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  • From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi: Our Embassy Years during Genocide
  • Aldo Ajello
Robert Krueger and Kathleen Tobin Krueger. From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi: Our Embassy Years during Genocide. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. xviii + 308 pp. Photographs. Notes. Index. $26.00. Cloth.

The book is very well written, and it captures the attention of the reader from the first page. Burundi’s recent history has been marked by the October 1993 assassination of Pierre Ndadaye, the country’s first Hutu president, who had been elected six months earlier. The Kruegers’ description of the tragic night of that coup d’état, along with the events that preceded and followed it, is particularly dramatic. The events unfold like a thriller in which the killers ruthlessly hunt for their victims as they desperately try to escape. Only a few will succeed.

The goal of the army was not only the physical elimination of President Ndadaye, but also the elimination of all those who could legitimately succeed him. It was seemingly a ritual murder whose intent was to wipe out the results of elections and to exorcize the spirit of democracy. The killers succeeded in their criminal attempts, but they failed in their political objectives. The response of the international community prevented them from completely taking over; they had to share power with the survivors. But the game was not over. The army persisted: the bloody coup d’état was followed by a continuing “creeping coup d’état” executed by regular military troops supported by paramilitary gangs of young Tutsi targeting Hutu political leaders and the innocent civilian population.

The mandate of Ambassador Krueger covered the most dramatic phase of this “creeping coup”—perhaps the most abominable period of Burundi’s recent history. Despite the obstacles presented by the political and military authorities and the intimidation of the paramilitary gangs (culminating in an ambush attempt in June 1995), the ambassador made various excursions to the most remote areas of the country. The stories gathered during those trips provide a vivid picture of a country where torture, sexual violence, and the physical elimination of competitors were ordinary tools of the political game.

This is the most vibrant part of the book, but the causes behind the tragic events so wonderfully described are left rather unexplored. Burundi is a small, severely overpopulated country without resources. The only significant source of income is the control of public administration, while the private sector is almost inexistent. Furthermore, the tension between the ethnic groups is aggravated by a particular trait of the Burundian way of thinking: as a distinguished Burundian political leader said in Arusha, in Burundi chicanery is the golden rule of political competition. Only naive politicians tell the truth; sophisticated ones know how to lie without blinking an eye. When Ndadaye offered to pull out from the electoral race provided that his opponent, Pierre Buyoya, would accept a run as an independent candidate, he was telling the truth. But Buyoya decided that—according to Burundian standards—he was lying, and that the proposal was simply a trap to separate him from his political party, UPRONA. Buyoya refused the offer [End Page 192] and lost the elections.

This Burundian trait emerged clearly during the negotiations in Arusha, where absolute mistrust dominated the first phase of the dialogue: each side assumed that the other was lying and each party to the negotiation was deaf to the offers of the other side. It took statesmanship of the caliber of Nyerere and Mandela to overcome this pathological mistrust. Thanks to their talent, patience, and immense prestige, Arusha became an authentic school of democracy. Apart from the complicated details of the peace agreement—the negotiations for which required an enormous amount of time and energy— two issues dominated the inter-Burundian dialogue: genocide and ethnicity.

The term genocide is frequently mentioned in the book, and it refers mainly to the bloodshed perpetrated by the Tutsi military and paramilitary forces, and incidentally to the murders conducted by armed groups of ethnic Hutu following the assassination of President Ndadaye. It is incontrovertible that all these massacres took place. But in both cases the intention was not to exterminate an...


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