The escalating violence in Burundi escalated a little faster last week, when 100 people were killed in clashes in Bujumbura between Friday and Saturday. The US State Department took the step of issuing a warning cautioning US citizens to avoid traveling to Burundi if possible, which suggests that Washington, at least, thinks that the situation in Burundi is going to keep deteriorating. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordanian Prince Zeid b. Raʿad al-Hussein, has called for “urgent talks” to resolve the violence, which began in April when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to stand for a third term in office (which he won in July).
The big risk continues to be the possibility that Burundi’s violence will begin to run along the traditional Hutu-Tutsi fault line, and that what has been a political uprising will take on the characteristics of a genocide. There are signs that Nkurunziza’s government has been acting in anti-Tutsi ways (they’ve complained that the unrest is confined to “urban” populations, which is code for the Tutsis, for example, and much of the current spate of violence seems to be centered on Tutsi-heavy parts of Bujumbura). The African Union is saying that “Africa will not allow another genocide to take place on its soil,” though who knows whether it’s prepared to act quickly if it appears that a genocide is starting (as we know from Rwanda, these things can develop very quickly).
The related risk is that if it seems like the violence in Burundi is taking on ethnic overtones, it could draw Rwanda (which is governed by Tutsis, including President Paul Kagame) into an inter-state war. There are reports coming out that Burundian refugees in Rwanda are being recruited and trained by the Rwandan government to go back and fight Nkurunziza and his security forces, so, uh, that’s kind of troubling.
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