Months of mainstream media reporting on Burundi have tried to downplay the deep fissure between some Hutus and Tutsis in the country. Globally, the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry has sparked repeated waves of atrocity, murders, full on genocide, and round after round of civil and international war. And it is getting harder and harder to continue the game of denial about these tensions in Burundi. The wall has cracked, as U.N. officials have issued dire warnings. VOA reports:
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein opened an emergency session of the council by describing escalating atrocities, intimidation, and hate speech in Burundi, saying it harked back to that country’s “deeply troubled, dark and horrendously violent” past.
“Burundi is at bursting point, on the very cusp of a civil war… The time for piecemeal responses and fiddling around the edges is over. The situation in Burundi demands a robust, decisive response from the international community,” Zeid said […]
The U.N. secretary-general’s special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, said there were clear warning signs in Burundi of potential atrocities. [… Dieng] said Burundi appeared to be “on the verge of a descent into violence that could escalate into atrocity crimes.”
We at TAI have been warning about this possibility for months. Unfortunately, that’s been the exception rather than the rule in the media. While Burundi’s political unrest has had a whiff of tribal/ethnic characteristics from the start, that has provoked a “Lord Voldemort response”: The media has been terrified that naming the problem will feed the problem. But the result has been mealy mouthed reportage that doesn’t tell readers what is actually going on—or actually at stake. Nowhere but in Africa would coverage that is this flabby and deceptive would be tolerated so long by major outlets.
Something to keep an eye on: What will Samantha Power, currently the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., do or say? Power is the author of A Problem from Hell, an influential account of the Rwanda genocide, and made her career advocating for the responsibility of powerful states to intervene to prevent genocide (sometimes called the “Responsibility to Protect” principle, or R2P). Now it may be her turn to face the next round of Hutu-Tutsi violence in the Great Lakes region. But she does so serving a non-interventionist President. How tied will she find her hands? How loudly will she speak out?