A Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts

By Samuel Totten; William S. Parsons et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10

The Burundi Genocide

RENÉ LEMARCHAND

The first recorded case of genocide in the Great Lakes Region of Africa occurred not in Rwanda but in neighboring Burundi, 22 years before the more widely publicized 1994 bloodbath. The scale and targeting of the massacres, not to mention their purposefulness, leaves no doubt about their genocidal character. From May to July 1972 anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 Hutu lost their lives at the hands of a predominantly Tutsi army in an orgy of killings triggered by an abortive Hutu insurrection. Though largely forgotten in the West, the events of 1972 remain deeply etched in the collective memory of the Hutu people, not only in Burundi but among the older generations of Hutu in Rwanda.

Piecing together a coherent picture of what happened before and during the killings is no easy task. Unlike what happened in Rwanda, the carnage attracted only minimal attention from the media. The few journalists who cared to investigate the massacres were denied access to the interior of the country, and their quest for credible accounts of the atrocities were restricted to official sources. No attempt was made by the government to conduct a serious investigation of the circumstances and scale of the blood-bath. Nothing comparable to Alison Des Forges' (1999) thoroughly documented inquest into the roots, mechanisms, and scale of the Rwanda genocide is available for Burundi. To this day, the search for explanations is trapped in divergent narratives. While some commentators (Tutsi) tend to impute genocidal intentions exclusively to Hutu insurgents, others (Hutu) blandly deny the existence of an insurrection, arguing against all evidence that unrest was deliberately instigated by the government in order to justify

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