Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reflection: Burundi

The last time I was in Kampala I met a woman from Burundi. She was an evangelist and "spreading the word of God", but what stuck with me was simply her nationality. How few people think of Burundi, Rwanda's southern neighbor, despite being beset by an off-again/ on-again civil war that ended only last year with a shaky peace agreement. Burundi, which in 1972 saw the massacre of between 100,000 and 200,000 Hutu students, priests, and army officers, among others (deemed genocide by a report given to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), leading to thousands of refugees fleeing to Rwanda and Tanzania. Burundi, which experienced wave after wave of riots and reprisal killings, mainly against the Hutu population, throughout the 1980s. Burundi, whose first Hutu president was assassinated in 1993 by the Tutsi-dominated army, sending angry and vengeful Burundians to Rwanda, where they were easily absorbed into the anti-Tutsi genocidal movement.

It's shameful that because a country's international significance is so slight (even less than that of Rwanda in the early 1990s) such obvious crimes against humanity are largely ignored. At the present time Burundi is preparing for national elections, but corruption and possible voter fraud in local elections are already threatening to derail the process. Uganda's Daily Monitor reports that both the ruling party and opposition are raising youth militias for use as "activist thugs". If the elections fail, Burundi could once again collapse into violence, with devastating consequences for the civilian population.

It's time for the international community wake up and realize that all potential conflicts deserve attention, despite the host country's lack of international glamour and appeal.

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