Kangura No. 4

Rwanda and Burundi: Heading for Explosion?

Sennen Andriamirado

In Rwanda, cohabitation between Hutus and Tutsis is growing increasingly difficult. Worried, Burundi is taking measures to prevent such rivalry from spilling into her territory. Uganda, Zaïre and Tanzania are themselves not safe.

There is a risk of the volcanoes erupting in the Great Lakes region of the country. The Burundi-Rwanda border could effectively become a new region of tension, not only between the two States, but worst of all, between their populations. Since July, Rwandans have been regularly expelled from Burundi for entry without visas, even though visas are no longer required, as there is free movement of goods and persons within the three CEPGL member States. The members of the Economic Community for the Great Lakes region are Burundi, Rwanda and Zaïre.

Political and military tension was initially limited to Rwanda, due to the guerrilla war waged by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (R.P.F.), since 1990. Likewise, the introduction of multi-party politics also aggravated the situation due to difficulties deriving from the tottering steps in democracy. Burundian authorities however wanted to show understanding. Like in Rwanda, ethnic cohabitation between Hutus and Tutsis is strained in Burundi, even though the two ethnic groups are henceforth governing Burundi. But inter-ethnic conflicts have been virtually “exported” from Rwanda to Burundi. Those opposed to the Kigali regime, and some that nurse nostalgia for the single party system abandoned by President Juvénal HABYARIMANA, started to cross the border with their stacks of incendiary tracts which whipped up the old antagonism between Huts and Tutsis. Newspapers published by certain Hutu editors advocating vengeance, were circulating in Burundi.

Coincidence or not, demonstrations to show discontent started at that same time. An urban transporters’ strike to protest against the rise in taxes levied on vehicles and driver’s license, paralyzed Bujumbura for several days.

The situation risked getting out of hand: speeches about ethnic antagonism started to catch on. The epidemic from Rwanda was a threat. Hence the decision by the Major Pierre BUYOYA’s government to use the army to control the borders.

Pierre BUYOYA, who came into power through a sudden, bloody insurgence sparked by Hutu-Tutsi rivalry, sounded the alarm in recalling 1st July; he said that it was necessary to safeguard national unity at any cost. He requested the Army to be vigilante. Some of his opponents and certain of supporters understood this to mean an invitation to wreck havoc.

The ensuing tension was all the more alarming as it set in after the government of Burundi was accused by its opponents of having been implicated in the preparations for the invasion of Rwanda in October 1990, by R.P.F. rebels. And a well-known R.P.F. member - the writer Jean Barahinyura SHIRAMBERE, a refugee in Germany, and information secretary - made the accusation against the rebel movement, before he distanced himself from the group. In short, he is a man who is supposed to know what he is talking about. In a letter published in Frankfurt, SHIRAMBERE even accused the Burundian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cyprien MBONIMPA, of having made contacts with the RAF.

The Rwandan monthly periodical, Remesha, affirms that it has evidence of material aid to: A refugee camp in Rwanda, near the boundary with Burundi by way of documents alleged to have been furnished to the R.P.F. by the Burundian Minister of Foreign Affairs. And this brings us to the threat of a Tutsi international party, which will spill over the boundaries, and is supposed to assemble all Tutsis of the region in order to create a new empire.

Whether this is true or false, those accusations have, like in the past, caused inter-ethnic tension to mount (as if we need another explosive in this part of Africa)

Even though the tension has not yet become a diplomatic conflict between the two governments, suspicion has set in Kigali is in fact convinced that the R.P.F. is essentially a Tutsi movement, even if the spokespersons are most often Hutus. Between believing that the Burundian Tutsis support the rebellion and reality, there is only a fine line that nobody has cared to cross since hostilities broke out in October 1990.

Bujumbura has always kept a low profile, and shown some reserve in relation to the problems besetting her neighbor. Discretely, Major BUYOYA’s government, under a Hutu Prime Minister, even contributed in organizing negotiations between the rebels and the Rwandan authorities. For the Burundians know that if the situation in Rwanda became more aggravated, the epidemic will inevitably spread to them. Today, the accusations levied against Bujumbura are extremely grave and there is the risk of allowing the accusers succeed in their design to set the entire Great Lakes region ablaze. And this, at the expense of not only the population living in Rwanda and Burundi, but also in Uganda, Zaïre and even Tanzania, who would bear the brunt of whichever irresponsible manipulations may be afoot. Whether they emanate from Rwandans or Burundians. Whether from Hutus or Tutsis.