Today 30,000 Rwandans will descend upon the Amahoro Stadium in Kigalii in East Africa to collectively mourn the 22nd anniversary of the genocide

07 Apr 2016
Today 30,000 Rwandans will descend upon the Amahoro Stadium in Kigalii in East Africa to collectively mourn the 22nd anniversary of the genocide, which cost up to a million lives in 100 days. But, if international institutions do not act, history may repeat itself in the neighbouring country of Burundi 

The wounds of the Rwandan conflict will never heal for those who witnessed the atrocity of their compatriots using firearms, machetes, and garden implements to kill their neighbours on the basis of the tribal identities assigned to them by colonial Belgium.

During the genocide, the UN pulled out; the US refused to acknowledge it; and French troops stationed in the country were allegedly bystanders to the genocide.

So the world should not repeat its apathy over Rwanda now that another underreported conflict is stirring in Burundi, fuelled by the same forces that precipitated the genocide we commemorate today.

The region needs peace for these colonial-era animosities to heal. But for healing to take place the world should be alert to the political dynamics in Belgium’s former colonies of Rwanda, Burundi as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the cycles of violence have continued for decades.

Burundi has been in political turmoil since last April, when President Pierre Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu, sought a third term, leading to street protests, a failed coup and a refugee crisis.  

Over two hundred and thirty thousand people have fled to neighbouring states of Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, and hundreds have been murdered since protests. Rights groups have reported that hundreds of people have been interred in mass graves; widespread torture and rape by government forces and; the arrest of scores of journalists.

“All the alarm signals – including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis – are flashing red”, warned the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and yet the UN’s Department or Peace Keeping Operations has openly stated that it will not have the capacity to respond to genocide in Burundi. Burundi has however this week accepted an offer of UN police to help stem the violence.

It would be arrogant of Western politicians to think that anything other than an African led solution will be able to drive a peaceful settlement. The move by the African Union (AU) to authorise the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) was stunningly agile and a major blow to Nkurunziza. It gave credence to the AU’s maturity and the principle that it is better placed to respond in Burundi than Western diplomats.

Yet, the decision to deploy the 5000 peacekeepers collapsed and the mediation efforts led by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni buckled because Burundian officials simply failed to show up to negotiations in
Tanzania. The only hope is that the African Union and the East African Community (EAC) will regain their courage and press on with their contingency plans.

The UK must where it can, provide the AU and EAC with acute support. Without such international political support, the violence in Burundi could spiral into a transnational ethnic conflict.  Outrage is not enough, if there is a failure in this instance, it will be a failure that will stain the effectiveness of peacekeeping efforts in the region for years to come. It will drive back development and leave millions in
abject poverty.

On today of all days, the world’s media should put the Rwandan genocide into its wider geographical and historical context to help better understand conflicts around the corner and how to resolve them.

back ⇢