iOS app Android app More

Suzan Song

GET UPDATES FROM Suzan Song

Burundi Massacre: Learning From Past Genocides

Posted: 09/26/11 01:25 PM ET

Gunmen disguised as police led a bar massacre near the Burundian capital of Bujumbura last Sunday, with an estimated 36 people killed one by one.

The brazen attack has heightened fears of a civil war in the landlocked, East African country of 8.3 million.

Burundi is no stranger to massacres. Genocides and civil wars between Hutus and Tutsis claimed the lives of over 300,000 civilians. As many as 6,000 children were used as soldiers, molded to murder.

Though the war officially ended in 2005 and the last rebel group joined a peace treaty in 2009, a rumbling of dissidents has grown since the June 2010 democratic elections. The boiling of political discontent fueled the recent massacre.

Is an impending civil war a reality, and should the international community be concerned? Indeed we should take heed of these clues and immediately engage in a cost-effective and humane prevention of yet another conflict in the East African region. A region already battling the Horn of Africa drought and famine.

America has developed an Afghanistan and Pakistan program (AFPPAK Hands), which offers specialized counterinsurgency training, language and cultural immersion as a way to build trust with military and local populations. It is still early, and unclear how effective the program is.

This model would be beneficial in countries not after a war, but before -- countries with warnings of impending civil war, such as Burundi. The Burundi unrest is no longer due to ethnic genocide as it was in the past, but due to political dissent and marginalization.

Sending a small number of culturally-trained, highly-specialized military service members can assist with conflict resolution. With a firm understanding of the socio-cultural history, they would be well equipped to assist with strategic peacemaking. This would be more effective than sending in large numbers of troops, would require less manpower, and more precision in combating the underlying threads of potential war.

America regrets missing hints that could have prevented genocides, especially in Rwanda, neighbor to Burundi. Former President Clinton has stated ""We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred" in Rwanda.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide took over 800,000 lives in 100 days. Though sprinkled with clues, the UN pulled troops out of Rwanda as the genocide was plotting. The conflict grew out of minority marginalization, with early warnings through speeches and preparatory massacres -- sounds similar to the current situation in Burundi.

Recently in Burundi, alarm has been increasing due to recruitment of rebels, banditry, kidnapping, and murders. The minority opposition party, FNL, feels marginalized by the elected government CNDD-FDD, who are reported to persecute and discriminate against opposition.

We have forgotten about this small country, but a massacre in Burundi affects the world community. African countries are interconnected, many with porous borders. There is speculation that Rwandan or Congolese rebels were aligned with the massacre killers in Burundi.

The international community does not want to re-live the regrets of noninterference in Rwanda. But they are not the only ones with responsibility. The African Union should organize a mandate to pressure country governments to desist from allowing the widespread corruption that allows police to bribe, steal, and rape innocent citizens.

The Great Lakes regions of Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda could join in peaceful support against violence and human rights abuses as a means for political power, and to accommodate divergent political views.

The band-aid that's covering the festering wound of political discontent, rebel training, and despair over chronic poverty, injustice, and lack of protection for civilians is wearing thin and coming undone.

Decades of demoralizing trauma continue to haunt and breed distrust among the people of Burundi who continue to be forgotten by the international community. We should learn from past wars, applying lessons learned to prevent future massacres and regrets of apathy.

 

Follow Suzan Song on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suzansong