Geraldine Sicola, director of Catholic Relief Services' emergency coordination unit, talks about the unravelling situation in Burundi.
Jimmy Carter discusses African topics, including his efforts to stabilize the situations in Burundi and Rwanda.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright discusses the deteriorating situation in Burundi.
Complete NewsHour coverage of events in Africa.
Burundi sits beside Rwanda in central Africa and shares much in common with that sad nation, where genocide, in 1994, left 500,000 people dead. While much of the world's focus in the region has been on Rwanda's rivers of blood and 1 million refugees, there has been a level of conflict since 1993 in Burundi equivalent to that of the former Yugoslavia prior to the Dayton Accord. In the past three years 150,000 civilians have been killed in what has been termed "tribal conflict," yet there has been little international action or even attention.
Like Rwanda, Burundi's two main tribes are the Tutsi and the Hutu. Unlike Rwanda, the Tutsi have mantained control of the country since its independence and are the oppressors instead of the oppressed.
While 60,000 international troops now enforce a peace in Bosnia, there has been little international action in Burundi. The recent massacre of 320 Hutu refugees by Tutsi government supporters briefly tweaked the attention of the world. But when a Tutsi led military coup appeared to restore a level of order, international interest waned. However, African nations were skeptical of the coup's intent and imposed sanctions on July 31. Neighboring countries like Tanzania and Kenya maintain that Burundi remains a pot dangerously near boil. It has a history of massacre dating back to the 1960's. In 1972 upwards of 200,000 Hutu were killed in a wave of tribal violence.
Our Forum asks: What is the responsibilty of the West and the world in the face of the levels of violence Burundi? Should we commit peacekeeping troops, impose sanctions, or leave the solution to African nations? Finally, why is their so little concern for African affairs in the West?
Our Forum guest is Fergal Keane. He covered the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 for the BBC, and covered African affairs from the early 1980's until 1994. His latest book "Season of Blood" chronicles his time spent covering the aftermath of the massacre in Rwanda.
Scroll down for Fergal Keane's answers to your questions.
Larry Swatuk of Windsor, Ontario asks:
If it is a question of ethnic conflict, then why have the Hutu and Tutsi lived in harmony for generations in Tanzania and Uganda but not in Rwanda and Burundi? There must be significant intervening variables that make this more than a question of ethnicity.
Fergal Keane responds:
Yes, of course, Larry Swatuk is correct about there being a great deal more to the conflicts in Burundi and Rwanda than ethnicity. In fact the main message of my book about Rwanda is that political manipulation by a corrupt power elite provided the organization and direction of the genocide. A clique of northern Hutu politicians and soldiers around the President Juvenal Habyirimana, feared that he was about to concede powersharing to Tutsis and moderate Hutus and had him killed. This provided them with the excuse to launch a campaign of genocide against Tutsis whom they publicly blamed for the killing. The fact that large numbers of moderate Hutus - people who were demanding democratisation - were killed by the extremists shows that this was more than an ethnic slaughter.
It is probable that Hutus and Tutsis would have been able to live in peace together had successive military regimes in both Rwanda and Burundi not done everything they could to promote mistrust and hatred between the groups. The bitter memories of Tutsi overlordship in Rwanda made it easier for these politicians to manipulate public sentiment. Also in a country which was desperately poor, the Hutu peasantry was encouraged to blame Tutsis for their problems and not the central government. The invasion of the country in the early nineties-by rebels of the Tutsi dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front also helped the genocidal politicians to whip up popular hatred and fear of the Tutsis. Rwanda's genocide was a politically directed campaign which stoked and then unleashed murderous hatred.
Andrew Biro of Toronto, Ontario asks:
I remember hearing during the civil war in Somalia that two social groups that did not have an interest in the continuation of the war, were tribal elders and women (both of whose influence was greatly reduced in Somali society by "modernization"). Are there any comparable groups in Burundi and Rwanda? (Do we know who is doing and/or ordering/orchestrating the killing?) If such social groups exist, is there any sort of intervention that might empower them?
