations; the majority of those killed were Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This slaughter provoked not only civil war and an eventual Tutsi-led government, but also conflict in neighboring nations, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As Rwanda recovered from the brutal state-sponsored massacre, the international community at-large appeared to be resolved to prevent another large-scale tragedy, one that saw United Nations soldiers become useless in face of the massacre.

        In neighboring Burundi, however, recent events are harkening to those that occurred more than twenty years ago, provoking fresh fears of an ethnic conflict and possible genocide.

        The crisis was instigated by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s desire to seek a third term for office, which caused massive protests and clashes, along with a failed coup-d’état that provoked an even larger crackdown on the people of Burundi. In total, at least 439 have died, with more than 240,000 people fleeing the country, a crisis that has largely been overshadowed by crises and political instability elsewhere in the world. However, world leaders are keeping a close eye on the situation in Burundi, especially as government leaders throw terms that allude to rhetoric used during the Rwandan Genocide, such as telling security forces to go “work,” an euphemism that was used to describe the massacre of civilians in Rwanda.

Reasons for Concern

        Burundi is no stranger to ethnic and political conflict, as a twelve-year civil war between rebel Hutus and a Tutsi-led army killed about 300,000 people years ago. Additionally, Burundi and Rwanda have approximately the same ethnic makeup, which hovers around 85% in the Hutu majority and 15% in the Tutsi minority, causing further concern among international observers. The violence in Burundi appears to systematically target Tutsi individuals, which has led to even further worries due to parallels with the Rwandan Genocide.

        The roots of this ethnic conflict can be traced back to historical differences between Tutsi and Hutu populations, but these differences were exacerbated in the Belgian colonial period. Believing to Tutsi to be superior to the Hutu, the Belgians produced identity cards to distinguish the two groups, causing resentment from the Hutu who saw Tutsi generally be granted higher positions in government. This resentment fed the overthrow of the Tutsi-led Rwandan government at the end of Belgian rule, and laid the basis for Hutu-Tutsi tensions to this day.

        Another interesting aspect of the crisis is the level of international involvement in procuring a peace deal. As mentioned before, the community may be atoning for its large amount of inaction surrounding the Rwandan genocide, which is largely deemed a failure by the international community. Despite informants detailing to international bodies that genocide was about to occur, various governments and the United Nations ignored these warnings and were quite unprepared to handle the ensuing massacre. The United States, particularly, was especially wary of contributing forces to an international peacekeeping force due to the killing of American forces assigned to a humanitarian mission in Somalia just a year previously. Foreign governments focused on evacuating their own citizens and largely ignored the crisis afterwards, causing the plight of Rwandans to be ignored and the reduction of UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission of Rwanda) peacekeeping force to drastically small numbers, making intervention nearly impossible.

The Plan for the Future

        In order to prevent another large-scale international debacle, governments around the world as well as the UN have made significant strides in Burundi to attempt to find a peace agreement. The UN Security Council has even made the trip twice to Burundi in the last ten months in order to foment a peace agreement. In stark contrast to the situation in Rwanda two decades prior, there is large agreement, even though the United States, that peacekeeping forces need to be sent to Burundi, even with the opposition of the incumbent government.

        With all eyes on Burundi, the good news appears to be that international action is likely in the face of future genocidal actions perpetrated by Nkurunziza’s government. Despite assurances that law-and-order may resurface, there are many that are very skeptical of a peaceful resolution, especially given the region’s turbulent history. The failed coup may have given Nkurunziza a blank check to commit atrocities in the lieu of capturing traitors, a frightening parallel to the shooting down of a plane that killed the Rwandan and Burundian presidents and gave the Rwandan government a loose justification on which to base their genocide. It is extremely essential that international bodies, such as the UN and African Union, and foreign governments to broker peace in a volatile setting fostered by colonialism and international inaction.

Burundi- The Next Rwanda?

