Saturday, April 18, 2009

BURUNDI: After 47 years of Independence, Burundi appoints a Hutu as military chief

Les Nouvelles de Kigali à Bruxelles
Friday April 17, 2009

For the first time in the history of the Republic of Burundi, the Chief of Staff-General of the Burundian army is a Hutu. If this event was ordinary news it wouldn’t have made it through the mainstream media.

In the African Great Lakes Region we keep moving forward and backward by the same time. Some state leaders believe that they can move forward by denying ethnic group identity to their citizens apperently because some of these ethnic groups might be genocidal when in fact they are not.

It depends on how the state leaders manage these ethnic groups. Cuurently, we do seetwo clear cut tendences: 1) assertion that ethnic groups do not exist and implicitly promotion of ethnic-based favoritism or 2) recognition that ethnic groups do exist but ensure that nobody uses them inappropriately as a path to power or a means to hold on power and ensure that nobody is marginalized simply because of their appartenance to disenfranchised ethnic groups.

For nearly 50 years, the twin countries of the African Great Lakes Region, Burundi and Rwanda, have two mirror approaches that alternate between recognition and negation of ethnic group identity. Even today, the contrast is very striking.

In 1993, the first Burundian Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by elements of the Burundian Army three months after his democratic accession to this position. His successor, Cyprien Ntaryamira (also a Hutu) died on April 6, 1994, following a missile attack against the plane of his Rwandan counterpart, Juvenal Habyarimana, who also died, and all other persons on board. This terrorist act triggered the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The USA has now a first black president, Barack Obama. A few years ago Colin Powell was the first black Secretary of Defense, Condoleeza Rice, the first black Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright the first woman to this post, and John Kennedy, the first Catholic in the White House.

In Rwanda, one question still hunts the public opinion: what is the ethnicity of the Chief of Staff-General of the Rwandan Army since July 1994?

It is important to recall that asking such a sensitive question can easily be portrayed as revisionism in Rwanda but not in Burundi.

Related Materials:
Burundi appoints an Hutu as military chief for first time

A chronology of key political events in Burundi

The Power of Horror in Rwanda


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