WHISPERS AND SCREAMS
Tribes and Armies in Burundi
As THE ROAD WENT DEEPER into the forest, trees had been hacked down and dragged across it. Strands of lush grass grew beneath the trees, where the sunlight failed to reach. The trees across the road were barricades. The peasants of Burundi had done the same in 1972, when 150,000 3 people had been slaughtered, and in 1988, when a further 13,000 4 had died. They had machetes, knives, and spears, to confront troops armed with machine guns, and their only real protection lay in preventing the troops reaching them at all by blocking the roads. In a small valley, where the road turned sharply at a row of wooden shops, a drunken man lay on the ground murmuring, his trousers down at his knees, an empty bottle in his hand. Two young men appeared from nowhere and said the other shopkeepers had been killed the previous day. They pushed open the door of a shop, which was empty inside, the floor stained with blood. They took us to a small field in a clearing in the woods and showed us the grave of a woman who had been killed as she worked. They talked in Kirundi, the language of Burundi. Their pace quickened, and they beckoned us to follow them further, but they seemed to be taking us too far. Who were they? Why had they survived?
We turned back—the two journalists and the photographer I was with— toward the road. The two men wanted us to follow. But we left them, wondering what they had in mind for us, in that silent place. We drove on, edging round the great trees that at points still partially blocked the road. We