The Rwandan Massacre haunts us to this day. Gerry Caplan writes:
In all the years I’ve been consumed with the Rwandan Genocide, I’ve rarely met a Canadian who didn’t feel some guilt about his or her failure to do something – anything – about it. Yet why should Canadians have done anything? In conventional terms, Canada had few interests in the country, and most Canadians knew next to nothing about it. So, along with the rest of the world, the government of the time decided this distant, little-known place simply wasn’t the business of Canada. This failure ended up shaming many Canadians.But the personal relationship so many Canadians feel with Rwanda can be explained in two words: Roméo Dallaire – a Canadian lieutenant-general and the force commander of the United Nations mission to Rwanda. Unlike almost every other outsider with a significant role in Rwanda in 1994 – the French, the Catholic Church, the Belgians, U.S. President Bill Clinton – Lt.-Gen. Dallaire did all in his limited power to stop the killings. That he largely failed, admitted his failure and suffered very publicly from post-traumatic stress disorder made him a Canadian hero. Despite his best efforts, perhaps a million people of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered in 100 days without the world raising a finger.
Caplan warns that Burundi -- which borders Rwanda -- is displaying the same kind of symptoms Rwanda did twenty years ago:
Twenty years later, the Tutsi minority in Burundi allowed a democratic election in which a Hutu became president. But he was soon assassinated by Tutsi soldiers, leading to years of terrible conflict in Burundi while helping to precipitate the genocide in Rwanda. Burundi escaped a full-blown genocide but the country descended into civil war. Eventually, after 12 years and hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides, a peace process seemed to bring some calm to the country. Elections were held and agreements reached for the armed forces to be integrated – half-Tutsi and half-Hutu – and for national and local governments to represent both groups. These arrangements were expected to bring real stability, and some observers insist they do.Yet there are warnings that something terrible may erupt once again in Burundi – maybe even another Rwanda. The UN and the African Union are keeping a close eye. All kinds of mediators are standing by. From conflicting interpretations, it’s hard to know how dangerous the situation really is. The provocative decision of President Pierre Nkurunziza to change the Constitution so he can serve a third term has greatly exacerbated tensions, leading to violent protests and an aborted coup. Some 280,000 Burundians have fled their homes – an astonishing number. The ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, is frighteningly similar to the notorious Hutu Interahamwe of the Rwandan Genocide. Still, the killing to date has been relatively limited – 277 people – and not necessarily based on ethnicity. Many Hutu oppose the President, a Hutu.
There is enough brutality and ugliness to go around. But, once in awhile, we may be able to prevent more ugliness, if we read the warning signs and act.