Monday, December 07, 2015

Why Burundi Is NOT Another Rwanda

Why Burundi is NOT Another Rwanda

To explain this theory, background information is needed. The Hutu and the Tutsi are differentethnicities within Africa. Perhaps during colonization their physical differences were noticeable but today they are not. These people were separated by class differences, the Hutu farmed agriculture and the Tutsi raised livestock. Movement in these classes was fluid and happened often. The Hutu and the Tutsi speak the same language and mostly the same Christian faith. When colonization happened, the Germans and Belgians came into the region near Rwanda and decided that the Tutsi, being taller and having sharper features like the Europeans, would be the elite class. The shorter, wider nosed Hutu would be the lower class. Movement in the social ladder was stopped and identification cards were mandatory, permanently displaying HUTU or TUTSI status. After the colonizers left, the Tutsi and the Hutu had many violent clashes due to the hate that was developed during this colonization period. 

Rwanda. 1994. Was an awful time for African and namely Rwanda. The economic problems Rwanda experienced was blamed on Tutsi control. The catalyst for the violence was the alleged shooting down of a Hutu airplane carrying government members including the President. The Hutu wanted to kill off the entire Tutsi population. The Tutsi retaliated. In fact, the Hutus even killed other Hutus that didn’t agree with the mass murder. This was (in simple form) the genocide of 1994. The President of Rwanda instilled a hate and a fear between the two ethnicities and Human Rights Watch explains the situation as, “…(the) elite promoted hatred and fear to keep itself in power.” The genocide only ended when the Tutsi’s effectively defeated the Hutus. The division is still apparent today, though not as it was a decade ago.

Burundi is not Rwanda. Burundi, the neighbor of Rwanda, has seemingly lain to rest the ethnicity differences between their Hutu and Tutsi peoples. The violence we are current watching from across the Atlantic is different. Yes, Burundi has a long history of violence between the two ethnicities, but in today’s context, the issue stems from an illegal and flawed election. The current President Pierre Nkurunziza has ran for President for a third term. This is illegal according to the Constitution of Burundi. The violence in Burundi stems from this issue, not from ethnic divisions. The population identifies themselves as Burundian, not Hutu or Tutsi. The economic issues are blamed on a corrupt government, not the ethnicity of the President.  The protests began after the election, not after a violent attack on a tribe/ethnic minority or majority.

The importance in NOT grouping together the two countries in a “Hutu v. Tutsi” paradigm lies with the way the violence will be mitigated. In an ethnic clash, stopping the killing of minorities or majorities and the retaliatory attacks that perpetuate between the parties is very difficult. A third party that chooses sides will only deepen the conflict as the Belgians and Germans did in Rwanda. The mistakes made are clearly visible in Rwanda. Burundi does not have this problem. Stopping the violence in Burundi centers around stopping an illegitimate government power from continuing his reign over the citizens of the country. The protests will end. A fair election can take place. A rightful President can be voted into office. This conflict is invariably different than Rwanda. A population uprising against an illegitimate government is NOT genocide between ethnicities. Making this mistake will only make mediating the situation worse. The only part of Rwanda that is similar to Burundi is the fact that no other country has decided that Burundi is important enough to assist. In Rwanda it was genocide, in Burundi it’s the breaking of a social contract between President and populace, but in both cases, the countries are left to fend for themselves.

1 comment:

Give Peace a Chance said...

Burundi did not start out similar to Rwanda, but has become more similar as the violence progresses. Indeed, the source of the violence is political. Pres. Nkurunziza has been fraudulently elected to a third term; however, the constitutional courts have said this is technically legal based on the Arusha peace agreement. The agreement called for a transitional government to select a president. The constitution says a president cannot be elected for a third time. He was selected for his first term, so the most recent elections are his second "elected" term.

I digress. The conflict differs in that there is not a rebel group made up of one ethnic group in a cease fire with the government. The source of the problem in Burundi is political. In fact, the general who attempted the coup earlier this year was the same tribe as Pres. Nkurunziza.

Discounting the similarities as insignificant is false. In the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 800,000 people were killed. These people were not all Tutsi. The genocide began with the moderate HUTU president of Rwanda, Habyarimana, being killed. After that, moderate elements in the population and government were eliminated, regardless of ethnicity. Now, the genocide was largely targeted at Tutsis, but in order to conduct this unabated, moderates had to be eliminated.

In Burundi, the government is purging and killing moderates right now. It has not become as deadly or as ethnically based as Rwanda, but the danger is that it could. The progression of the violence, though started differently, is becoming similar to Rwanda. Nkurunziza is trying to rid his government of opposition, whether Tutsi or not. But in order to maintain support, he is appealing to ethnic loyalties. Vigilantly killings, as a result, are ethnically based. In Rwanda, the genocide wasn't completely conducted by the army: the government, through propoganda, turned neighbor against neighbor and fomented the development of paramilitary youths that used machetes to kill. In Burundi, the same situation has the potential to happen. The UN and neighboring countries should recognize these similarities and respond forcefully, before the violence takes on a purely ethnic dimension.