Moral Courage



Tour Diary


Ethnic Conflict in Burundi
Hutu students who had been abroad on scholarships were recalled, met at the airport and taken away for execution. The 1972 Genocide and 1988 Massacres
In April 1972, a Hutu rebellion erupted in the south of the country. After attacking a number of army camps, the rebels proceeded to kill every Tutsi in sight as well as Hutu who refused to cooperate. Almost three thousand Tutsi lost their lives. The rebellion was crushed ruthlessly. As Lemarchand notes, "The repression began almost instantly. Weeks went by, however, before it dawned on Western observes that the reprisals were taking the form of genocide." [12]

According to Jeremy Greenland "The government radio broadcasts encouraged the population to 'hunt down the python in the grass,' an order which was interpreted by Tutsi in the interior as license to exterminate all educated Hutu, down to the level of secondary, and it some cases even primary school children. Army units commandeered merchants' lorries and mission vehicles, and drove up to schools, removing whole batches of children at the time. Tutsi pupils prepared lists of their Hutu classmates to make identification by officials more straightforward." [13]

Hutu students who had been abroad on scholarships were recalled, met at the airport and taken away for execution. Some 250,000 Hutu were killed or arrested by the army during that period. [14] This is presumably in addition to casualties of attacks by Tutsi civilians and armed militias.

What is more alarming than the scale of the killings was the clearly systematic, genocidal, nature of it. As Lemarchand concluded, "By striking at all Hutu elites, students, and schoolchildren indiscriminately... [the genocidieres] aimed not only to decapitate a potential counterelite but to spread terror throughout the entire Hutu community and thus create an enduring sense of fear and submission among the living and the unborn - in short, to teach a lesson that would be remembered by generations to come." But even then too, notes Lemarchand, there were acts of heroism. "We have [no] precise idea of how many Tutsi died or risked their lives trying to protect their Hutu friends or clients. Although killings were overwhelmingly directed against Hutu, many Tutsi were caught in the cross fire." [15]

With the Hutu elite effectively decimated, it was easy to maintain Tutsi hegemony of the state. However, continued and finally unbearable provocations finally led to another Hutu revolt in some northern provinces in August 1988. Hundreds of Tutsi were massacred. A merciless army retribution led to some 15,000 Hutu deaths, including many women and children. The toll would undoubtedly have been higher if some fifty thousand refugees did not escape to Rwanda.

© Burundi Voices Project, 2006.