Moral Courage



Tour Diary


Ethnic Conflict in Burundi
"Any Hutu who entered into a Tutsi area was killed. and any Tutsi who entered a Hutu area was killed too." Years of chaos
Although the coup attempt failed, the country was left in the hands of a weak caretaker government. In January 1994 the National Assembly designated Cyprien Ntaryamire to serve the remainder of Ndadaye's term. Two months later, Ntaryamire was killed too. He was on the same plane with President Habyarimana of Rwanda when it was shot down. The assassination of Habyarimana sparked Rwanda's genocide. Sylvestre Ntibatungaya, President of the National Assembly succeeded Ntaryamire. Given the chaos in the country, the new election called for by the constitution was impossible. [23]

The displaced Barundi Tutsi were soon joined by thousands of Rwandan Tutsi fleeing the genocide in their country. Now grouped in resettlement camps or urban neighbourhoods where they could be a majority, they organised themselves into militias like Sans Echéc [No Failure] to ethnically cleanse their areas and extract revenge from any Hutu they found. On occasion they would attack Hutu in adjacent areas with the participation of soldiers. [24]

Venturing into the wrong neighbourhood could cost you your life. Isaac Kubwimana recalls: "By 1994, Bujumbura was segregated by ethnic group: Ngagara, Nyakiga, Musaga, Cibitoke Mutakura, and Bwiza were Tutsi. Kinama and Kamenge were Hutu. But after a few months, armed Tutsi civilians and the army attacked these quarters until the Hutu left them. Any Hutu who entered into a Tutsi area was killed. And any Tutsi who entered a Hutu area was killed too. In only two quarters did Tutsi and Hutu live together: Buyenzi and Kanyosha." [25]

At the same time Hutu organised their own resistance, mounting attacks against the army and the camps of displaced Tutsi. As usual, army response was brutal. According Maurice Gasabanya, one of the Ruciteme members in Buyenzi: "There were rumours that our neighbourhood was harbouring the head of the main Hutu militia. So the military came... They would enter the compounds and just shoot everyone. About 2,000 people were killed that day, and many more fled the area." [26]

When the Hutu Forces Nationales de Libération [FLN] rebels implanted themselves in Bujumbura Rurale Province, the army removed the civilian population into "regroupment camps". According to Slachmuiljder "there was a sense that the population was being punished, that they were to blame for the existence of rebels in their communities." Conditions in the camps were horrendous. It was only after a appeal by former South African President Nelson Mandela, in Burundi in 2000 to negotiate a peace accord, that the camps were dismantled and the population allowed to return home. [27]

Ntibatungaya was unable to control the army. In July 1996 the army overthrew him and Pierre Buyoya returned to power. Accords reached in Arusha in July 2001 led to the formation of a Tutsi-Hutu transitional government. In August 2005, Pierre Nkurunziza, a former lecturer at Burundi University and leader of the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces pour la defense de la democratie [CNDD-FDD], one of the former Hutu rebel groups, won the elections and formed a new government. In June 2006, the FNL, the other Hutu rebel group engaged in talks with the government aimed at ending hostilities and drafting a permanent ceasefire deal. More than twelve years after the assassination of Ndadaye, the end of Burundi's civil war is in sight.

The ethnic conflict has extracted a huge toll on the people of Burundi. An estimated 300,000 people have died since Ndadaye's assassination in 1993. The killing has has touched almost every Barundi. When asked in a 2001 survey by Search for Common Ground whether they have lost a member of their family during the crisis, 92% of respondents replied affirmatively. [28]

© Burundi Voices Project, 2006.