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The War Nerd November 25, 2003
Burundi: Heightism Rears Its Ugly Head
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
Pretty soon the basic Burundi pattern was clear: Hutus rise up, start killing Tutsi; Tutsi army units and militias return the favor, only more so. A classic example was the Hutu rebellion in 1970: the Hutus chopped up 10,000 Tutsi, and the Tutsis upped the ante by killing 150,000 Hutu.

Once these massacres start, everybody in the killing zone who's not already dead flees into one of the next-door countries. And naturally all those scared, starving, pissed-off refugees start trouble across the border, in whatever hellhole they've run to: Uganda, Congo, Tanzania. That's why you can count on East Africa to keep the party going a long, long time.

This is pretty much the same pattern you see in Rwanda, which makes sense because the two so-called countries are part of the same volcanic highland, with the same tribal mix. And when "democracy" gets in the way, one tribe or the other goes back to the good old ways of settling things: kill the bastard. So when a Hutu was elected President of Burundi in 1991, the Tutsi were so offended that they took the un-democratic step of blowing him away.

That's when the current war cycle started. It turned into a classic tribal guerrilla war. The Hutu militias took to the forest and started recruiting peasants as informers, food suppliers or part-time guerrillas. The Tutsi, who run the Burundi army, did what every CI Army does: burn down rebel villages, kill peasants in reprisal after guerrilla ambushes, and resettle the peasants in Army-run concentration camps. In Nam, we called these things "New Life Hamlets"; in Burundi, the Tutsi army brass call them "resettlement villages." They don't stop the insurgency, but they punish the peasants real well, which means there'll always be another generation of Hutu, pissed off and starving, ready for payback the next time they can jump a few unguarded Tutsi villages.

Amnesty International has officially declared that both sides in the Burundi war were committing "human rights violations." The whole point of guerrilla war is to commit human-rights violations. There are no battles in this kind of war, just massacres and ambushes. Like I keep saying, that's what war is, most of the time, for most of the people in the world -- and who's to say that Gettysburg and Verdun are "good wars" and tribal chopfests are "bad wars"?

If there was any justice in all this mess, it'd mean giving the place back to the gorillas (no pun intended) and the pygmies. But since that's not going to happen, you may as well get used to seeing headlines like "New Accord in Burundi" and then, about two weeks later, the other kind of headline: "Massacres Threaten Burundi Peace." I always like they way they say peace is "threatened." Yeah, right. Just like there's a "threat" that the Pacific Ocean might fill up with water some day.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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