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Ethnic Tensions
Burundi on the Brink

The assassination of Burundian general Adolphe Nshimirimana on Sunday has thrown the fraught nation back into violent turmoil. It was the latest in a series of downward spirals set off when President Pierre Nkurunziza evaded a national regulation to allow himself a third term in office. Burundi, like Rwanda, was torn by ethnic conflict between Hutu and Tutsi populations into a vicious civil war, which ended with a peace accord only a decade ago. Since then, Nkurunziza—formerly the leader of a Hutu militia—has been in power.

But unlike the Tutsi-led government in Rwanda, the administration in Burundi has yet to accomplish very much. From the NYT:

Burundi is in danger of collapse, its capital rocked by violence and divided by political intrigue. The country’s fragile democratic fabric has been shredded in recent months by President Pierre Nkurunziza, who brushed aside a constitutional bar to secure a third term in office and put down an attempted coup meant to stop him. As Mr. Nkurunziza struggles to retain control, his top officials accuse Rwanda of tacitly aiding his enemies. […]

Mr. Kagame, 57, has led Rwanda since 1994, when an offensive by his Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels put an end to a genocide campaign by Hutu extremists. He is widely credited with helping bring peace, stability and what the World Bank has called “impressive development progress,” visible in the spotless streets of Kigali, the capital, and the construction cranes dotting the skyline.

Burundi, on the other hand, remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with a fragile economy and a dependence on foreign aid for half the national budget.

If Burundi becomes once again ensnarled in the intense ethnic violence which led to genocide in Rwanda, spillover is likely. That the neighboring nations are led by opposing factions—Hutus in Burundi and Tutsis in Rwanda—all but entails their involvement in internal conflicts which divide the two countries along the same ethnic line. One young Hutu leader in Burundi summarized the entanglement as such:

“Rwanda is a bad country,” Mr. Nkeshima said. “The Tutsis in the government there are helping the Tutsis in the Burundi opposition. We cannot allow the opposition to take our country.”

While it is still too soon to count out the possibility of a harmonious resolution, it is time for the international community to keep an eye on these troubled neighbors.

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