Fergal Keane responds:
The situation in both Rwanda and Burundi was substantially different to that which existed in Somalia. The political power in both countries has traditionally been vested in the hands of power elites centered around the military. The Tutsi dominated army in Burundi and Rwanda's MNDR regime both ensured that power was in the first instance vested in the hands of a dictator and then filtered down through a system of prefets (mayors) who ensured that any other challengers for power were thwarted. The two countries were also more economically and infrastructurally developed than Somalia and the power of chiefs was not comparable. Women have been actively involved in the genocide and in the struggle against it. Among the ranks of the Rwandan Patriotic Front I met several remarkable women - among them 'Major Rose' who is now a Mayor of Kigali. The Front has promoted women to senior political and military posts. In Burundi the military and political leadership is male dominated.
The killing in Rwanda was orchestrated as indicated above by a corrupt power elite which worked through the prefet system and the military. It also established a nationwide citizen's militia for Hutus called the Interahamwe, ‘those who stand together.' In Burundi today the slaughter is being conducted both by the Tutsi.-dominated army and its extremist allies and by Hutu extremist forces on the other side. There Is little doubt that the presence of tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees in camps in Zaire and Tanzania is providing a breeding ground for extremism and a staging post for attacks in both Rwanda and Burundi. I would like to say that the vast majority of people in Burundi want the killing to stop but after witnessing the Rwandan genocide - a crime of mass complicity - I feel unable to make such a generalisation. Who knows?
James Michael Sheridan of New York, NY asks:
It seems that much of the history (recent at least) of Africa has involved governments that have been used to promote the will of specific groups or elites or the military. To develop anything resembling democracy you would have to develop a belief in the populace that government can be good. How do you do that in countries like Rwanda and Burundi where government has been synonomous with oppression?
Fergal Keane responds:
Jim Sheridan has hit the nail on the head. How do you tell people who have watched their politicians/dictators murder, lie and swindle for decades that the very idea of government is necessarily a good one? Wouldn't a tribal free-for-all be a much better idea. The point is of course that we are not talking about government for the sake of government, not a government of the elite but a government of the people. Only democracy and a sharing of power between groups can save Africa from a long slide towards disaster. Lets face it dictatorship has certainly failed post-colonial Africa. It has been tried in one form or another since independence and has left a legacy of slaughter and ruin. Rwanda and Burundi must eventually democratise - though in the case of the former I am the first to agree that an open and free election now would probably return the genocidal regime to power. If the majority of Hutus were to return to Rwanda and vote there is nothing to suggest that they would do anything other than vote for those who have been their traditional political leaders. It will take a long time, a long period of education and stabilisation before an election can take place. I cannot see it happening in the next ten years. Perhaps that is pessimistic but that is my instinct. Burundi is likely to face escalating civil strife in the months ahead and democracy would appear to be a fairly distant dream at present. But don't believe the paternalists and racists who tell you that Africans don't want democracy, that they want the rule of the chief or the big man or even a recolonisation or a new imperialism. Such nonsense is usually spoken by people who rarely if ever speak to ordinary Africans, who pontificate from the safety of academic armchairs or political pulpits.
A question from Gwyn Graham of Whitehorse, Yukon:
1. How were relations between the Tutsi and Hutu prior to western colonial intervention?
2. What is the role of French military presence in several west African countries?
Fergal Keane responds:
Relations between the two groups prior to colonial intervention were based on an economic ascendancy an the part of the Tutsi. The Tutsi were the cattle owning class while the Hutu were the tillers of the soil. However it was possible for Hutus to join the ruling class through the acquisition of cattle. A strict political separation did not come about until after the arrival of the Germans and later the Belgians. It was the latter who introduced the identity card system under which every citizen was forced to carry a card stating his or her ethnic background. Students of South African apartheid will recognise this particular device of divide and rule government. Prior to independence, Tutsis dominated the monarchies of both Rwanda and Burundi - Ruanda Urundi as the territories were known - and there were instances of brutal repression of Hutu dissent by the Tutsi feudal lords. However it was the formal elevation of the Tutsi to political superiority under the Belgians which deepened and entrenched Hutus sense of second class citizenship and bred murderous feelings of inferiority.
