BUJUMBURA, Burundi–The driver’s father was a Hutu, but his mother was a Tutsi, and that ethnic mix is a recipe for murder in this country–where all the ingredients of a Rwandan-like bloodbath are beginning to boil.
Afraid he was a marked man, Selemani Hakizimana drove fast and furious through the Hutu-dominated villages along the winding road to this jittery capital city, where the outnumbered Tutsis have an uneasy hold on power.
“I must drive fast, I cannot stop,” he said. “These are Hutu villages; if I stop, they will kill me because they will see that I have Tutsi blood.”
The ethnic hatred that’s ripped apart Rwanda–leaving a half million dead from genocidal attacks and more than a million in refugee camps–runs even deeper in neighboring Burundi, a former Belgian colony of 6 million.
“In Rwanda, a Hutu and a Tutsi can marry,” Hakizimana said. “Not in Burundi.”
As in Rwanda, the Tutsis comprise only about 15% of the population; unlike in Rwanda, however, they have always held the military and political upper hand.
But now that a Tutsi rebel army has gained power in Rwanda, the Hutus of Burundi have seen the value of revolution. In the last month, 3,000 Burundians have died in political killiings, mainly Tutsis.
In reply, Tutsi students began rioting earlier this week and virtually shut down the city for two days. All businesses closed, as did the airport. Fifteen people have died.
Yesterday, in a televised talk, Burundi’s acting president warned the nation against going down a Rwandan path.
“Think twice before you act,” said Silveste Ntibantunganha. “Rwanda should be example for us all.”