Sunday, December 23, 2012

Burundi: Rwanda's Mirror Twin

I have started reading Peter Uvin's Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi. I must say other than the 1972 massacre of Hutus by the Tutsi regime I knew almost nothing about Burundi before today. The number of fatalities in 1972 is contested, but Peter Uvin says the number killed exceeded 80,000 (Uvin, p. 10). The very small amount of public knowledge about Burundi strikes me as odd given the attention paid to its neighbors, particularly Rwanda and Congo since 1994. Burundi has not been spared the horrors of ethnic killings and civil war that have affected its better known neighbors. For most of the post-colonial period Rwanda had a government led by the Hutu majority that practiced apartheid against the Tutsi minority. Burundi in contrast during most of this time had a regime controlled by the Tutsi minority that imposed apartheid upon the Hutu majority (Uvin, pp. 9-10). In both countries Hutu made up about 85% of the population versus 15% Tutsi (Uvin, p. 12). Uvin in fact even uses the word apartheid to describe the system of largely excluding the Hutu majority from government jobs, university education, positions in public corporations, and places in the officer corp of the military (Uvin, p. 10). This discrimination led to a Hutu military insurrection and full scale civil war between Hutus and Tutsis from 1994 to 2006. While less costly in human terms than either the genocide in Rwanda which claimed over one million lives or the ongoing conflict in Congo which has now claimed over five million lives, the Burundian civil war was quite bloody. Uvin estimates the number killed at 300,000 with another 500,000 forced to flee to neighboring countries as refugees and 800,000 displaced within Burundi (Uvin, p. 15). This violence like the violence in Congo is connected to events in Rwanda since 1994 and should be studied in this context.

Source: Peter Uvin, Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi (London: Zed Books, 2009).


Walt Richmond said...

I also find it strange that only Rwanda is on the radar in the west. In 1972 the US was still in Vietnam, maybe that had something to do with it.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I can see 1972 not being noticed, but the civil war in Burundi after the Rwandan genocide lasted 12 years and can not be isolated from events in either Rwanda or Congo. Despite these connections Burundi is largely ignored when discussing the problems of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.