As for the French their role in Rwanda in recent times has been disgraceful and that is probably putting it mildly. It is a proven fact that France armed, trained and advised the Rwandan army. French officers and intelligence officials would have to have been blind not to notice the planning of the genocide. They were closer to the Rwandan military than anybody else - their military advisors and some troops actually took part in the defence of Kigali following an invasion by the RPF in the early nineties. It is now widely accepted that Kigali would have fallen had the French not come to Habyirimanas defense. French military advisors were in Rwanda when the army was carrying out systematic pogroms against Tutsis prior to the genocide, yet France continued to arm and train this army. As far as the rest of French speaking Africa is concerned, Paris likes to present itself as a benevolent father figure. French policy in Africa has often been portrayed as a model of enlightenment, after witnessing the Rwandan genocide I find this very hard to take.
Dominic Dewolf of Laguna, CA asks:
I've heard that South Africa has been reluctant to send peace-keeping troops to Burundi. Could you please comment on whether it would be wise to send in peace-keepers to halt the slaughter going on there. And also on why South Africa, with the best equipped and trained army in South Africa, has been so reluctant to help as a peacekeeper in recent situations such as this and Liberia.
Fergal Keane responds:
I don't at the moment believe that it would be wise to send peacekeepers to Burundi. Firstly, there is no peace to keep and it would have to be a large-scale military enforcement operation. Huge numbers of troops would be required and there is every chance of failure. Unlike Rwanda where I am convinced a speedy intervention by say American airborne forces would have routed the genocidal army, foreign troops in Burundi would find themselves trapped between two tough and well armed forces: the Tutsi dominated army and the Hutu extremists. Burundi's war is a creeping genocide certainly, but it is characterised by hit and run raids deep in the countryside. Both sides would target the foreigners as both - for different reasons - bitterly resent the prospect of outside intervention. I argued passionately for a U.S. led intervention to stop the Rwandan genocide because I believe it would have worked the Rwandan army and militias were an ill disciplined rabble as their subsequent defeat at the hands of the RPF proved. The fact that they were - in the main - fighting to defend cities like Kigali and Gitarama would have made a U.S. led airborne assault with fighter and artillery support a certain and swift success. But the fact that nothing was done then does not automatically make an argument for pouring into Burundi.
As for South Africa's reluctance to intervene I think I can cite a number of factors.
1. The bloody history of South African cross border raids during the apartheid era has made President Mandela reluctant to employ military might beyond the country's borders in the new era. There are many bitter memories of Pretoria's cross border war in Africa and Mr. Mandela is anxious to lay these to rest.
2. South Africa is preoccupied with its internal economic and crime problems and does not want to. become embroiled in costly conflicts beyond its borders. The government feels it has enough on its plate.
3. There is a strong tendency on the part of senior ANC figures to regard what happens in other African countries as the business of those countries alone. This is partly the consequence of lingering loyalty to the many African states and dictators who gave the ANC support and sanctuary in the war against apartheid, but also due to a certain insularity on the part of South Africans. They may talk of belonging to Africa but are very determined to keep the problem of the rest of Africa where they belong - across the border.
My own view is that South Africa - a beacon of hope on a blighted continent has a moral responsibility to give leadership and show the way. If Mr. Mandela does not do this, then those who argue for a new imperialism, a fresh imposition of western will on Africa will find their case strengthened, South Africa also supplied - and continues to supply - many of the killers in central Africa with arms. It cannot claim to be a disinterested party in the ongoing conflicts in the region. I write this a someone with a deep love for South Africa and a profound respect for President Mandela, but I believe that the beloved country could and should do a great deal more.
With every best wish, God Bless Africa, Fergal Keane.
Michael Goldberg of San Antonio, Texas:
Why is there not more coverage of this horrible eventin the Western media? Is it racism? Why do Westerngovernments seem to be so unconcerned about what ishappening unlike they were in Bosnia? I once heardthat officials in Rwanda, for example, told the Westto leave them alone they will solve it for themselves.Is that true? Why is there so much genocide there?What are the reasons for it? Is it possible that the solutionscan not come from the west? Is it possible that we donot understand the tribal differences? Did this sort of genocide occur before colonialism? I certainly believethat as human beings, whether we are in the West or not,we have a duty to try and stop the killing of innocentpeople not matter what it takes. I thought the world saidnever again after the Holocaust, we lied.
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