        In 1994, the world stood by in shock as a purported 800,000 members of the Rwandan nation were killed in the span of two months as the result of ethnic tensions between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations; the majority of those killed were Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This slaughter provoked not only civil war and an eventual Tutsi-led government, but also conflict in neighboring nations, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As Rwanda recovered from the brutal state-sponsored massacre, the international community at-large appeared to be resolved to prevent another large-scale tragedy, one that saw United Nations soldiers become useless in face of the massacre.

        In neighboring Burundi, however, recent events are harkening to those that occurred more than twenty years ago, provoking fresh fears of an ethnic conflict and possible genocide.

        The crisis was instigated by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s desire to seek a third term for office, which caused massive protests and clashes, along with a failed coup-d’état that provoked an even larger crackdown on the people of Burundi. In total, at least 439 have died, with more than 240,000 people fleeing the country, a crisis that has largely been overshadowed by crises and political instability elsewhere in the world. However, world leaders are keeping a close eye on the situation in Burundi, especially as government leaders throw terms that allude to rhetoric used during the Rwandan Genocide, such as telling security forces to go “work,” an euphemism that was used to describe the massacre of civilians in Rwanda.

Reasons for Concern

        Burundi is no stranger to ethnic and political conflict, as a twelve-year civil war between rebel Hutus and a Tutsi-led army killed about 300,000 people. Additionally, Burundi and Rwanda have approximately the same ethnic makeup, which hovers around 85% in the Hutu majority and 15% in the Tutsi minority, causing further concern among international observers. The violence in Burundi appears to systematically target Tutsi individuals, which has led to even further worries due to parallels with the Rwandan Genocide.

        The roots of this ethnic conflict can be traced back to historical differences between Tutsi and Hutu populations, but these differences were exacerbated in the Belgian colonial period. Believing to Tutsi to be superior to the Hutu, the Belgians produced identity cards to distinguish the two groups, causing resentment from the Hutu who saw Tutsi generally be granted higher positions in government. This resentment fed the overthrow of the Tutsi-led Rwandan government at the end of Belgian rule, and laid the basis for Hutu-Tutsi tensions to this day.

        Another interesting aspect of the crisis is the level of international involvement in procuring a peace deal. As mentioned before, the community may be atoning for its large amount of inaction surrounding the Rwandan genocide, which is largely deemed a failure by the international community. Despite informants detailing to international bodies that genocide was about to occur, various governments and the United Nations ignored these warnings and were quite unprepared to handle the ensuing massacre. The United States, particularly, was especially wary of contributing forces to an international peacekeeping force due to the killing of American forces assigned to a humanitarian mission in Somalia just a year previously. Foreign governments focused on evacuating their own citizens and largely ignored the crisis afterwards, causing the plight of Rwandans to be ignored and the reduction of UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission of Rwanda) peacekeeping force to drastically small numbers, making intervention nearly impossible. With a history of inaction that seems to be replaying in the current situation, many international observers have expressed concern.

The Plan for the Future

        In order to prevent another large-scale international debacle, governments around the world as well as the UN have made significant strides in Burundi to attempt to find a peace agreement. The UN Security Council has even made the trip twice to Burundi in the last ten months in order to foment a peace agreement. In stark contrast to the situation in Rwanda two decades prior, there is large agreement, even through the United States, that peacekeeping forces need to be sent to Burundi, even with the opposition of the incumbent government.

        With all eyes on Burundi, the good news appears to be that international action is likely in the face of future genocidal actions perpetrated by Nkurunziza’s government. Despite assurances that law-and-order may resurface, there are many that are very skeptical of a peaceful resolution, especially given the region’s turbulent history. The failed coup may have given Nkurunziza a blank check to commit atrocities in the lieu of capturing traitors, a frightening parallel to the shooting down of a plane that killed the Rwandan and Burundian presidents and gave the Rwandan government a loose justification on which to base their genocide. It is extremely essential that international bodies, such as the UN and African Union, and foreign governments to broker peace in a volatile setting fostered by colonialism and international inaction.

 

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