In Burundi, something terrible has happened. A year ago, the government, run by the minority Tutsi tribe, tried to eliminate, in a chilling and systematic way, the entire elite class of the Hutu people -- all those with some education, government jobs, or money. The death toll was perhaps one hundred thousand, perhaps as great as two hundred thousand. Since then thThe latest slaughter in Burundi was ignited by Hutu refugees who crossed the borders from Rwanda and Tanzania in the middle of May to avenge last year's massacres and overthrow the Tutsi government. Though the Hutus failed, the frightened Tutsi government ordered all Tutsis to undergo military training. Tutsi youths organized patrols to guard Bujumbura, now a Tutsi city, from the Hutu countryside. And soldiers and young vigilantes began reprisals against Hutus living outside the city.
It is not clear how many Hutus have died in the latest slaughter. But thirty-eight thousand new refugees had fled to Tanzania by the end of June. Manere has been even more killing, the latest in May and June of this year.
The troubles have also devastated a good deal of the south of the country. On the road to Nyanza Lac, near the Tanzanian border, many homes are deserted. Almost half the classrooms and two-thirds of the clinics are destroyed. The coffee bushes, the main crop of Burundi, are overgrown and untended. A visitor hardly sees a commercial truck anymore.
Nyanza Lac itself, once an administrative center with a population of twenty thousand, now looks like an unused movie set for an old Western. Arab traders sit in front of a few shops, but most are closed. Several, in fact, are in a shambles, The main grocery sells only margarine, tomato paste, canned mackerel, soft drinks, and beer. The school, the Catholic mission, the dispensary, the customs office are closed. The houses where French foreign-aid technicians once lived are stripped bare. Burundi officials say that two thousand people now live in Nyanza Lac, but a visitor cannot find them.
The slaughter that accompanied this devastation was not an isolated outburst in the history of this part of the world. It was only more and worse than what has happened before. There has been mass tribal killing in Burundi and its neighbor Rwanda for more than a decade, the killing in one provoking the killing in the other. The scene of the bloodshed, in fact, moved to Rwanda in the first months of this year. There is no end in sight. y showed up with panga (machete) wounds, some infested with maggots. Some died from their wounds there in refugee camps. A Catholic priest, Father Ramon Vincens, who works near the Tanzania-Burundi border, quoted Hutu refugees as telling him that the program of genocide against the Hutus was "worse than the one last year."
Burundi and its neighbor Rwanda represent extreme cases of the failure of traditional African institutions to adapt to the extraordinary and swift changes of modern Africa. Each about the size of Maryland, each with almost four million people, Burundi and Rwanda are the most densely populated countries in Africa and among the poorest in the world. Their people graze cattle and farm on the verdant hills along Lake Kivu and Lake Tanganyika. The histories and traditions of the peoples of both countries are similar.
More than four hundred years ago, the Tutsi people (better known by the African plural, Watutsi) came down to Rwanda and Burundi from the north, probably Ethiopia. They were…